A proposed new French law against incitement to anorexia could ban the use in advertising of images of thin people, especially if they are young. Claire Bouchenard from Paris tells us more.
Who: French MPs
When: May 2008
Law stated as at: 20th May 2008
Everything began with the death of a Brazilian model in 2006 and with the banishment of ultra-thin models from Spanish catwalks in 2007.
It went on with the "No anorexia" campaign of the Italian fashion label "No-L-ita" showing the 25 years old French actress, Isabelle Caro, nude while she weighs 30 kgs, having been anorexic since she the age of 12. This ad was banned in France by the French self-regulatory Office for Verification of Advertising (" BVP "). The BVP considered the ad contrary to human dignity and likely to offend people's sensitivies.
Simultaneously, a working group called "anorexia and body image" was deliberating under the aegis of the French Health Ministry and developed a Voluntary Charter which was signed in April 2008 by the Heath Ministry, the French Fashion Federation, model agencies, advertisers and BVP.
The signatories pledged "not to accept the dissemination of images of people, especially if they are young, which could promote a model of extreme thinness", "to avoid any form of stereotyping that could promote the formation of an aesthetic archetype potentially dangerous to vulnerable population groups" and to "educate the public about the acceptance of body diversity".
The story to date ends with the French bill "against incitement to anorexia" according to which:
- provoking a person to seek excessive thinness, to encourage prolonged dietary restrictions whose effect is to expose to danger of death or to directly jeopardize health, will be punished with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment and a € 30,000 fine.
- if this provocation leads to the death of the person, the penalty is increased to three years' imprisonment and a €45,000 fine.
- propaganda or advertising, whatever the media, for products, goods or methods advocated as a means to achieve excessive thinness and directly undermine health, will be punished by two years' imprisonment and €30,000 fine.
This last provision has been included in order to fight against the proliferation of "pro-ana" (pro-anorexia) websites which appear to advocate anorexia.
The proposed measure is a private member's bill, but it has been adopted by the French equivalent of the House of Commons and is about to be also adopted by the French Senate. Therefore it seems there is a good chance this will become law, perhaps by the Summer of 2008 and by the end of the year at latest.
Why this matters:
About 30,000 to 40,000 persons are suffering from anorexia in France, notably the daughter of the ex-President Jacques Chirac whose wife founded an association called "Solenn's House", dedicated to teenagers' pathologies (Solenn was the first name of a famous French TV journalist's daughter who was anorexic and who committed suicide in the Metro, the Parisian underground).
As anorexia appears to be often linked to the portrayal of women in media as skinny models (also called "size zero" models), the French authorities have decided to incriminate every kind of provocation to anorexia, including through advertising.
Thus the world of commerce is made responsible for the good health of the public and of their dietary choices.
And yesterday, the French Health Minister was talking about banning advertising for some alimentary products in order to fight against infantile obesity…
Is this kind of regulation the answer to eating disorders? This issue should remain a hot current topic in France for a while.
Avocat à la Cour