The Real Reason French Women Don’t Get Fat

by Chloe Jeffreys · 35 comments

in Aging Well, Beauty at Any Age, Health and Wellness, Paris, Travel

French women are world famous for their beauty, their elegance, their style, and their innate sensuality.  They are notorious for aging gracefully, and we’re prompted by books and magazines to envy them and attempt, if possible, to try to emulate them.

Of course it isn’t possible.  They are French and we are not.  They stay slim and we get fat.  That’s the way it is.  Right?

What are we told about this mysterious breed of women who apparently can gorge themselves on cheese, and swill wine all day with abandon, and never gain an ounce?

1. French women eat smaller portions, and drink a lot of water.

2. French women smoke. Yes, about 30% of French women smoke. This rate is among the highest in the world, but they still outlive nearly everybody else, coming in second only to Japanese women for longevity.

3. They walk a lot, but they don’t actually exercise.  In one week canvasing huge swaths of the city I never saw a gym and, in a city of 2 million people, I witnessed less than five people running.  I haven’t researched this, but I’m pretty sure there is no Jillian Michaels counterpart in France.

But none of these are the real reasons that French women don’t get fat.  I know the reason, and I’m going to tell you.

Their toilettes.

French women are forced to use toilets that are teeny, weeny, teeny tiny.

I am 5’4″ and weigh 120, and I could barely wedge myself into their public toilets.

According to my husband, the men’s rooms were equally as narrow.  It became a running gag between us to check out the public toilettes of the restaurants we patronized and come back and compare how small the bathroom was.  My husband said that one was so small he could barely move his arms enough to unzip his pants.  That’s a small bathroom.

But it isn’t just the bathrooms.

Their restaurants have tiny chairs and teeny-tiny tables all crammed together tightly.  In fact, their whole society is like a pair of freshly washed, tight blue jeans without any of that forgiving spandex.

French women don’t get fat because their surrounding environment immediately lets them know if they’ve gained an ounce.  Gain weight, and they immediately become ungainly and ungraceful in a society that worships grace and elegance.

The French do with obesity what we’ve done to smoking in this country; they use social pressure to make obesity a social embarrassment.  Gain weight, and you literally won’t fit in. Anywhere.

America is, by comparison, like a nice, comfy pair of stretchy sweatpants compared to France.  In fact, in America it is okay to wear those stretched-out sweatpants in public whereas no French woman would be caught dead in something like that.  French women are expected to dress up and look the part. And they do.

It is a fallacy that French women don’t diet.  French women do diet.  Somehow.  I didn’t see it, but I know they must because the laws of physics demands that they must.  Energy in must equal energy out or the energy is stored as matter, period.  That’s it. To bolster my theory that French women diet, I saw numerous billboards everywhere touting various diet supplements.

In every restaurant we ate, every Frenchwoman we sat next to ordered dessert.  I paid attention because I wanted to know how they did it.  How do you eat cheese and dessert and not gain weight?  I still don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that all the reasons given in the bazillion articles you can find on the web are why.

1. They do eat smaller portions.

3. They smoke cigarettes.

4. They walk a lot.

But they also don’t let it get out control because they have cues all around them to alert them to changes in their weight.

I also suspect that French women have an entirely different relationship to food than we Americans do.

Eating a delicious, perfectly crispy/chewy croissant while sitting in a lovely cafe while chatting with a friend, or a lover, is much more soul-satisfying than gobbling up greasy chicken fingers, and washing it down a diet soda, while chauffeuring your kids to and from soccer in your car.

Food in France is a social experience, and I suspect that weight is too. It’s the social pressure that provides the impetus. Social pressure is a very powerful tool to manipulate public behavior. In France, it is simply unacceptable to be fat.

I’ve experienced what this social pressure is like firsthand, and what happens when it is removed.

I grew up in Pacific Beach, California, where bikinis were mandatory and there was a great deal of pressure to be thin.   When I was 16, I was sent to Southern Indiana to live with my grandmother for the summer.  During that summer I gained 20 pounds and didn’t even notice it.  At the end of the summer, I was still significantly smaller than most of the people around me.  When I came home to San Diego I immediately became acutely aware that I’d gained that weight.

How is it that I could gain 20 pounds in three months and not even notice it?  My perception of my weight was part of how the society around me perceived me and size.

