When I first arrived in Paris as an expat in 2014, I was immediately caught up in the whirlwind of trying to assimilate into the quintessentially Parisian way of life. I felt like I had been thrown into a daunting race to perfectly master French, become a wine connoisseur, know how to whip up a perfect soufflé—all in a city that was renowned for its fashion, food, and flair. And yet, the task felt like an impossible, inauthentic pursuit.
Often, the City of Lights felt harsh and unwelcoming. The quest to fit into the Parisian ideal of beauty was like trying to squeeze into a mold that was never designed for me. It was restricting, taking away the fun to relish in the bountiful, scrumptious food that Paris is celebrated for, and truly live the joie de vivre I yearned for.
Yet there was one quote from fashion world goddess Coco Chanel that comforted me:
“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
I wrote the quote on an index card that I placed in my journal, ready to be pulled out and read when I needed the affirmation. I ultimately incorporated it into my novel, Plus Size in Paris, inspired by my experience there.
The power of Chanel’s words also helped me discover how I could stay true to myself while being an outlier in a city as polished as Paris. These insights can help anyone be who they are anywhere in the world:
What Being Plus Size In Paris Taught Me
Embrace Your Inner Beauty
Embracing one’s inner beauty is the first step toward fostering a genuine appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us. By recognizing our worth and disconnecting it from physical appearance, we free ourselves to engage with the world on a deeper level.
Appreciating our essence and unique contributions to any environment we find ourselves in – like being a plus size woman in Paris – we become more powerful than the norms that restrict us.
Reconnect with Joy
Rediscovering what brings us joy is a powerful way to enhance our experiences in unfamiliar places. Engaging in practices that tap into our inner wisdom guides us towards fulfilling adventures.
By nurturing a daily connection with our authentic selves, we open doors to new opportunities and experiences that align with our true desires.
Don’t Try to Fit In
Rather than trying to conform and fit in, the path to meaningful connections lies in embracing our true selves. Belonging does not require changing who we are but rather being unapologetically ourselves.
By expressing our authenticity, even in a foreign environment, we can foster connections that transcend cultural boundaries, creating opportunities for expansion, growth, and mutual understanding.
Take Small Risks
Taking small risks allows for personal growth without feeling overwhelmed or depleted. By letting go of self-consciousness and allowing oneself to enjoy the moment, connections can be formed in the most unlikely places.
Taking small steps outside of our comfort zones often yields tremendous rewards and expands our horizons.
Chanel’s words guided me back to my core, reminding me of my individuality, my creativity that had been overshadowed by the demands of motherhood and societal expectations. The essence of my journey in Paris became about unbecoming the layers of expectations and norms that were not genuinely me.
With the help of Chanel’s words, I learned to appreciate Paris from an observer’s standpoint, respecting and admiring its culture without losing my essence in the process. It was a liberating experience, one that brought me back to my creative roots and reminded me of my identity outside societal expectations.
To anyone venturing into unfamiliar territory and struggling to feel like you fit in, remember these words. They may guide you as they did me. No matter the context, what truly matters is being true to oneself.
Erin Zhurkin, author of PLUS SIZE IN PARIS, is an American overseas. After climbing the corporate ladder for many years when the expat life came calling, that ladder was put into storage and her creative life came down from the attic. With her creative voice now at the forefront, she’s living life across cultures and being inspired every step of the way.
To date, she’s lived in six different countries, including Ireland, the UK, Russia and France. Because of these rich and sometimes hard life experiences, she feels called to write stories that resonate across cultures, bringing to light the feeling of dépaysement that occurs. She currently lives in Seoul, Korea with her family and two cats, Coco, and Fifi.