“People feel entitled to attack me at any time,” says writer Gabrielle Deydier, whose book hitting back at the ‘fatphobes’ has been making waves.
“If someone sees me buying chocolate in the supermarket they feel it’s ok to say I’m too fat to eat that. It’s non-stop. It’s why I never eat in public.”
She adds: “The public perception is that obesity is in your own power, it’s a caprice. People don’t accept it’s a disease. They think it’s a sin, due to self-indulgence.
Gabrielle’s book, On ne naît pas grosse, is a disturbing catalogue of such abuse, from the boss who sacked her for being overweight, to a girl who filmed her wearing nothing but a towel while hurling abuse and threatening to upload the footage to YouTube, or the man who said: ‘who would want to rape such a fat woman?’.
It is women especially who are affected, she says. “French women are in constant competition with each other anyway. They think that self-control is everything, and that your weight is a sign of it.”
Men have more permission to be fat, she says, which makes it a form of sexism too.
People make comments and “don’t equate it to racism or homophobia” even though “it’s the same thing”.
“It’s grossophobie - fatphobia - and it’s widespread in France.
“I have to travel first class in trains because the seats are wider.When I complain, people say, ‘we’re not making larger seats for fat people’. Why not? We are people. We have the right to live.”
Gabrielle points to the President’s wife, Brigitte Macron, as being “incredibly underweight”. “Magazines love her and say she’s the epitome of French elegance, but how healthy is that weight?”
Elle magazine even declared that skinny arms are the new décolleté. Fat arms should be covered. “How insane is that?”
She says statistics show obese people are half as likely to be in employment and four times more likely to commit suicide.
“The discrimination makes fat people hide away at home. In public they hug the walls, they don’t make eye-contact. Fifteen per cent of French adults are obese but you never see them.”
People are amazed she has boyfriends, she says. “They don’t imagine I could attract a man, let alone make love. They think only depressed or perverted men could want to be with me.
“Women think men only want conventional beauty, regardless of whether the woman has complexes about her body. Me, I’m fat when I’m dressed and I’ll be fat naked too, so I have no complexes about getting undressed with a man.”
Official figures show 20% of 11-14 year-old girls are underweight. French women are Europe’s thinnest with an average BMI of 23.5 [18.5 – 24.9 is considered to be medically normal for optimum health, 30 or more is deemed obese]; yet 60% consider themselves overweight and a third take antidepressants.
“When I was 16 I weighed 65kg [BMI 27.8], that’s not fat. But the pressure was on, so I went to a doctor who said I needed to lose 20kg, so I started medical treatment with hormones and stuff which made me even fatter.”
Now 37, Gabrielle, 5ft, says a misdiagnosis of a chronic medical problem also contributed to her weight rising to 155kg. She was treated for an adrenal gland problem when she actually suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome (often linked with weight gain).
She has been advised to have a gastric band fitted, or have full gastric surgery, however she says such procedures can have unpleasant side effects. She also points out that although obesity is almost evenly split between men and women, 80% of bariatric surgery in France is on women.
“If a woman can never eat a proper meal again, so what? So what if the side effects cripple her? But a man can’t be deprived! It’s pure sexism!” she says.
Doctors also pressure women to have operations to flatten their stomachs or tighten their breasts, she says, which reflects “male power over women’s bodies” with which “women collude”.
“Women write articles about achieving a gap between your thighs, getting rid of the fold beneath your buttocks, and this is impossible and undesirable.”
She says she was sacked from a job as a classroom assistant due to her weight. Now, she hopes her book will give her a fresh start (an English translation is being prepared). She is discussing TV movie rights and is writing a novel. She has plans to co-direct a documentary and an adaptation of her book is on the way in comic book form.
Gabrielle is upbeat about the interest being shown in her book by the press internationally. “I’m a cover girl now. I feel fabulous. So my message to other women is liberate yourself from pressure, love your body, abandon unrealistic standards, wear whatever you like, be kind to yourself and to other women. Just live a bit; eat, drink, laugh!