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‘Being thin is integrated into French culture’

Women who move to France can lose confidence due to the importance of body image here – and, in particular, the widespread belief that women have to be slim to be elegant.

Cliona Byrne, 28, a life coach specialising in body confidence, experienced this when she moved to Paris from Ireland three years ago.

“I am not fat and I never considered myself fat. But when I came to France, I really noticed that my body was not considered normal by others. I am a size 14 in Ireland, 44 in France, and it’s more difficult to find clothes in France. 

“Being thin is integrated in French culture. If you are not, people assume that you are lazy or that you eat badly. Fatphobia is very present here, and in particular in Paris.

“People look at you in the metro, some make comments on your weight, some behaviours are unacceptable.”

Ms Byrne began specialising in body image confidence after working as a life coach with expatriates and noticing how frequent the problem was.

She said: “French women are educated to be superslim. In France, there is this idea that you need to be skinny to be beautiful, elegant and fashionable.”

She thinks France is catching on to the body positivity movement but progress is slow.

Some of her clients have felt it was hard to be accepted and felt like outsiders because of their different bodies.

“When you arrive, it is a new experience so you automatically lose confidence, especially when you don’t speak the language,” she said.

“On top of that, foreigners compare themselves to people here. Women can think they are the problem because they look different.”

Just the fact it can be difficult to find clothes in your size in some shops is a factor, she said.

While men are being targeted by diet and beauty industries more than before, she feels women still bear the brunt of it.

For example, she said if you visit the supermarket you will see that in packaging more ‘feminine’ colours such as pastel pink are often used for low-fat products whereas the full-fat version will be in a more ‘masculine’ colour.

Meanwhile the word ‘diet’ is more likely to be used in advertising products to women and the more neutral ‘zero’ for men.

Ms Byrne works with people from all over the world – including some French women who do not feel comfortable with their weight.

“Some have never loved their bodies. Some have lost confidence because they have gone through a big change.

“Everyone has their own story but it’s important to show that you can be com­for­table with your weight.”

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