The French Government today passed a bill to make the promotion of anorexia in the media illegal.
It’s a been some time in the making. In contrast to countries like the United States, obesity, although on the rise in France, is not a major problem compared with anorexia, which has been an issue here since the 1970s.
It is immediately apparent to any visiting Brit that the French are much thinner than the British – the women averaging about 20 pounds lighter. Mostly, it also has to be said, this is very healthy. Frenchwomen do not tend to overeat, nor – in particular – overdrink. They eat a bit of everything, and savour a meal, but ‘la ligne’ is very important, so clearing your plate and asking for seconds are generally frowned on in polite society, and you’re meant to make do with one glass of wine per meal.
At the far end of the spectrum, however, a problem emerges in that Frenchwomen are constantly bombarded with images of thinness. A quick look at the shopping channels of a morning shows endless Spanx pants, weight-loss creams, cellulite removers, special suits in which to sweat off weight, body sculpting creams and whatnot. The toll that this takes on teenage girls who are not yet comfortable with their body image is well known, and there are thought to be about 40,000 anorexics in France – as you might guess, the majority of them are young women.
Prompted by the deaths of several international catwalk models from anorexia, in January 2007 the French ministry of health put together a working group to look at images of women in the media and to ask whether they were effectively promoting anorexia. Members included prominent psychiatrists, psychologists and members of the fashion industry. Their findings have led to today’s law, which is targeted not only at fashion magazines, etc, but more particularly at pro-anorexia websites. It has yet to be ratified, but if it is, the promotion of anorexia will be punishable by two years jailtime, plus a fine of 30,000 euros (nearly $48,000) – or more, if that promotion can be shown to have led to someone’s death.
The above image of French actress Isabelle Caro was shot by Oliver Toscani for the NoLita anti-anorexia campaign but had to be withdrawn from public view in Italy for ‘causing offence’