Nothing to be ashamed of

FRANCE has only a few plump heroes, real or imagined. There was King Louis the Fat, who ruled from 1108 to 1137, pacified unruly barons, centralised power and won several wars. Gargantua, a giant created by François Rabelais, drank the milk of 17,913 cows each day. Gérard Depardieu (pictured), France’s best-known modern actor, is hefty enough to play Obelix, France’s best-known overweight cartoon Gaulish warrior, on the screen.

In general, however, the French see themselves as gourmets, not gourmands. And indeed they are thinner than people in most other rich countries: only 15.3% of them are obese, compared with an OECD average of 19.5%. Worryingly, though, this has risen from less than 6% in 1990, while the share of adults who are overweight has risen from 30% to over 46%. Growing appetites for processed food and more sedentary lives are leading to bigger waistlines.

For policymakers, this is a problem. Obesity leads to sickness—rates of diabetes are rising, for example. The state estimates that the overweight population already requires extra health and other spending of some €20bn a year. Weight is closely correlated with poverty: a French study last year suggested that children of parents classed as “non-professional” are four times likelier to be obese than those of professionals. To discourage overeating, France taxes sugary drinks, bars junk food in schools and has rules on nutritional labelling.

At the same time, officials want people to be kinder to their plus-sized compatriots. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, hosted a conference last month on grossophobie (fat-shaming), including a fashion show with larger models. (France has previously held several “Miss Ronde” contests.) The event was partly inspired by the success of a memoir by a trainee teacher, Gabrielle Deydier, who describes daily humiliations she endures as a fat person in France, such as being mocked for what she buys at the bakery.

The difficulty for official campaigns against grossophobie, however, is that contradictory messages are louder, glossier and better funded. Despite pledges by fashion and luxury houses not to use skeletal-looking models when promoting their goods, billboards and magazines remain crammed with skinny figures. Activists say this promotes both eating disorders among the thin and misery among the plump.