French Women Keep Smoking to Stay Thin

black and white photo of woman smoking a cigarette

French women don’t get fat – but they might get lung cancer.

The image of the effortlessly cool, effortlessly sexy and – above all – effortlessly slender French woman is incredibly pervasive in media culture. Sharp cheekbones, Breton stripes, cigarettes and long, lanky hair seem as stereotypical and iconic as the baguette or the Eiffle tower. And yet this idea that there is some exotic breed of woman immune to body image issues is, of course, a myth.

Although French men have begun kicking the habit in droves, The Daily Beast reports that French women are far more reluctant to loosen the grip on their Virginia Slims. Why? The might get fat.

In fact, The Daily Beast argues that more women are dying from lung cancer now in France than ever before.

As a result, many anti-smoking ads have popped up, some of which attempt to address this concern:

“If I stop smoking, will I gain weight?” asks another advert, which has been given great play in various French media since Anti-Tobacco Day on May 31. The online advert leads to a website that doesn’t try to refute that many smokers add a few pounds, at least initially, when they stop smoking. But the site offers tips to help smokers gain less weight.”

Zelda Lily has posted before on the dangers of smoking to newborn babies, for instance, but it’s not as though the many, many diseases or complications that come from cigarettes are unknown to most people at this point.

But all of this, argues one anti-smoking consultant, may have nothing to do with weight or health: it has to do… with feminism.

French anti-smoking consultant Mathieu Daveaulli argues that cynical cigarette companies devised a devious plan to feminize cigarettes and brought it to France just after women won the right to vote in the 1940s. “Fifty years ago, a woman who smoked was seen as very vulgar, like a man,” says Daveaulli. “You didn’t see a woman smoking in the street unless she was a whore.”

In their advertising, cigarette makers exploited the emancipation of women by marketing cigarettes as both liberating and slimming, and Daveaulli argues that this, in part, has lead to a growing equality in smoking and death rates between French men and women many decades later.

The idea that advertisers could appeal to women by linking smoking with a sense of liberation doesn’t seem all that far-fetched when you consider that wearing pants in public was still technically illegal in the streets of Paris until a few months ago. Women view smoking as some form of feminist liberation because of those cigarette companies leading them astray. So, you ask yourself: What is the rate of female smokers compared to male smokers today? Just how many more women are smoking than men, due to their vain desire to be thin? How many men have given up smoking because it is the smart thing to do?

In 1950, 66 percent of all French men smoked. Today, that has fallen to 33 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of fumeuses has risen from 20 percent to 26.5 percent, and some experts fear that the rate of women smokers will (with some fluctuations, especially when cigarette taxes spike) merge with the male level.

So let me get this straight. Okay, the number of men who smoke has been cut in half. That is a lot, I’ll grant. But the number for women — even though it has risen — is still not even close to the number of men who still smoke after half have given up the habit!

So why aren’t we investigating why 33% of men smoke? Why, once again, are we treated to an article about women and their tragic body issues?



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16 thoughts on “French Women Keep Smoking to Stay Thin

  1. I’ll admit it: One of the reasons I haven’t quit smoking is because I’m afraid of gaining weight.

    I think the article in The Daily Beast doesn’t focus on the remaining 33% of French, male smokers because I think the article was trying to point out the difference between the percentage of people who *quit* smoking, not the percentage of people who still smoke.

    • Yeah, but by trying to argue that women are all smoking to stay thin and *so* many men have made the responsible choice to quit over the years, it still would be interesting to see why men smoke. Instead, it’s made into yet another body image issue which makes women look hysterical and men reasonable.

      • I see your point, after doing some re-reading and re-thinking. I shouldn’t be so quick to comment when not fully awake yet. ;*)

      • I would just consider it a different issue. This study chose not to examine why men smoke, but simply why women might. Maybe men have the same reasons or different reasons – that’s a separate issue.

  2. I quit October 26th.

    I’ll be 51 in a week or so (all gifts welcome – I’m registered at the usual places :P ), and I have been smoking since I was 10 years old.

    I have quit with varying degrees of success in the past, but always went back to it. It is for good this time. Because I have decided that it is. I’ll no longer be ruled by cigs.

    There are many reasons to quit, your doctor can give them all to you – but I will tell you some good ones.

    1. You stink. Oh. My. God. do you fucking stink. I never realized just how bad a smoker reeks until I regained my sense of smell.

    2. Your house, car, and even your beautiful clothes stink. Sadly, even your children stink.

    3. Wrinkles. It is well documented that smoking causes premature aging, but those nasty around the mouth wrinkles are the worst. Guess what? You’re getting them.

    I have admitted here before that the main reason that I quit was for vanity – I didn’t want those dreaded around the mouth wrinkles. But this also leads to a great 4th reason:

    4. Money! Holy hell do I have the money now! I really had no idea how much I spent on smokes. I have pretty much bought an entirely new casual wardrobe in the 8 months since I have quit. I was easily spending $450 per month on cigs.