Of course, we can’t expect our culture to change overnight, and I highly doubt we’d even allow it to happen. The change must come from us.  You  and I can do a bit of the same thing that French society does  with just this one little piece of advice:  Do not wear elastic waistbands. They are the bane of weight control, especially as we reach middle age.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Carrie Willard December 6, 2016 at 4:17 am

I agree that the entire society encourages thinness – there is tremendous pressure to stay thin in France and to eat according to the “rules”. A parent, for example, will be shamed if their child is snacking inbetween meals, by perfect strangers.

I do think we have come too far in the opposite direction in this country, though. Fat acceptance has led to more obesity. Fat isn’t healthy, and if we’re honest, we’ll admit it isn’t pretty either, yet because of PC we are forced to speak untruths. In countries where fat shaming is still a “thing”, people are thinner. I don’t think this is entirely bad.
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Bill Martin December 2, 2014 at 6:57 am

A VERY excellent article on French women…I used to live there as a kid…wish I was there today! I today sent below off to my family!….”The perfect French femme diet is truly cigarettes…Bill…I saw it as a kid in Saint-Jean-de-Braye, Orleans and Paris France and oui such diet use still exists…if I want to date an American woman I just say– while she is having one– “You must be from Paris. They love smoking them in a similar casual way like yours in France”…it usually works very well to continue our interesting personal discussions; they never ever forget the way I am. With femme that’s the key.

French Women Smoke To Remain Thin At All Costs – Jezebel

jezebel.com/…/french-women-smoke-to-remain-thin-at-all-costs

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Jun 21, 2010 – The average weight gain from quitting smoking is far from enormous — somewhere between 4.5 and 9 pounds. … Women on both sides of the Atlantic are still expected to lead … It’s enough to make you want a cigarette.

•The Real Reason French Women Don’t Get Fat

chloeofthemountain.com/…women/…/the-real-reason-french-women-do…

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Yes, about 30% of French women smoke. This rate is among the highest in the world, but they still outlive nearly everybody else, … Gain weight, and they immediately become ungainly and ungraceful in a society that … They smoke cigarettes.

WQM Jr ski bum……

a skier, usually male, in his late 30’s or older,

who generally spends the entirety of his life at ski resorts.

the rest of his life is spent sharpening skis or purchasing skis on eBay.

alternatively, he coaches a high school ski team.

“yo bill is such a ski bum”
“yeah dude he doesn’t do anything but ski”

Toril Førland (born July 24, 1954) is a retired Norwegian alpine skier

1.La Femme Mysterieuse: How to Be the French Woman | Divine …

1.www.divinecaroline.com/…/la-femme-mysterieuse-how-be-french-woma…

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1.Each woman shared a similar face: one of confidence, mystery, and allure. Yes, I am speaking of the French woman. We all know her and adore her (and overtly …

1.The Sexiest French Women | Gallery | Glo

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1.French women read about it, they see their mother being confident; they see it in the street. They see this casualness with the body in the street. Women here do ..

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1.Michaels was quick to respond with these top ten suggestions;. 1. French women walk with confidence, pride and a sense of purpose. They look you in the eye …

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French men et WQM Jr as français aussi irrésistible

What makes French men so irresistible?

1. From the first impressions you recognize a French man by his outfit. A Parisian has no competitors for fashion sense. Ordinarily you would never buy an orange scarf for your boyfriend, until you see a Parisian walking along the Champs Elysees with an orange silk scarf complementing his “decontracte” style. Only the Italians come closer with their particular sense of elegance and distinction.

2. Attitude. French guys look straight into your eyes when they are talking to you. Ok. Sometimes their eyes stray away towards your boobs, but quickly they come back to meet your eyes. It is actually considered bad manners not to look into the eyes of someone when you are talking to them and someone told me that it brings 7 years bad sex if you do not look straight into the eyes of someone when toasting!

3. They are passionate about anything they might be talking about which usually is food, wine or sex.

4. Conversation. With French men you can talk about anything you talk with your girlfriends. It does not matter their education, any French man will be able to talk with you about the latest fashion trends, cooking recipes and of course wine and cheese.

5. The French have a highly developed sense of smell. A French man actually appreciates your selection of toiletries. They can even recognize your perfume by name. I still remember the time I met a French fashion photographer in a Marbella nightclub, after being introduced he asked me -just to corroborate that he was right- if I was wearing Nilang, a perfume by Lalique, which at the time was only available in the Lalique shops in Paris so the scent was very exclusive and unknown. That impressed me!

6. French men can cook. And I am not talking about an omelette or opening a can of baked beans… no, no, no. I am talking about delicious well prepared meals cooked with lashes of fresh cream and herbs that you have never heard about; all served at a well decorated table and eaten with three hours of delightful conversation.

