France moves to ban ultra-skinny models

The French parliament, Friday, adopted an amendment to a sweeping health law that would prohibit fashion models from having an abnormally low body mass index (BMI).

The amendment, which leaves the determination of a healthy BMI to health authorities, imposes a fine of up to 75,000 euros, approximately 81,840 dollars and prison sentences of up to six months for employers of ultra-thin models.

“Images of bodies that valorise excessive thinness or emaciation and that stigmatise curves undoubtedly contribute to unwellness, especially among young girls,” said the text of the amendment proposed by Socialist lawmaker Olivier Veran.

Some 30,000 to 40,000 people in France suffer from anorexia nervosa, a behavioural disorder characterised by an obsessive desire to lose weight.

The condition afflicts some 0.5 per cent of French girls.

In 2010, French model Isabelle Caro died at the age of 28 after posing in a photo campaign to raise awareness around anorexia.

The campaign, which ran in 2007, showed photographs of Caro weighing 27.2 kilograms.

Friday’s measure, which still requires final approval from both houses of parliament, has been slammed by France’s national union of modelling agencies, SYNAM.

It argued that it stigmatises thin people and confuses natural skinniness with anorexia.

“When you take the criteria of anorexia, it’s not just about taking the BMI into consideration.

“It also involves other criteria – psychological, reports of hair loss, dental problems, etc.” SYNAM chief Isabelle Saint-Felix told an international news agency.

He contended that: “It is very serious to confuse anorexia with the thinness of models.”

Conservative lawmakers who oppose the amendment say it is the equivalent of discriminating against people who are thin by nature.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine expressed her support for the measure.

Touraine told French broadcaster, BFM-TV, recently that is was “important for fashion models to say that they need to eat well and take care of their health.”

Friday’s decision is not the first time measures to promote healthy body image have been proposed in France.

However, one of the world’s most important fashion capitals has yet to adopt the kind of legislation that has prohibited ultra-thin models from exhibiting couture in Spain and Israel.

“French modelling agencies are constantly in competition with their European counterparts. Consequently, a European approach is necessary,” SYNAM had warned when the measure was first discussed.


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