    I own me, I’m no longer dictated to by a habit.

    When you are ready, you can and will do it. Good luck!

    • Blurry, how did you quit this time? Lately, I have been considering qutting (I always told myself I would when I finished my master’s degree, and I have now finished that degree), but I want to be successful, and if possible, make this my one and only quit. If I can successfully quit, I really don’t want to go back.

      Also, (this is a personal question, so don’t answer if you don’t want to) how much were you smoking a day when you quit this last time? I smoke between 1/2 and 1 pack per day, dependent upon the events that day, and I’m wondering if I should start weaning myself down, like reducing by one or two cigarettes every week or so. How bad were the cravings, and how did you deal with them?

      I appreciate whatever advice you have to offer, as you obviously have more experience with qutting smoking than I do.

      It’s awesome that you’ve been off cigarettes for so long now, congratulations. I hope you continue to be successful in your quitting efforts.

      • DeAnna, I simply made up my mind that I was doing it.

        It took me about 6 or 7 months to get to the quitting point. I chose October 26th because it just felt like it was the right day.

        I was smoking a pack to a pack and a half a day…BUT as my quitting date approached, I was up to 3 packs per day in the last 2 weeks or so.

        Why? Because I wanted to. I knew in my heart that this was the last time. I truly LOVED my cigs. I was going to have as many of them as I could fit into my schedule.

        The morning of the 26th, I woke up and tossed the remainder of my cigs in the trash. Instead of sitting in front of the computer with my coffee, I had a cup of tea on the deck and watched my pup chase bunnies.

        I hate those gum chewers who look horrifyingly like dairy cows. I immediately went out and bought 7 or 8 packs of gum in the strongest flavors possible. I have been known to have as many as 5 sticks of gum in my mouth at once. I can blow bubbles like a champ. I am fucking awesome at it.

        After a week or so, I began to change a lot of habits. You have to do this. What helped me the most was the amazing amount of time I had on my hands. You’ll be surprised how time consuming smoking actually is. So, I set forth a life plan that reinforced my new smoke free life.

        1. I repainted a different room in my house every week. This helps a lot with the smell.

        2. I had all of my carpets cleaned for the same reason.

        3. I washed all of my blinds, and curtains where applicable. I’m not a heavy drape kind of person, but if I were, I’d get rid of them or get them cleaned.

        4. I treated myself to having my detailed. It was worth every penny.

        I think that this stuff kept me occupied for the first month or 2. I also joined a group at work that walks at lunch. I absolutely refuse to allow anyone to smoke in my home or car. I have a covered deck – they are welcome to use it.

        The main thing is that you have to decide that this is it. I’m not the kind of person who could use nicotine patches or pills as an aid, although that may work for you. For me – I had to get it out of my system. No weaning.

        I did gain weight, you probably will too. It is because you substitute one behavior for another. Most women choose food. Make yours something else that you enjoy. I am an absolute kickboxing freak. Now that I have more stamina and lung capacity, I have added 2 more kickboxing classes. I love the feeling after a workout – completely relaxed yet energized. I think the key thought here is to make it all about YOU. Do things for DeAnna. Treat yourself to a regular pedi. Get those highlights. Work on your body. Trust me, you will be able to afford it.

        I still have cravings once in awhile, but I take my pup for a walk, play a game of spades on the computer, go shopping, make a pot of coffee, etc. It does pass, and quickly.

        • Thank-you for the helpful advice! I really like the idea of setting a day to be the LAST day, and sticking to it. That suits my personality well, as I am deadline-oriented.

          I don’t smoke in my house, so I won’t be facing some of the smell or cleaning issues that you did. But, I just bought the house, and it is FILLED with wood panelling (even the ceilings), so perhaps the painting or remodeling one room a week will work for me as well, more as a distraction from the habit than to rid the smell.

          I know that changing my schedule will be the hardest part of quitting for me. I’m very scheduled with my cigarettes for the most part. Some of this is due to my job. While I work in an office, we run on a factory time schedule, so that means two 15-minute breaks each day plus the lunch hour. I live for 10 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm at work. I also think it will be extremely hard for me to give up the first-of-the-day cigarette I have on my front porch every morning while my cat chases birds and bugs.

          I love crocheting and needle crafts, so perhaps I will be able to use those instead of food to pass the cravings and desire to smoke. Maybe I’ll finally become skilled with cross-stitching and needlepoint. Plus the idea of having much more money is tantalizing…

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  4. Nothing new – I live in Switzerland and know many people (also men do it) who doesn’t quit smoking cause they saw their friends getting fat.

  5. Pingback: A Useful List: “9 ‘Harmless’ Habits That Age You” – Zelda Lily, Feminism in a Bra

  6. Hi, I really enjoyed your post and love the photo. Would you mind if I used it for my own blog? Thanks very much, Caroline

  7. Hi, I really enjoyed your post and love the photo. Would you mind if I used it for my own blog? Thanks very much, Caroline

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