France votes to ban ultra-thin models in eating disorder crackdown

Under a new law passed Friday, France will ban excessively thin fashion models, exposing agents and fashion houses that hire them to fines and even jail. Alissa Rubin of The New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan from Paris via Skype.

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    You've probably read stories for years now about how young girls are influenced by the advertisements they see featuring ultra-thin models. Ads, experts believe, that may make them more susceptible to eating disorders like anorexia. Now, the French are taking new steps to fix the problem.

    For more about this, we are joined now via Skype from Paris by Alissa Rubin of "The New York Times". She has been covering the story.

    So, they're proposing a law. What's in the law?


    Well, there are a variety of measures. The one that's probably gotten the most attention is a requirement that models would have to present a doctor's certificate saying that they were at a healthy enough weight to work. And anyone employing models who was employing people without such a certificate would be penalized, both financially and potentially with six months in jail.


    And what would be considered healthy? What are some of the other provisions?


    Some of the other provisions are actually quite interesting. One of them is outlaws Internet sites that encourage anorexia, and that's something that's not much talked about but there are such sites. There are not a lot of them, I don't think, but there are certainly kind of disturbing to look at.

    And then a third provision would actually require that all photographs of — which show models' bodies, if they had been retouched, either to make the figure — the French word is silhouette — look heavier or thinner than it really is, the photo would have to be labeled.

    So, it's three quite significant provisions, and we'll see if they pass the French senate, which is the next body that will have to look at it.


    : What's the modeling industry or the fashion industry have to say about this?


    Well, it's quite interesting. The fashion industry, the big fashion houses of which, as you know, there are a number of them here, have been publicly very quiet about it. But the union of modeling agencies has spoken up, and they feel the way the law has been drafted is very unfair and inaccurate.

    The basis on which the law is — has been done is the — what's called the body mass index, which is an internationally used index, and there's a weight range for normal weight, for overweight, for obesity, and for underweight. And all models would have to be at least within the normal weight not the underweight range.


    Any difference between the French and American sensibilities about this?


    No, I think, actually, the sensibilities are fairly similar, but the philosophy of government is quite different. The French are quite willing to regulate very extensively and in great detail many aspects of life and use the powers of government to do that, and Americans are much more reluctant to regulate. I think on this, they're willing to be a bit more prescriptive.


    And so, what do say they is the connection between the images that a young woman sees and her likelihood to be anorexic, which is sometimes a psychological disorder, right?


    Yes, very often, if not always a psychological disorder. Well, here, I think this is where it's quite confusing. It's not clear what the basis was for targeting the fashion industry. When I at least spoke with psychiatrists about this, they all say that there are so many factors that go into a young woman choosing or slipping into a state where she starves herself.

    And so, it's not really clear that doing this will have a very measurable effect, but more that it creates sort of different respected body images, other than ones that are often very seriously thin, which is what many of the fashion models who are, of course, very much a part of the Paris scene are and have to be in order to get work.


    All right. Alissa Rubin of "The New York Times" — thanks so much.


    Thank you.

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