7. It does not matter what a French man tells you, if he says it in French you will be at his feet. Their accent, pronunciation and who knows what else are so irresistible, that I have almost fallen in love with many men without even having looked at their faces.

8. They are very expressive; they like to tell you how they feel and if they compliment you they really mean it. By and large they are not afraid to show their emotions. They will tell you that they love you, that they are mad about you and pour their heart out to you without feeling compromised for doing it. Even tough cinema actor Vincent Cassel has been quoted saying: “I think I’m actually more vulnerable than people imagine.”

9. Most men do not drink beer -whisky as an aperitif is more acceptable and wine with a meal-. By and large a more elegant choice of drink.

10. Their life does not revolve around football matches. In three years living in France I have not yet met a football fan; at least not the type that spends Saturday afternoon in front of the tv. drinking a beer and cheering his team.

11. French men are still gentlemen and as such they still pay for you when you go out with them. French men like to pick up the bill. I know many feminists will be outraged by this, but they do it naturally. If you go out dining with male friends you do not have to go through the awkward discussion of who ate what or take out the calculator to divide the bills. Most of them are just happy to pay for you.

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noneofyours September 15, 2014 at 5:56 am

This is bizarre, nationalistic dross from the mouth of a vapid, self obsessed tourist. France may not be as fat as the west but it is not some kind of thin utopia. 1 in 10 people are obese in France and 40% of their population is overweight (source http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/obesityandtheeconomicsofpreventionfitnotfat-francekeyfacts.htm).

I also find it ironic that you live in the US, a place that supposedly celebrates personal freedom, while at the same time advocating that every citizen take it upon themselves to stick their noses into their friends and neighbors business and nanny their waistlines. If you can’t take responsibility for keeping your own hand out of the cookie jar, don’t put your failure on your peers. It’s nobodys business but your own, and conversely theirs is none of yours. How crass and presumptuous can you be to think that it’s okay to publicly judge and shame strangers. You don’t know what their situation is and what’s more, you’re not a doctor.

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Mara June 2, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Thanks for the laughs. I was just thinking this today as I slurped down fresh, sun-warmed strawberries slathered in heavy cream — the food makes the difference. And the space limitations, which, at 6’1, I always felt were a bit restrictive during my years overseas. And you’ve inspired me to give up sweatpants… tomorrow.
Mara recently posted..Venison with Apple-Potato Stack and Petite Carrots in Port ReductionMy Profile

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AngelaR March 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Walking is the key to staying slim. Although I know that’s not an option for everyone. I myself have never driven a car in my life, which forces me to live in the city where you simply don’t need a car. I have since moved to the suburbs, but I still walk a great deal as I have to take public transportation. I’m a size 4 and have been that size since college. And I have more money to boot (no car payments, gas, insurance etc..)

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patti nidermaier January 30, 2014 at 8:39 am

i’m 55 5’1 160 l65 lbs I want so much be like the Italian and French women I love there life style.i’ve been doing so much reading and on my labtop hours.what do I have to do to be thin like them

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roxanne June 21, 2016 at 7:14 am

eat less

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Alexandra January 4, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Bonjour Chloé.
I’m a french woman (pretty young, 24), and i have just read your article.
First of all, sorry for my broken english, then, i laugh a lot reading your article, when you mention the size of toilets and chairs as an acceptable reason to explain why “the french woman don’t get fat”. I mean, being a french, i would have never thought someone could explain this thing by such a reason 😀
Initially, i was looking for some information about that book by Mireille Guiliano.
Of course, i’m so chauvinistic that hearing foreigners picturing “the french woman” this way, perfect, chic, slim, and all, i smirk and feel satisfied. But in reality, this description works only for a small part of french women. As many other european countries, or USA, we are a cosmopolitan country, it means that we don’t have one model of beauty, but several. And it seems that the french woman is a cliché of women in the 20’s-40’s, the typical chic, elegant, romantic parisian with high heels and a nice little dress. But i’m french, maybe indeed all women seem elegant for you people, i don’t know. I heard an american guy, living in france since many years, saying that all the french ladies he has seen till now are always well mannered.

