Banned: Illegal to promote ultra thinness in France

Places around the world (not the U.S.) are finding ways to discourage ultra-thinness and eating disorders in a powerful way.


The Christian Science Monitor reported the other day that you will now we fined (or jailed) if your website or blog promotes ultra thinness or excessive dieting. The promotion of excessive thinness or eating disorders is now a punishable crime with fines up to $78,000.

France is fed up with the growing numbers of sites that glorify destructive eating behaviors; particularly those sites that offer contests, support, and tricks that lead to the success of starving oneself.

Coming on the heels of related initiatives in Spain and Italy, the ban is the latest and most far-reaching attempt to stem a disorder – and an image of womanhood – with which hundreds of thousands of Europeans wrestle. But how effective will the measures – and some are quite creative – be?

France’s bill, which must now be approved by the Senate, won unanimous support from Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, empowers judges to punish with prison terms and fines of up to €45,000 ($72,000) any publication, modeling agency, or fashion designer who “incites” anorexia. It also allows for the prosecution of websites whose pages and blogs promote eating disorders.


France’s fines follow the ban that Spain put in place in 2006 that banished ultra-thin models from walking down the catwalk.

In Spain, where some experts say that eating disorders affect 1 in 200 young women, the country’s major fashion show provoked controversy two years ago when it tried to address the issue. Banning from the catwalk models with an unhealthily low body mass index (or BMI – a weight to height ratio) of below 18, the vice-councilwoman for the Economy in Madrid’s regional government, Concha Guerra, said, “Our intention is to promote good body image by using models whose bodies match reality and reflect healthy eating habits.”

In addition, the Spanish government has successfully persuaded 90% of Spain’s clothing manufacturers to standardize female clothing sizes. This action was based on a study of the size and shape of 8,000 Spanish females between the ages of 10 and 70. Spain also wants to discourage the use of display mannequins that are smaller than a Size 38 (U.S. Size 6).

Note: According to The World Health Organization, anyone with a BMI below 18.5 is underweight. In addition, a BMI below 17.5 is one of the criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. A BMI nearing 15 is usually used as an indicator for starvation. (Here’s more information from the National Institutes of Health along with a BMI calculator for your reference)


Unilever, parent company to Dove and Axe, agreed to ensure that their models adhered to a BMI of between 18-25, which is, medically speaking, in the “normal” range.

“Unilever has adopted a new global guideline that will require that all its future marketing communications should not use models or actors that are either excessively slim or promote ‘unhealthy’ slimness,” –Ralph Kugler, president of Unilever’s home and personal care division


The Health and Sports Ministries in Italy launched a campaign last month that provides media guidelines that are meant to discourage ultra-thin body ideals. Milan, following the path of Spain, is requiring it’s fashion runway models to have a BMI of at least 18.5 They are also providing eating disorder education in schools.

That campaign came just months after one of the country’s clothing labels began its own anti-anorexia campaign with billboards depicting the nude, emaciated body of anorexic French model Isabelle Caro. –CSM

The UK

While the organizers of London’s Fashion Week did not follow Spain and enact a ban of any models who had a freakishly low BMI, they did require all fashion models to demonstrate that they were in good health by bringing in a signed certificate from an eating disorders specialist that stated it was so.


The government recently launched a media code of conduct on body image. Minister of Youth Affairs, James Merlino, explains that the code of conduct contains 4 clauses that he encouraged the media, fashion world, and advertisers, to adopts.

The Code contains four clauses regarding:
· The use and disclosure of altered and enhanced images;
· Representation of a diversity of body shapes;
· Fair placement of diet, exercise and cosmetic surgery advertising; and
· Avoiding the glamorization of severely underweight models or celebrities.

As Leslie Goldsmith mentioned over on The Huffington Post, it’s been quite a “tumultuous week for body image” in Australia. In addition, it’s been proposed that as of mid-2008, plastic surgery (and tanning beds) are off-limits to teens under 18 years of age. Unfortunately, at the same time, the news highlighted “Club 21,” a clique that ranks girls based on weight. Nope, not kidding.

Members of the elite club, dubbed “Club 21” or “Big 21”, parade their ranking from one to 21 on their wrists. The skinnier and prettier the girl, the higher her rank. One respondent to an internet forum on the issue said: “Ugly girls need not apply.”

I guess we need to take the good with the bad in Australia. At least the government is taking some action.


Still waiting…

Currently, our defense against ultra-thin models has to do with plumping out disturbing waifiness with photo-shop instead of hiring more “real-size” models, as well described on feministing and shapely prose.

Due to first amendment rights, people are skeptical that such a ban issued in France could be successfully issued in the U.S. According to Sudan Scafidi, an expert in fashion law at New York’s Fordham University Law School;

We do ban advertising of smoking in the U.S. and we take smoking into consideration for movie ratings. But we know there is a clear link between smoking and lung cancer. No one has yet established a connection between images in magazines and skinny girls.”

I guess that means it’s back to work for all of us…

photo from


One Response

  1. It strikes me as unfortunate that a system designed to protect Americans (the Bill of Rights) may end up preventing any sort of legal protection of young, impressionable women in the modeling industry and/or gravely ill young women in the industry who will have their illnesses reinforced by their careers and therefore not seek treatment. What is this American woman to do?

    I was enamored with this article. Would you consider submitting it to a blog carnival I am hosting this month, the Fabulous! Festival?

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