French Women Hate Exercise: a Fresh Perspective on “Working” Out

KC.NET. FEATURE. French Women Hate.1. 2016

Privately, in my quest for a holistic lifestyle that will bring me health and less flab, I have secretly fallen in love with all things French.

First of all, j’adore the book French Women Don’t Get Fat: the Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano, which is arguably one of the sanest non-diet books ever written.

Second, I love the French concept of fashion, which follows the classical definition of modesty. This means that they dress with simplicity and grace, not using their wardrobe to show how rich they are. The French prefer to wear a few high-quality items day after day rather than keep mountains of shoes and things they will hardly ever wear. In fact, if someone dresses in greatly varying ways each day or fusses for too long getting ready to go out, the French consider this a sign of vanity.

Finally, behind the diet and the minimalist wardrobe is a whole lifestyle and way of thinking about life. Americans perceive the French as decadent folk who take life by the guts and swing with it. Chocolate, wine, butter, bread, vacations. And on top of that, they’re gorgeous!

Naturally, when I heard Ms. Garance Dore on NPR this weekend, I checked out her fashionista podcast.

Seriously, you have got to listen to these French women talk about working out.

I can’t promise it will be particularly motivating, but I can promise that listening to this episode of Garance Dore’s “Pardon My French” podcast will make your daily walk feel indulgent.

It’s the episode from May 19, 2016 entitled, “Pocket PMF: Exercise.” Basically, Dore takes thirty minutes of girl time with other French women working in New York City to chat about Pilates, and ends up revealing something mind-blowing about the French and fitness.

Basically, French women hate working out.

The cool part is that it goes deeper than that.

It’s not that French women don’t love to move. One of the women on the podcast studied dance for several years, and the French are notorious for walking everywhere. In fact, most of them used walking as their form of daily exercise.

One of the other ladies said she had to trick herself into working out every morning and force herself to do cardio in the afternoon when her energy was getting low. But she had to make the afternoon cardio video into a “dance break,” where she turned on her own music while doing butt-lifting aerobics. If she didn’t call it “dancing,” she wouldn’t have been able to handle it, because she hated “working out.”

It was unanimous. All the French women thought it sounded too much like work.

Not only that—they considered 30 minutes to an hour of their day working out to be a profound waste of time.

They commiserated about how back in France women would criticize each other for being vain if they spent too much time or money on their appearance, and that included working out. In spite of themselves, they confessed to enjoying the results of their butt-lifting videos and thigh-toning Pilates. Even the women who simply went out of their day to walk for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening said they didn’t lose weight, but they did it to feel healthier.

To these women, workouts were indulgences. They know what Americans don’t—that every moment of your time is irreplaceable and completely precious. They knew they were making a choice to spend extra time to look just a little extra fabulous, and even though they resented it, the workouts were a little piece of America they didn’t mind internalizing.

Eventually, they agreed that getting out of the mind and into the body at least a couple times a day was essential, and ultimately, very French.

As I heaved my size 30 hips around the track for yet another lap, I wished that women of the world could all speak together and find a grand middle way where breastfeeding breasts aren’t a big deal, size doesn’t determine ability, and a little extra discipline is like an extra piece of chocolate.

I figure if the French ladies can find a way to make workouts into indulgences, then maybe I can, too.


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