The Real Reason French Women Don’t get Fat

“Will the euphoria of Paris ever wear off?” I ask my friend S, who is treating me to lunch at one of her secret spots in the 16th. “No, it won’t” she says emphatically, in her beautiful French accent. S is a friend from Vancouver, where she opened the very first store for a Provencal skincare brand of which I am a huge fan. Her store was where I fell in love with cleansing water. French women would never put “eau de ville” (city water) on their face, so they use a mixture of cleanser and purified water called “eau micellaire,” and her stores were the only place to get it in Vancouver. We became friends. She now has a pièd-a-terre in Paris right around the corner from us, and thanks to a timely LinkedIn update, we were having lunch.

S and I have a lot to talk about, having both built and sold companies, and generally hurdled all the challenges of being an independent female business person. Plus, we share a love of shoes. She is opening a shoe store in Paris, she tells me. Right around the corner from Inès de la Fressange’s store in Saint-Germain-des-Près.

While I am devouring a gorgeous plate of dorado with sautéed “mangetouts,” the glorious name for the peas in their pods that means “eat all,” I complain that French women seem to eat enormous lunches and totter around on heels without ever exercising. Not true, S says. She tells me about the dance studio she goes to in the Opera district, called Elephant Paname. I take a quick note on my phone, then we order the chocolate cake.

I bump into S at the studio the very next day. After almost four months of no structured exercise, and a daily baguette habit, I figured it was time time to get back on a mat. And since this dance studio was in a Napoleon III palace, it suited me fine.

The Pilates instructor, Sophie, squeezes me in by the door. The class is challenging, and I love it. I follow most of Sophie’s funny French banter which includes calling people out for acting like they are at the beach. It hurts, but she says we will thank her when we are in our tiny party dresses for “la Reveillon,” (which means The Awakening) and is the word for the all night feast that goes into the wee hours on New Year’s Eve.

But Pilates is nothing compared to the class I will take with Sophie a few days later called “Barre au Sol,” which literally means ballet on the floor. If you can imagine, it’s as if you are doing barre exercises, including all the foot positions, while flipping from back, to side, to stomach on the parquet floor. Apparently, it’s what all the French girls do. And I bet they could do it in heels.