Wednesday, 9 October 2013

the little french horse.

Happy Wednesday, friends! I hope you're getting through the week alright...we're halfway done with it already! Thank goodness, huh? :)

I hinted on Monday that I had a topic I'd been wanting to talk about. And, truth be told, this is one that's been ruminating in my head for a long time. A few years, in fact. I think it needs a little bit of backstory before we delve into things, but I'd love to hear from y'all and talk about what you think! 


In 2010, I spent my spring semester living in Paris, France. I'd decided at the tender age of eleven that I simply had to live in Paris at some point. Eight years later, I packed my suitcase and went off on my first big adventure. What can I say? I'm a goal oriented gal. 
Living in Paris was an amazing experience. It was a whirlwind of a semester, filled with confusion, hysterical laughter, and the most beautiful city in the world. But there were some definite downsides to living in Paris, and one of those is that it changed the way I saw myself. 

An Un-Birthday on the Pont des Arts. Totally worth its own post...someday.

Now, I've never been what people might call "big." It may sound ridiculous, but the description of myself I've always held onto actually comes from Little House on the Prairie. Does anyone else remember the bit where Laura is talking about Nellie Olsen, and how Nellie is all willowy and delicate? And then Pa tells Laura that she's built like a little French horse? 

Yeah. I've always felt like the little French horse. I've always said that I'm a sturdy sort of girl. Not overweight, necessarily, but solid. No Mary Poppins wind is going to carry me off. 
Body image is such a huge topic. And the focus of this post is not the way that I think other people see me--which I'm sure is different than how I see myself--but rather, how my life in another culture made me feel about my body. And it's not pretty. 

I imagine people who live in some of the other big fashion capitals of the world have experienced the same thing. Parisian women are not a homogenous group. They come from all sorts of backgrounds, and they're all sorts of beautiful. But a good 98% of the Parisian women I saw on a regular basis were also tiny. They were Nellie Olsens. Metro cars full of them, streets packed with them, all willowy and Parisian and stylish. And here came me, stomping onto the Metro like a giant Amazon horse creature. All I could see was how wrong I looked. I immediately felt how unstylish my clothes were, that my dye job needed a touch-up, that the pain au chocolat I'd grabbed on the way to class was a terrible idea. I always felt inadequate, even on days when I'd really made an effort to look nice. 

I've never been the kind of girl to let a dress, heels, and a fence stand in my way. And this is a photo of my favorite night in Paris. 

I loved living in Paris, but I hate how I let the feeling of being an outsider manifest in my thoughts of myself. Because that's just what happened--I felt out of place, constantly. It's not unusual, really, considering that I was an American girl living in a French city with limited language skills. My whole life there was out of place. And instead of recognizing that and accepting it, I instead tried to squeeze myself into a box of what I thought would make me fit in. 

As the years have gone by since my time in Paris, I've started to see that maybe there's nothing wrong with being a little French horse. It's not something I'm always good at believing. And I'm not trying to say that I felt ugly for a solid four months and then ~*magic*~ happened and now I always feel pretty! If you just wish hard enough, you can, too! 
 What I am saying is that where you live can affect how you feel about your body, and that's okay. I wish I'd spent a little less time in France comparing how I looked to everyone else and a little more time on my French homework. I'm a bit disappointed that one of my overarching memories of my time there is the negative way I saw myself. And I bet that in twenty years' time, I'll feel the same way about how I see myself now. So let's do ourselves a big favor, okay? 

Let's stop being so hard on ourselves. 

It's okay to be an outsider. 

Just because you're living in a city of Nellie Olsens doesn't mean that being a little French horse is any less lovely. 

So here's the last part of my post for today (I know, it's a long one): what do you think? Have you ever experienced something similar? This isn't something I've seen discussed much in the expat community, so I'm really curious as to what people think and feel about it. Has living in another country affected your body image? Feel free to comment below or to email me, if you like! Let's get the conversation going. :)



  1. I've definitely felt worse about myself moving to England, their sizes are different in Europe to America, if you are a size 12 in America, you're a 14 or 16 in the UK, woof. Not only that but girls tend to do themselves up more to do simple things like going to the supermarket, so I've adapted and try to wear more makeup and make an effort with my hair and clothes. After three years, I actually feel like I mix my old self with my new self, and come to a happy medium of a better me instead of only trying to conform and fit in a box I don't fit in.

  2. Little French horses are every bit as beautiful as Nellie Olsens! :)

  3. I think this is pretty specific to Paris, would you have come to an other city, in what parisians call in a superior way "la province", maybe this feeling would have never appeared.
    I know I don't like going to Paris. After less than one day, I already want to come home. It is because of a mix of a million little things about the inhabitants and other kinds of stuff.

    I think French people can be quite judgemental, I know I sometimes am and I always want to slap myself when I realize I am being that way. But in other smaller, quieter cities, size and how you dress isn't such a big matter.
    I live in Rennes, in Brittany, and I think most people wouldn't give a shit if you were built like a sumo or dressed "funny". Actually down here girls with hips and butts are looked at less judgingly (is that an actual word or am have I just made it up...?) than skinny girls. Seriously.


Thanks for taking the time to comment! It's well and truly appreciated. :)

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