‘French women do get fat’: curvy beauty queen

If you were to conjure up the image of a typical French woman she would be perfectly coiffed, well-dressed and almost certainly slim and slender. The newly-crowned Miss Ronde France, a beauty contest for bigger women, tells The Local the truth is a little different.

'French women do get fat': curvy beauty queen
The winner of Miss France Ronde 2014, Solange Marais (wearing tiara). Photo: Robert Muller

Seen from the outside, the France depicted in numerous Anglo self help books, is a place where women painlessly remain svelte and stylish.

It's an image that fits with the stereotype many in the anglophone world are obsessed with, and it sells. The image is regularly perpetuated by authors such as Mireille Guiliano, whose latest publication 'French Women Don't Get Facelifts' adds to a long list of books aimed at teaching Americans how the French mademoiselles remain beautiful and shapely with little effort in other words, just by eating and living the French way.

Guilano's previous book 'French Women Don't Get Fat' was a bestseller in 2004. But as many point out the women presented by the likes of Guillano are idealized versions of women who live in a few chic neighbourhoods in Paris.

Who better to dispel this image than France's newly-crowned winner of the Miss Ronde beauty contest for bigger sized women. Solange Marais, 23, who took the crown ahead of 25 other contestants from around France, told The Local she hopes her efforts will change the image of women in her country.

“I haven’t read it (French Women Don’t Get Fat) so I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s really not true,” she said. “We gain and lose weight. It just depends on the rhythm of our lives. There are all sorts of French women. We are all different,” said Marais, who represented the region of Aquitaine at last weekend's Miss France Ronde.

“It doesn’t hurt me, it doesn’t anger me and I don’t care. Everyone has their own vision of the perfect woman. Today, to say ‘perfect woman’ is a pretty broad term. In my opinion we are all perfect – but in different ways.

“As long as you feel good in your skin, that’s the most important thing.

“It would be better if we didn’t put people in categories like plump or skinny. It would be better to see them simply as women and not think about them in terms of their weight. It would be better to see them as human beings.

“In France we talk about women’s bodies all the time. In magazines, fashion, we talk diets and being thin. We discuss these things constantly. But it’s not typically French to focus on a woman’s body, I think it’s that way all over the world.”

Jean Beaman, a sociologist at Duke University, said it's true that many American women perceive their French counterparts to be “fashionable and stylish (and) beautiful in a sort of effortless way.”

By way of example, she cited photographs of former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who was born in Italy but grew up in France from the age of seven.

But Beaman, who studies immigrants who settle in France, added: “As an American, it's sometimes a little bit frustrating that these books sort of paint a very idealized version of France to Americans, and don't necessarily reflect the multi-ethnic diversity that exists in France.”

The ten biggest myths about France and the French

Marais agrees and laments the fact that many of France's classiest boutiques are simply out of bounds for women her size.

“There are lots of stores in France that don’t sell sizes above 42. It’s more the haute-couture stores. And for them, their view is that if we are a little to big then we shouldn’t wear their clothes,” Marais said.

“There are stereotypes for everything, sadly, it’s like that. Each country sees the women in another country differently, but in the end when we arrive in the country we see something else. Maybe we even see the opposite is true.

“There are all kinds of women here in France. And we are all different. I think it’s that way all over the world. We can’t all be the same, it’s impossible.”

Although author Guillano insists that, although there may be more rounder women in France than she makes out, it is no way near the number seen in the US.

“Of course, there are French women who are fat and who undergo cosmetic surgery,” said Guiliano, “but not to the scale that's seen among American women – far from it.”

But whereas Guillano is hoping American women can take a few lessons from their slimline French counterparts, Marais is more concerned with making France accept the rounder form.

“I hope that (Miss Ronde France) will change the image of women in France. But it will take some time. We will do it by showing that most women today are a size 42, rather than 36.”

“The women I see on TV are sublime, but I don’t see many like that around me.”

What is your opinion on women in France? How true is the Anglo stereotype and what damage does it do? 

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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 


The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?