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French Women Smoke To Remain Thin At All Costs

Illustration for article titled French Women Smoke To Remain Thin At All Costs

More evidence that Frenchwomen's vaunted thinness isn't entirely due to portion control and joie de vivre: les femmes françaises are apparently reluctant to quit smoking for fear of gaining weight.

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According to the Daily Beast's Eric Pape, French men are cutting back on smoking, but women's cigarette consumption — and lung cancer rates — have risen. Christelle Touré, who works for France's anti-smoking committee, says, "The top concern of many women who contemplate giving up smoking: don't fatten up." Singer Dorothée Rascle concurs, saying, "If I stopped smoking, the first thing I'd think about would be weight gain. If you work on stage, you have to look cool — and not be enormous." The average weight gain from quitting smoking is far from enormous — somewhere between 4.5 and 9 pounds. A third don't actually add any weight. And, though this shouldn't be smokers' main concern, long-term smoking can also make women put on belly fat, which Touré calls "a bit manly."

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Smoking for weight control flies in the face of the idea that being thin is all about health, but perhaps this particular myth has always held less sway in France. Proving that it's alive and well here is Kiri Blakeley's catchily-titled Forbes article, "Sorry I'm Skinny." Blakeley rightly criticizes the media's longstanding policy of "haranguing celebrities (invariably female) who appear to be underweight" (examples include Tori Spelling, Bethenny Frankel, and Angelina Jolie). She points out that "being thin doesn't mean being anorexic any more than being of a large body type always means being unhealthy," but rather than simply arguing that celebrities' weight and health should be their own business, she takes the well-trodden "obesity is the real health problem" path:

[T]he reality is that there are far more women in this country in danger of dying from obesity-related causes than in danger of not finding a pair of size 0 jeans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 72% of adult women in the U.S. are either obese or overweight. Of girls and adolescents ages 2 to 19, 16% are obese. Surely those numbers represent a lot of the people you know. Recently Urban Outfitters [...] was criticized for selling a T-shirt that read "Eat Less." [link added] Perhaps it should have read "Eat Much Less."

Apparently we can't simply quit judging people's bodies — every call to lay off naturally thin women seems to go hand in hand with obesity panic. And (at least in France) even anti-smoking campaigns have to come with a dash of fat-phobia — aren't the health hazards of smoking enough without the added fear of "manly" fat? Women on both sides of the Atlantic are still expected to lead healthy lives, avoiding bad habits and eating disorders alike — as long as they can do so while staying slim. It's enough to make you want a cigarette.

Image via FuzzNails/Shutterstock.com.

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Better Dead Than Fat [Daily Beast]
Sorry I'm Skinny [Forbes]

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DISCUSSION

loremipsum1999
loremipsum1999

I'm sorry, but the premise behind this article is ridiculous. In fact, this is hardly journalism as this entire article is based on extrapolation and assumption.

I live in France, and yes, people are much slenderer here than in the United States. This is due not to the fact that a lot of women smoke, but because the French tend to handle food much better than Americans. They do have far more control over their portion sizes and they do eat less processed foods. The French also have a healthier relationship with their food, and they enjoy eating it. Dining is a prominent part of social life, no matter the size of the person.

The fact that you are saying French women refuse to quit smoking because they fear weight gain is based solely on conjecture. You show only one quote to support this statement and it is by a representative of an anti-smoking committee. In neither of your sources are there any polls or statistics to reinforce these claims. Yes, many French women smoke. Many French men smoke too. Actually, many European citizens are smokers. While we're at it, lots of Americans are smokers! Is it possible that women from America, or Spain, or Croatia are reluctant to quit smoking for fear of weight gain? Probably, but don't write an article about it before you can provide concrete evidence that these claims are actually founded in fact.

I also applaud you for citing one of your own articles as a source, and was dismayed that the article in question, "French Women Do Get Fat," is just as disillusioned. You cast French women in a light that suggests they are obsessed with weight management and all neurotic anorexics. Jezebel editors are constantly stressing the fact that there is no "ideal" weight, yet in this article you claim that most French women are below their own "ideal" weight. How dare you criticize French women for purportedly being underweight and uncomfortable with their bodies, when you unceasingly sympathize with American women who do the same?

I can assure you there is far less focus on weight and body image in France than in America. According to the aforementioned article diet pills can be found in the kitchen cabinet of every family home, perhaps even being distributed to the children when they get too chunky. Walk into any French pharmacy and you will see about three shelves holding weight loss and dietary supplements. Shall we take a stroll through any CVS, Walgreen's, or GMC? There is an entire aisle devoted to diet pills.

The article also addresses the fact that most French people do not exercise. In my city, I believe there are three chains of gyms, all with several locations. They are not "luxury" establishments, as this author has claimed. Jogging is extremely popular, but people do not run on the street - they have built paths that circle parks for the sole purpose of creating a safe area for joggers.

Have you ever considered the possibility that French people tend to be thinner than Americans is because of genetics? There is far less immigration in France than in America and the French gene pools are much more solidified. Although diversity certainly exists here, it is not to the extent as it is in America. Different cultures and regions are genetically predetermined to carry their weight in different ways, be taller or shorter, and be slenderer or more heavyset. Most French women are rather short and thin. Not unhealthily thin. Just thin. I guarantee not every single one of them is a chain-smoker who deprives themselves of food.

When any person of any nationality gives up a serious habit, they will of course be concerned about side-effects or "detox" symptoms. But before you write an article which makes a condemning, blanket statement about an entire nation of women, get some numbers to back it up, and don't cite sources which are equally grounded in misinformation.