Anyway, thanks for this article, it made me smile 🙂

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Susan February 9, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Bonjour! I am a complete Paris addict, we manage to go a couple of times a year, which is wonderful, however I am a uk 14-16, which is, ok, a little bit chubby, but not massive. I dress conservatively with a bit of an edge for my age, which I am unashamed of, 51. The problem is, when I am actually in Paris, I feel like Godzilla! The stares off some people ( not all) are a little unsettling, I can only presume (maybe wrongly) it’s because of my weight? One “gentleman” actually stopped in the middle of a busy street, open mouthed just to stare (openly) at me, while I was trying to enjoy a coffee, whilst feeling like the elephant in the corner of the room! I have travelled quite extensively, and do not feel that way anywhere else. Go somewhere else you may say? Well, I SHOULD be able to visit anywhere and not feel like a freak, so I will carry on going in the vain hope the stares will stop, or I can lose 50 pounds?

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Emily August 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm

finally someone who sees through the mysticism of the “perfection” of French women. I have read contradicting books on the subject. one like the chic &slim where she raves on and on how american women are dumb and French are the perfect. and another I don’t remember the name talked about how women hardly eat during the ween and only eat bread on weekends or holidays. and their men brag about just how small their woman is. I do agree a lot has to do with their climate. you just can’t walk to the store with 102 F heat index or -8 F wind chill.

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Debbie Fatter May 28, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Fuck the French, America is a FREE Country!!! We love everything for free and free of everything. French can kiss my fat ass!!!

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Chloe Jeffreys June 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Thanks for dropping by! I don’t think the French are much interested in doing that. When I was in France it seemed to me that they were perfectly content with their yummy bread and beautiful country. But if I get a chance I’ll let them know that your ass is available for kissing.

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Bonnie September 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Absolutely peer pressure at work! Lived in France for a year and LA
Now. Fat women are perceived as losers–right.ly or not. It’s a health issue as well. Diabetes and heart disease are not fun and will shorten one’s life.

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LesMerveilles April 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

Thank you for your gracious offer, however we’d prefer not to kiss your uneducated behind, but as you appear to believe that you are living in the free country and can troll all you like that is fine. I’m sure you look in the mirror every day and accept your rolls of lard and tell yourself that you are beautiful possibly since no-one else does. Your attitude and diatribe reflect the elegance and beauty of the American woman…

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George May 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Over thirty percent of Americans are overweight. This fact is not surprising due to all of the fast food restaurants located in almost every single town across the country.
George recently posted..Bigger Is Better: How To Get Fat Quickly And SurelyMy Profile

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Chloe Jeffreys June 2, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I visited your website to see if you were spamming my comments, but I don’t even care if you are. I love a man who has is tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Comment approved!

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Jean Bush October 16, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Alas, his website is not available. A new link, perhaps.

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Annika September 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I got stuck in Paris once. Do the women walk fast in Paris? It was actually my backpack that got stuck in the train station gate thingymagiggy. 2 nice Frenchmen had to pull the doors open so I could get unstuck.

Haven’t heard from you. Did u decide to jump off the Crazy Train and land in the ocean?

Once again your post cracked me up. It’s vegetarian Crunchwrap Supremes for me, instead of chicken fingers! Hillarious.

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Jules July 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

And Decorah, Iowa has bathrooms like that too! Egads!! I'm short and MY knees we scraping the door. 🙁 However in width, I'm also way over the limit. Help!!

It makes me angry when overweight people laugh at me that I'm overweight. So what… now I'm supposed to feel better that I'm not as obese as "you"? Or if I'm overweight they won't feel as bad? Ok… hit my button… I'll move on now. 🙂

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Stephanie (Just Me) July 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

I've never been to France, but in Italy dh and I both lost weight without paying any attention to it. We were usually being hosted by people so we ate whatever they served us: espresso and croissants for breakfast, pizza or pasta, 2-hour lunches and dinners, sweet snacks, a couple of feste (feasts) and an occasional pastry or gelato. The only thing I can come up with is that it must have been all the walking! Well, that and stairs built for Goliath and his kin. Does France have big stairs?

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Born Again Brazilian July 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

This definitely makes sense. I was much thinner the smaller my apartment. But the walking makes sense too. When I lived in NYC, I walked everywhere! And for great distances, the last couple years pushing a stroller. Here in Sao Paulo, no one walks, and the result is an extra 15 pounds (oh yeah, the bigger apartment must not be helping…)

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Born Again Brazilian June 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm

This definitely makes sense. I was much thinner the smaller my apartment. But the walking makes sense too. When I lived in NYC, I walked everywhere! And for great distances, the last couple years pushing a stroller. Here in Sao Paulo, no one walks, and the result is an extra 15 pounds (oh yeah, the bigger apartment must not be helping…)

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Chloe June 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I hate that blogger doesn't have a discussion style format for its comments. I'm trying to switch to wordpress just become of this limitation alone.

