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France's attitude to obesity wrong

"The moment I was born, the midwife harangued my mother that I was too big"

AS AN interesting footnote to your recent article on thin French women (Connexion 2, February), I attended an international human rights speech competition in Caen where a student at our local school won a special prize for a presentation exposing discrimination against obese people in France.

Cécile Goujon, an economics student at the Lycée Saint-Ouen near Pont Audemer in the Eure, was one of 14 regional winning students to compete in the final. She brilliantly presented the true face of daily life for obese people in France.

Only days after Air France’s outrageous decision – quickly repealed – to charge obese people for two seats, Cécile’s animated speech recounted with cutting humour her own humiliating experiences and was received with rousing applause.
Here is an extract from it:

“The moment I was born, the midwife harangued my mother that I was ‘too big’,” Cécile said. “I am lucky enough to have a supportive family who encouraged me to take up acting classes. Now I totally assume who I am. But there are hardly any trendy clothes for girls my size. It’s hard to have a normal teenage life.

“The limit was when a slim friend applied for a job in a fast food restaurant – the boss told her she ‘was lucky have a harmonious’ body so could work on the cash tills, otherwise I’m obliged to put you in the kitchens, you understand’. So overweight people have to hide away? Shame on them.

“According to a study by the Halde (the Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l’Egalité), obese candidates are half as likely to successfully pass a job interview.

“Discrimination against obese people is so cruel as it isolates them. There are organisations against religious or racial discriminations, but for the obese person, all that counts is that you no longer exist, that you receive a ‘treatment’ to be thin.

“I don’t defend obesity, but I defend my right to exist as I am. The first article of the Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme is: ‘All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ That includes obese people.”

Cécile’s presentation was nerve-wracking but very well received by the jury of international lawyers, journalists and human rights specialists from Amnesty International. A political cartoonist who heard the speech drew a sketch of sales girls presenting her with a burqa, smirking: “This is all we have left in your size”.

Cécile is determined to press ahead with her studies and become a doctor.

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