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France: Outlawing Ana
French lawmakers battle eating disorders


Lucie  Schwartz

Lucie Schwartz is a Bay Area reporter and documentary filmmaker. She was raised in Paris by a French mother and an American father. Schwartz has a Bachelor's in journalism from NYU, a Masters in journalism and documentary filmmaking from UC Berkeley and has worked on documentaries for NBC News. She is currently working as an Associate Producer for Lucasfilm.

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Length: 15:43

When I returned to my home country of France for a month in August 2008, I realized it was undergoing a major identity crisis. The French's ability to maintain fashionably small waists in spite of their famously epicurean tastes was looking more and more like an illusion.

A two-year epidemiological study called "Mona Lisa" had revealed that 67 percent of men and 57 percent of women in France were overweight. That didn't sit well with the French Ministry of Health.

The country went on a full-blown anti-obesity campaign. Vending machines were banned from public schools across France and public service announcements urging viewers to exercise and get their daily dose of fruits and vegetables aired around the clock.

Obesity had become a major public health concern that was costing the country between 10 and 15 billion euros in healthcare costs each year -- about 7 percent of what is spends annually.

Valerie Boyer

In April 2008, France's lower house passed a law that would make it illegal for magazines, blogs and websites to promote eating disorders by presenting extreme thinness as a beauty trait.

Valerie Boyer, a right-wing member of the French lower house of Parliament, is a strong supporter of the anti-obesity campaign. But, lately, what has garnered her international attention is her concern over using extremely thin women to promote the idea that being skinny is the only path to a healthy lifestyle.

In April 2008, France's lower house passed a law that would make it illegal for magazines, blogs and websites to promote eating disorders by presenting extreme thinness as a beauty trait.

Boyer's bill, which still faces a vote in the French Senate, particularly targeted "pro-Ana" websites, or blogs on which young women share tips on how to become anorexic. (For users of these sites, "Ana" has become a mythological personification of anorexia.)

When I started researching Boyer's bill, I had never heard of "pro-Ana" sites. A quick Google search turned up hundreds of websites, in every country and in every language. They feature disturbing images of skeletal women and lists of commandments that dictate the path to thinness and starvation.

And although anorexia is far less prevalent than obesity in France, the number of "pro-Ana" websites has increased dramatically in the last few years.


Sarah was the only person old enough to speak about her "pro-Ana" blog on camera without her parents' approval.

Even though I have never suffered from an eating disorder, these "pro-Ana" sites began to haunt me. I couldn't stop thinking, "Who are the people behind these blogs and what does belonging to the "pro-Ana" movement mean to them? Were they ill or were they criminals who deserved the $30,000 fine and two-year prison sentence Boyer's bill was calling for?

I began leaving comments on some of the blogs and sending messages to their authors, identifying myself as a journalist keen to understand why they think anorexia is a lifestyle and, most of all, why they promote it.

I received dozens of emails from young girls -- some as young as 8 years old -- who described scenes of sexual abuse in their past, a consequent rejection of their bodies, and a need for an outlet to describe their pain.

Most of the other girls I communicated with had been hiding their eating disorders and blogs from their parents, taking advantage of the anonymity of the web to tell their story.

Sarah, the main character in this film, was the only girl old enough to speak about her "pro-Ana" blog on camera without her parents' approval.

When I met her, she was desperately trying to break her routine, which alternated between anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and huge fluctuations in weight, without help from her parents or doctors. For her, the online community she had entered provided a form of therapy.

But in my last conversation with Sarah this summer, she told me she had to shut down her blog because a few of her friends had grown suspicious of her and found the link to her website. In the same panicked breath, she told me that, despite the incident, she intended to start a new blog soon.

I wondered if she were the type of person the proposed law intended to punish.

-- Lucie Schwartz

Comments for this page are closed.


Absolutely wonderful work, sensitive, respectful and above all intelligent. Fait avec beaucoup de delicatesse, well done. Good luck on your future work, and please, continue sharing it with us.

Alice Lamy - St Germain en Laye, France
Good work, Ms. Schwartz! Informative, concise, moving by the nature of the subject but not voyeuristic.How about a documentary on women's magazines and feminine stereotypes, especially in the Western world?Good luck!

Tucson, AZ
My daughter's anorexia was diagnosed when she was 13. At 24, we had no choice but to put her in a treatment center to save her life. Treatment cost us just slightly more than the proposed fine for blogging. Perhaps (if it's a victim who's blogging) the fine could stipulate it's to be used for treatment, and the "jail time" changed to time in the treatment center. Billboards and other ads with too-thin women looking HIDEOUS will probably do more than anything to prevent the illness. Equal time against the skinny glamour ads would be nice!

Thomas Hill - Ontario, Ca
An excellent documentary. It's interesting that Valerie Boyer wants to make a law against anorexia, 2 years in jail and a 30,000 euros fine. The fine shows the intensity for something to be done and that's admirable if it's to get the attention of the public. I don't agree with the fine but I like the attention this disorder is receiving though this article.

Durand Garcia - San Francisco, CA
Your documentary explores a very important subject. It does so in a sensitive and intelligent manner. You are obviously a talented journalist who should continue to illuminate this and similar subjects. The film only touches on a disturbing fact - the relationship between child abuse and eating disorders or, rather, self image disorders. This is something you may wish to examine further.