French women’s reputation for remaining thin and glamorous while enjoying Camembert is so well established that envious “Anglo-Saxons” have written entire diet manuals explaining just why French women don’t get fat.
But while a new study has confirmed that French women are indeed the slimmest in western Europe, their slenderness, it has found, comes at a cost: they also worry the most about their weight.
The report by France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies compared body mass indexes in western Europe and found French women had the lowest average body mass index, at 23.2. British women had the highest average at 26.2, which was above the normal range considered healthy: 18.5 – 24.9.
But the report also found French women set themselves very tough standards, had a tendency to exaggerate their weight and considered themselves fatter than they were. France had the highest proportion of women who were underweight, but only half of underweight French women thought they were too thin.
The author of the report, Thibaut de Saint Pol, said French women put “a high pressure on their body”. Their ideal weight was lower than other western European women’s ideals. He added that being underweight as a woman was “particularly valued” in France. The report found that French men were also the slimmest in Europe and their ideal weight was lower than other western European men.
The survey comes as Parisian pharmacy windows are crammed with miracle slimming formulas to kick-start the pre-summer dieting season and women’s magazines are full of bikini weight-loss plans.
In Portugal, Spain and the UK, where ideal weights are higher, there was a tendency to underestimate weight, the study found. The number of women who considered themselves to be too thin was greater than the number who actually were.
Across western Europe, 45% of people said they were unhappy with their weight. More women than men considered themselves overweight and that worry tended to stay with them throughout their lives.