Sweaty Diversions in the City of Lights: how Parisians are adapting to modern exercise trends.

In honor of Fashion Week in Paris, a time when models, designers, and clothes horses assume layers upon layers of the chicest garments, I thought I would take the opportunity to write about those rare and shining moments when Parisians choose to undress themselves. The culture of being clothed in Paris is completely antithetical to that which exists in the United States.

While advertisements with full female nudity are quite common here, women in real life cover themselves up from head to toe regardless of the season. In the U.S. where strict pornography laws rule supreme, breasts and any other jiggly bits are reserved for PG-13 films or 18 and older sites. Moreover American women dress themselves in varying layers depending on the season. Goose down parkas in winter, booty shorts in summer. Paris is the capital of fashion however and it is apparent that most Parisians feel the need to showcase the latest trends, as if compelled by some unwritten code of style and French superiority. One new look which has taken root is the shorts and tights combo. This trend became quite difficult to pull off last month when temperatures reached below freezing and suddenly masses of Parisian women were left wondering, “beauty is pain, but am I going to spoil this look with my shivering?” A clever and resourceful lot though they took to the task of working the tights/shorts duo with zeal. Suddenly fashionistas all over the city began sporting short shorts, tights, and thigh high woolen socks. You can’t help but appreciate the integrity of the French. A job normally performed by a pair of warm pants has been delegated to three different articles of clothing. Impractical, ridiculous, and purely fashionable.

All this goes to show that not only do Parisian women cover themselves prudently, they view their bodies as canvases upon which they must pile on several layers of fabric. The sense of mystery and seduction created by their layers is palpable. If it wasn’t for the perfect breasts that greet me every morning at the local news stand or on the metro walls, I would think that French women never get naked. But let’s not forget that there is a reason why French women are such notorious sexpots.

This is where exercise comes in. No not the sweaty grunty kind you think (besides French women don’t sweat, they glow with a delicious odeur de Musk), but rather the kind of physical exertion that has been popular in the States for decades: Yoga. When I was a Bikram Yoga disciple, I would visit the studio by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. At a typical Bikram class in America, students strive to wear as little as possible, not (only) in an attempt to seduce their neighbors, but also simply to expose as much skin as possible to the circulating air so as to cool off their bodies.  Later in the locker room, the women would furtively shield their naked selves with peculiar contortions and artful towel draping. It simply makes sense in America to show as much skin as possible to your outward audience but to keep the good stuff reserved for a chosen few.

In France this is clearly not the case. The 105 degree training room does not dissuade French yoga practitioners from demonstrating their knack for sporty prêt-a-porter wear. Black body suits, leg warmers, and the occasional scarf abound. This is to be expected I suppose. French women have too much pride to be caught dead wearing sports bras and spandex. I respect them for that. In the changing room however things are quite different. Suddenly these women, who normally cover themselves so chastely, are now rapidly shedding their clothes and striking provocative poses. It is common, dare I say a guarantee, to see them posing, back curved, butt and breasts pushed out, before a mirror, admiring themselves and all the hard work they just put into their lovely forms. A few have had the nerve to approach me and strike up conversation at this point. I never hear what they ask of me with their inquiring nipples, but whatever it is sounds beautiful.

It is certainly a sight to be seen, Parisian women without all the layers, pomp, and circumstance, reduced to their natural state of being: naked, fleshy, and begging to be photographed, painted or sculpted. It is no wonder so many male artists in France are still today discovering and worshipping the female form.

If you wish to maintain your yoga practice in Paris, here are some resources for your stay:

Ashtanga Yoga Paris

A beautiful and peaceful ashtanga studio in the 11th district near the trendy Oberkampf area. This studio is run by an American/French couple, offering the perfect blend of  new yogic exploration and traditional practices.

Bikram Yoga

With two locations in Paris, one in the Marais and one in Montmartre, and a slew of classes every week, this studio offers something to meet even the busiest sight seeing schedule. Don’t forget Bikram Yoga is code for Hot as Kansas in July Yoga and bring a towel.

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