Lady with Hat and Featherboa

Living Large in France and Other Fashion Statements

On ne naît pas grosseFashion has long been a safe harbor for fat shaming – both subtle and explicit. Headlines from New York Fashion Week might make you think this harsh reality is fading fast. But a broader view would say not so fast. French culture prizes both style and cuisine, and according to Gabrielle Deydier, that puts a onerous burden on French women living with obesity. Deydier has a new book – a distinctly French interpretation of body positivity – sparking both shock and admiration there.

On ne naît pas grosse

Deydier’s book – titled in English, You’re Not Born Fat – describes her appalling experiences with weight bias in France. The title reflects her experience of dramatic weight gain after hormone treatments and odd diets that a doctor prescribed when she was 17. His intent was to save her from a bit of overweight. The outcome was a disaster.

Deydier says that in France, people see obesity as a grotesque self-inflicted disability. And her experiences bear that out. Well-educated and capable, she landed a job as a teaching assistant in a special needs school. The teacher who supervised her told her on her first day of work, “I don’t work with fat people.” Job discrimination in France based on appearance is illegal, so she asked her to prove she was motivated by losing weight. When she did not, the school fired her. For lack of motivation.

But now that her book is a sensation in France, she’s enjoying celebrity as an intellectual hero. She’s sparking a national discussion in France about fat shaming. Daily she receives letters of gratitude and confession. Said one man in a recent letter:

Your book has made me realize I’m a total shit. For five years I worked with young people. If they were overweight, I humiliated them.

Diversity Popping Up in Fashion

Similar encouraging signals are coming from Fashion Week. The top French fashion houses – LVMH and Kering – announced they would stop using size zero models. Models who are pregnant, transgendered, plus-size, and diverse in race and ethnicity are appearing with more frequency. Maybe it’s just tokenism. Or maybe it’s a growing movement.

But at least some movement is visible.

Click here for more on Deydier’s book and her experiences. For a thoughtful discussion of diversity in fashion, this podcast from 1A at WAMU is well worth a listen. Here and here you can read two distinctly different perspectives on how the fashion industry is doing.

Lady with Hat and Featherboa, painting by Gustav Klimt / WikiArt

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September 12, 2017

2 Responses to “Living Large in France and Other Fashion Statements”

  1. September 12, 2017 at 10:13 am, Helen Jackson said:

    I never read the book, but it seems that “the French Paradox” is explained thru the fat shaming.

    • September 12, 2017 at 11:53 am, Ted said:

      Thanks! I advise caution about drawing conclusions about the relationship between shaming and obesity prevalence based on anecdotes.