Yes, French women do get fat, and the curvier among them are tired of being dictated to about what they can wear, as they showed on a plus-size Parisian catwalk.
From horizontal stripes to a bra playing peek-a-boo under a blazer, buxom models taking part in a show organised by Pulp Fashion Week on Friday put paid to the myth that the ideal, chic French woman is wafer-thin.
"We have always been told that round women cannot be beautiful and sexy, that you have to dress yourself in old-fashioned stores," said Blanche Kazi, who founded the plus-size Pulp Fashion Week in 2013. She said the idea that only the miniscule sizes seen in magazines represented real beauty was "dictatorship".
"Look at my models, they are size 42 to 50 (US 10 to 18, UK 14 to 22) -- and they all have a voluptuous beauty." Sexy lingerie, cocktail chic, and trendy summer dresses: the clothes seen on the runway in a prelude to Pulp Fashion Week in April 2015, are not that easy to find in Parisian fashion stores in these sizes.
Plus-size fashion has expanded rapidly in recent years, with runway shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris and designers increasingly adapting to the fact that skinny models are far from the norm. France has long been associated with the stereotype that its women can guzzle red wine, eat cheese, baguettes and pastry, skip working out and never gain an inch.
It is an image that has fuelled countless English-language books such as the bestseller "French Women Don't Get Fat" whose author Mireille Guiliano followed up with a cookbook and runs a website by the same name.
Expanding French waistlines
But although the country's traditional culture of eating may long have kept the French slimmer, the popularity of American-style fast-food joints like Starbucks and MacDonalds has led to expanding girths and a growing problem with obesity.
A 2012 study by ObEpi-Roche showed French womens' waists had expanded by 6.7 centimetres in 15 years. The French Clothing Industry Union said that the average-sized woman had gone from a 38 in 1970 to 40 today. Clothing brands have taken notice, but for reasons both linked to image and production costs, few in France offer bigger sizes.
In Paris, the concept store Women Curves opened in September, but it remains an exception. Curvy fashionistas bemoan the difficulty of finding trendy clothes in France, and travel either to London or New York to do their shopping, or turn to the internet. Pulp Fashion Week's artistic director Lalaa Misaki gave up and created her own clothing line, but still feels acceptance for her size is hard to find in France.
"When I go to New York I feel free, I dress like the other women. In Paris if I wear something short, if I expose some flesh, I get nasty looks. It is not because I am a size 46 that I must wear old-fashioned clothes," she said. Kazi said hyper-fashion aware Parisians feared curvy women chipped away at the image of the perfect French woman.
"The media objects to giving us attention because they are afraid of curvywomen being seen as obese women. But there is a lot of confusion; a size 48 can be in excellent health." (Adčle Smith, AFP)