I enjoy the whimsy and charm of Mireille Guilliano’s writing. I finished her Women, Work and Savoir Faire and loved every minute of it. Here’s a wonderful passage from her joy of living manifesto French Women Don’t Get Fat:
Dr. Miracle’s approach was much less confrontational and more civilized. Acording to him, there are two selves in each of us: the one who wants to be slim and healthy and the one who wants something else. One sees the big picture — well-being, self-esteem, fitting into the latest fashions. The other wants pleasures aplenty, and now. One is Narcissus leaning over his pool; the other is Pantagruel leaning over his table. The key, he said, was not to conquer the second, but to broker a rapprochement: make friends of your two selves and be the master of both your willpower and your pleasures. That was the French way.
One must not forget, he said, “il y a poids et poids” (“there is weight and then there is weight”): there’s the “ideal” body weight that shows up on insurance company charts, based on nothing but height; there is “fashion weight,” an ideal much less natural, in which commerce plays a big, sometimes insidious part; and then there’s the “well-being” weight, the one at which a particular individual feels bien dans sa peau (comfortable in his or her skin)… It is the weight at which you can say, “I feel good and I look good.”
A thought-provoking passage and an enjoyable book. Often people will ask about losing weight or achieving a healthy weight but I’m learning that the end result they have in their mind’s eye varies from person to person. They can mean “I want to weigh what I did when I was 16 and on the soccer team even though that was 15 years ago and I have 2 children and haven’t kicked the soccer ball around since Clinton was president.” Or it could mean “I want a single-digit body fat percentage and to have the appearance of beef jerky. However, I don’t want to lose my bosom or bottom.” Or it could simply mean “I want a flat tummy and a reasonably firm body that can move and walk with ease and comfort.” Really, we can be any weight we want to if we’re willing to pay the price. Some people are willing to pay the price of eating turkey, oatmeal, cottage cheese and egg whites for 8 meals a day. Others will decide that being bien dans sa peau combined with life’s gastronomical pleasures is a better way to go. These are individual choices and I say to each their own (although I suppose nutritionist types could find fault with either eating lifestyle, but I am happily not a nutritionist so pass the pan au chocolat).
As I’m pondering these different body-refining options, I realize that a person who simply wants to lose a bit of their excess baggage without losing the option of eating pleasurable food will be sorely disappointed if they enlist the help of a professional who hands over the turkey and egg white diet plan. I remember a few years ago sensing the beauty and fashion cognescetti were quite shocked when women ranked Kate Winslet’s figure the most desirable. Not Jennifer Anniston, tireless disciple of the Zone and martyr to multiple-hour daily exercise regimens? Not Gwyneth Paltrow, microbiotic/all-organic/frequent veggie juice cleanser?
The point is to know thyself and if you are working with a trainer, make sure you communicate how you’d like your body to look (go ahead, cut a picture out of a magazine and bring it with you). If you’re using an at-home workout or system, research the trainer to see what fitness goals he or she tries to help their clients achieve. I remember reading one trainer’s website who claimed that women shouldn’t do cardio because it made them fat — his proof was that an industry study revealed the average group exercise instructor’s body fat percentage was 20%. This is well-below the national average and a percentage at which women can still look like women, but this trainer would have counseled his clients towards a lower number. And I think that would disappoint Kate Winslet, who completely rocks.