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France moves to ban underweight models, ‘pro-ana’ websites

The French National Assembly has passed two measures that would outlaw hiring underweight catwalk models and promoting unhealthy behavior to lose weight.

Under the measure passed Friday, agencies that hire models whose body mass index, or BMI, is below 18 could receive fines of up to 75,000 euros and six months in prison. A standard BMI for adults is 18.5 to 24.9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A previous version of the bill was rejected last month over concerns that it would violate existing labor laws.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine praised the bill, saying it was an important message to “young women who see these models as an aesthetic ideal.”

The National Assembly voted on the measure just after approving a bill Thursday night that criminalizes the glorification of extreme weight loss. People who encourage “prolonged dietary restrictions” could be subject to a year in prison or a fine of up to 10,000 euros, a measure aimed at so-called “pro-ana” online forums that promote extreme dieting.

The measure is necessary because current laws do not enable legal action against these websites, according to a note attached to that bill.

Critics of the measure raised concerns that it would discourage supportive online communities for people living with anorexia. There are 30,000 to 40,000 people with anorexia in France, and 90 percent of those are women. But Parliament member Olivier Véran, who sponsored the bill, said it distinguishes between supportive forums and those that encourage harmful weight loss.

The French Senate will vote on the measures, which mark the latest effort to reshape portrayals of women in popular French media. After French Vogue published a photo spread featuring children as young as 10 years old in 2010, the French Senate launched an investigation led by Sen. Chantal Jouanno on the hypersexualization of children. Jouanno recommended several measures for limiting unrealistic, sexualized images of children, including outlawing child beauty pageants, which the French Senate voted to approve in 2013.

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