Jules, I always feel like I walk a fine line when I talk about weight on my blog. I NEVER want to make someone feel badly about themselves. First and foremost, because self-loathing never leads anywhere good. And for me, weight is about health. Having a mom die so young shakes up your world.

Leonana, Menopause is a "B" where weight is concerned. Even diligence often isn't enough.

Stephanie, we also came home from Italy weighing less than when we went and we ATE. All that walking makes a huge difference. American cities just aren't made for walking (maybe New York).

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Shefali May 22, 2013 at 6:29 am

I grew up in New York City and I never gained weight while I lived there – I think it WAS all the walking. New York is very much like a European city that way. When I left, I gained weight. It’s interesting, even working out a couple of hours a day apparently doesn’t have the same impact as just walking everywhere you go, climbing stairs, standing in the subway… though as a New Yorker I DID walk at a relatively fast pace. Life in the City is fast paced.

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Chloe Jeffreys June 2, 2013 at 9:04 pm

I think you can see that people in “walking cities” are naturally thinner. You really don’t see overweight people in San Francisco either.

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Stephanie (Just Me) June 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I've never been to France, but in Italy dh and I both lost weight without paying any attention to it. We were usually being hosted by people so we ate whatever they served us: espresso and croissants for breakfast, pizza or pasta, 2-hour lunches and dinners, sweet snacks, a couple of feste (feasts) and an occasional pastry or gelato. The only thing I can come up with is that it must have been all the walking! Well, that and stairs built for Goliath and his kin. Does France have big stairs?

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Leonana June 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm

My family must be French. And all this time I thought they were Irish/English! Growing up, my family would make critical remarks of overweight people. It has stuck with me, and I would always eat less once I gained about 5 pounds. Until I had dd and became a SAHM, and couldn't lose that 7 pounds. It seemed easier to lose weight when I was working. Then menopause hit. I can't lose inches without Jillian Michaels, and eating healthier. Just eating less doesn't work well in my life.

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Jules June 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm

And Decorah, Iowa has bathrooms like that too! Egads!! I'm short and MY knees we scraping the door. 🙁 However in width, I'm also way over the limit. Help!!

It makes me angry when overweight people laugh at me that I'm overweight. So what… now I'm supposed to feel better that I'm not as obese as "you"? Or if I'm overweight they won't feel as bad? Ok… hit my button… I'll move on now. 🙂

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Cricket June 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Great post, Chloe. I've not been overseas (yet!)but I do agree that those who have less weight issues are in general more keen on what they are eating and how much. When my size 8's were getting tight I realized/decided I had a choice to make and it was up to me to either control my weight through discipline, or just buy the next size. I'm now down to a 4 and have yet further to go (I'm shorter than you). But making the choice to take control of what I put in my mouth has been priceless.

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Chloe June 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Divorcee, I really do believe this has quite a bit more impact than we realize and may be why, in a world full of Jillian Michaels DVDs, it is so hard for America to lose any weight and keep it off.

I know my husband and I are not big people and were very surprised how small everything was. I didn't even get into how tiny the cars are.

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The Chaste Divorcee June 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm

This explains much. While I know intellectually that I REALLY need to lose 20 more lbs., I feel okay about myself when I look at the other people around me.

I was curious, so I did some Googling. I live in one of the fattest states in the union. I live in the fattest city in my state. Blech.

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The Reader June 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hilarious post, Chloe. All philosophical and then, bam, "don't wear elastic pants." LOL!

You are so right, though; US culture really does just allow comfort/gluttony, other places, not so much. Similar here in Brazil – bathrooms are smaller, food healthier portions, and you are encouraged to linger over your meal rather than rushed out to make way for the next paying customer. Ditto the walking and dressing up, at least in Sao Paulo.

Anyway, rambling, sorry. Interesting post!

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Susan in the Boonies June 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm

We love to kick back and be comfortable, do we not?
And it shows. I think there is something in what you say. Convention here allows gluttony. Not so much, there.

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Robin June 6, 2011 at 4:33 am

Lately I'm finding that ANY waistband is the bane of my existence. 🙂

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a June 21, 2014 at 1:47 am

What’s up, just wanted to mention, I liked this post.
It was practical. Keep on posting!
a recently posted..aMy Profile

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