Land of the Lean

Post image for Land of the Lean

by W.F. Price on April 25, 2012

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to continental Europe — over 20 years. And, although many things remain the same, one thing is noticeably different: me.

I lived in France for most of a year when I was a boy, and although I stood out a little as a somewhat tall, blond (at the time) boy in a country of mostly darker, smaller people, I didn’t look obviously American. Actually, back in the 1980s, Americans and Europeans didn’t differ as much from each other as they do now. If you ignored the language and culture and dressed an American up as a European he or she wouldn’t stand out too much. Today, however, there is one thing that really sets Americans apart. That is our size. Your typical American is an order of magnitude larger than your typical European. Not taller (at least not in Northern Europe), but BIGGER. People I saw walking around Amsterdam were tall and lean — very lean by American standards. Heavy people are as much of a minority in continental Europe as they are in Asia, which leaves me feeling, well… kinda like a fatass.

Back home, at 6’1″ and 210 lbs. with a fairly large frame, I don’t feel all that big. I’ll sometimes think I ought to lose ten pounds or so, but there’s little pressure, as I look around and see people much fatter than I am all over the place. However, after a few days walking around in a couple cities in Europe, I feel like ten pounds would be entirely insufficient. In fact, twenty would be more like it, and maybe even more.

It would be hard to overemphasize how much this affects the average level of attractiveness in America and Europe respectively. Although Dutch people seem to be naturally pretty good-looking, I somehow doubt they’d be all that attractive with an extra twenty pounds or more of lard. In the Baltic region, where I am currently staying, people are at least as thin as the Dutch, although perhaps not quite as tall. While there are certainly some beauties around town, the people don’t strike me as naturally more attractive than Americans, but they are so much thinner that it really isn’t any contest at all. And this is not only the women, but the men as well. I have seen precisely one obese person so far, and he was probably one of those people who really does have an endocrine problem. In the states, on the other hand, one sees enormities shuffling about in every public space.

Now that I think of it, I did see a couple other obese people here, but they don’t count, because they were an American couple!

I took a couple pictures of some random people on the street just to give examples of what’s normal here. First is a guy, and next a couple women. I deliberately chose to photograph ordinary-looking people so as to give readers an idea of the average schlub rather than feature standouts. Neither the man nor the women are particularly attractive, but nor are they an offense to the eyes.

Ordinary guy:

This guy is nothing special, and kind of scruffy by the area’s standards, but his slim physique is the norm. Young men are overwhelmingly slender, and many of them quite good looking. I chose this guy because he’s passable in his current state, but if he had a gut – as he probably would in the US – he’d be pretty unsavory.

Ordinary women:

The woman on the right is middle-aged and no beauty queen, but she’s got a trim, slender physique that suits her build. In the states, her equivalent couldn’t wear that coat and show as much leg without being an embarrassment. This woman is pretty much average for Northern Europe, believe it or not. In the states, she’d be downright skinny. The woman to the left is older, in her 50s, but still maintains a passable physique.

Something about the American lifestyle, starting around 1990, has really done a number on our people. We are, objectively speaking, a lot less attractive than we were a generation ago. If there’s any silver lining, it is that a lot of older American men do seem to have the discipline to stay in shape longer than men in other parts of the world. Back in Seattle, there are lots of gray-headed guys in great shape, cycling, jogging, etc. They aren’t the majority, but older guys in Europe do seem to let themselves go a bit more than in the states. Perhaps, however, this is because older men in Europe, surrounded as they are by attractive women, don’t feel as much pressure, whereas an older American guy really has to work at it to get the attention of the vanishingly few attractive women.

I’ll have more observations later, but in the meanwhile I’ll be out walking – not driving – around town, and eating reasonable portions of healthy food.

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