France’s ul­tra-thin ideal is passe but not a prob­lem says plus-size model


France’s waif ob­ses­sion means its fash­ion sec­tor snubs many women with big­ger body types, but there is no need for a ban on ul­tra-thin mod­els, said the pa­tron of a plus-size Paris cat­walk show un­der way this week­end.

“It’s a cul­tural block­age,” ex­plained Clemen­tine Desseaux, a 26-year-old French model who lives in New York.

The size-44 brunette gets year­round cat­a­log and cam­paign mod­el­ing work in the U.S., where she em­i­grated four years ago, com­pared to rare jobs in France as Amer­i­can depart­ment stores rec­og­nize that most women aren’t slim, she says.

“In the United States, it’s a mar­ket apart. You can make a ca­reer as a plus-size model. In France, it’s not a ca­reer, it’s a hobby; there are no clients” Desseaux said.

But, she added, “it’s not for lack of de­mand: there are a lot of round women here. Parisian women are round, too. You mustn’t think they are all small and thin!”

The data back her up. Ac­cord­ing to the French In­sti­tute for Tex­tile and Cloth­ing, size 40 is the most-sold size in France, and 40 per­cent of French­women wear size 44 or over.

Third Pulp Fash­ion Week

In an ef­fort to re­bal­ance the scales, Desseaux is the star model at the third Pulp Fash­ion Week, an event held over Satur­day and Sun­day in Paris that fea­tures larger women on the cat­walk.

Twenty- four mod­els will be walk­ing the podium in some 20 la­bels to show that fash­ion is not only for the slimmest of cus­tomers.

Such ini­tia­tives are also held in the U.S., United King­dom and Ger­many, with greater suc­cess.

The or­ga­nizer of the Paris event, Blanche Kazi, said the re­fusal by ma­jor plus-size fash­ion la­bels was the main stum­bling block.

“They are the ones who could re­ally shake things up with big spon­sor bud­gets and fi­nan­cial part­ner­ships,” she said.

She and the mod­els, though, are determined to in­still a sense of pride in plus-size women in France, and to push French cloth­ing stores to cater to larger sizes.

“Here, the im­age of big-size women is hor­ri­ble. There’s a lot of work to be done,” Desseaux said. “I want to make things change. One day I’d like to re­turn to Paris, but I’m not ready yet.”

In France, the model said, “I don’t fit into any­thing. And yet, I’m not huge. In the United States, I fit into size M or L. There are a lot more sizes — noth­ing stops at size 42 in the U.S.”

Against Ban on Thin Mod­els

For all her mor­pho­log­i­cal mil­i­tancy, Desseaux is against France’s mooted leg­is­la­tion to ban ul­tra-thin mod­els who are un­der a cer­tain body mass in­dex (BMI).

The mea­sure was voted last week by law­mak­ers in the French par­lia­ment’s lower house, and could well be­come law if the up­per house backs it.

Desseaux, like other pro­fes­sional mod­els, be­lieves that the nat­u­ral thin­ness of many top cat­walk mod­els is be­ing wrongly mixed up with the med­i­cal con­di­tion of anorexia.

“For me, it’s just as dumb to say you’re too thin as it is too say you’re too fat — it’s the same thing,” she said.

“The prob­lem is not a model’s BMI,” she said, adding that a more con­crete is­sue was the in­sis­tence of cer­tain fash­ion la­bels to hire only un­der­fed mod­els.

Desseaux said a friend who used to work at one of France’s most rec­og­niz­able top fash­ion houses told her about a heavy door it had at its en­trance.

“If a model ar­rived and was able to open the door by her­self, they didn’t hire her — that meant that she was too strong.”

That be­lit­tled strength, how­ever, is ex­actly what Desseaux and other XL mod­els are now us­ing to open the door for the French fash­ion world to ac­cept larger frames — and it’s a door they in­tend to open wide.


Mod­els and fash­ion blog­gers pose be­fore a show, part of the third edi­tion of the Pulp Fash­ion Week Paris on Satur­day, April 11.

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