Do their derrières look big? Battle of the bulge is all in the French mind

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The typical French woman is slim and thinks that she is fat. The typical British woman is plump but is convinced that she is thin.

A French survey has charted wide discrepancies in the average weight of men and women in different European countries. The survey also finds that attitudes to weight – especially women's attitudes – vary enormously from one country to another. French women – whether the politician Rachida Dati, singer Vanessa Paradis or the simple mademoiselle dans la rue – are the thinnest in the EU but worry about their weight more than women in any other country. Britain has, on average, the most comfortably sized women in the EU but British women are also, on the whole, comfortable with their size (second only to the Danes). In other words, the actress Audrey Tautou thinks she looks like Susan Boyle and Susan Boyle thinks that she looks like Audrey Tautou.

A worldwide bestseller by Mireille Guiliano in 2004 was entitled French Women Don't Get Fat. It should perhaps be renamed French Women May Not Get Fat But They Think They Do.

The author of the study, Thibaut de Saint Pol, says that his research suggests that average national weight is not just a question of diet or exercise or genetics. It is strongly influenced by cultural differences and national attitudes to what constitutes an acceptably slender, or attractive, or – in the case of men – powerful body. In some social groups, in some countries, such as Greece, he points out, male fatness is still regarded as a symbol of power or strength.

French women are thin partly because they come under intense pressure from French men, but also from other French women, to stay thin. "What people consider to be the ideal weight in France is lower than in other countries," M. Saint Pol said. "If a French person who feels fat were to go to the United States, he or she probably wouldn't feel fat any more."

M. Saint Pol's study is published in this month's edition of Populations et Société, the newsletter of the French demographic institute, INED. The weight comparisons are based on adult body-mass index (BMI), the measure recommended by the World Health Organisation. To discover your BMI, you divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. A BMI below 18.5 is dangerously "underweight". The range 18.5 to 25 is ideal. Between 25 and 30 is "overweight". Above 30 is "obese".

French women tip the scales at 23.2, the slimmest in the EU. British women have, on average, a BMI of 26.2, just into the "overweight" range.

The survey suggests, unsurprisingly, that men across the EU are less concerned with their weight than women. Only French and Dutch men are, on average, within the ideal weight band. All the rest are overweight, with British men tipping the scales as the third plumpest, behind the Greeks and Finns.

Mireille Guiliano argues in her book that French women are slender not because they eat less but because they eat better and because they live busy, active lives.

French women have tended, traditionally, to drink less and not to eat fast foods. All of this is changing, however. Guiliano has herself admitted that her description of French womanhood is true mostly of the urban or suburban middle classes and above. A visit to any rural supermarket in France will reveal outsize male and female figures to rival those in Britain or the US. French surveys also suggest that binge-drinking and fast-food eating are rising sharply, among both young men and women. Either cultural attitudes to body weight are shifting in France or the burden of guilt is rising.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of waste ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Representative

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To promote and sell the Company...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Civil Engineering

    £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Business: This company is going thro...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea