Weight is clearly a cultural issue, not just an aesthetic one.
French women are the thinnest in Europe but don’t realise they are, while lardy Brits think their weight is normal, according to research from France’s National Institute of Demographic studies.
Although five per cent of French women are clinically underweight, they don’t believe themselves to be – they think their weight is normal. "This shows that what people consider an ideal weight in France is lower than in other countries," said the study’s author Thibaut de Saint Pol.
Meanwhile, many British (and Spanish and Portuguese) women who are not thin appear to think of themselves as ‘seriously skinny’ – perhaps because they are simply not as overweight as their peers.
Overall, in this study, which covered 15 European countries, only the French have a majority of people of both sexes in the ‘normal’ weight range as advised by the World Health Organisation – in every other country, people are moving into the overweight ranges (a Body Mass Index over 25).
The study also found some interesting differences between the sexes. Women who are underweight rarely appear to denigrate this – to be underweight is to be thin, and to be thin is to be desirable in European culture: it is when women gain weight that they find it unacceptable. However, men are more likely to denigrate themselves for being underweight than for being overweight, because a certain degree of overweight is seen as showing strength.
However, for any woman carrying a bit of weight after Christmas, there is one ray of sunshine – their men are generally in worse shape than they are. The mean weight for men is overweight in every European country except France and the Netherlands.