The French Parliament passed a measure Friday banning the use of excessively thin models on the runway. Part of a larger Health Bill, the measure won a majority vote in the National Assembly lower house of Parliament and will move on to the Senate next week. Other countries, including Spain and Israel, have passed similar legislation in recent years.
The legislation would make it illegal to pay a model whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is below a to-be-determined level (most likely 18). Any agency found to violate the law would face over $80,000 in fines and up to 6 months imprisonment.
Ali Grace Marquart, a founding partner at Marquart & Small and adjunct professor of fashion modeling law at Fordham, is skeptical that the law will be enforceable—or effective. “I don’t think you can say that someone won’t have an eating disorder just because they don’t have a BMI below 18,” she explained on the phone with Jezebel. “And actually enforcing something like that on a daily basis can be extremely difficult, especially given the transient nature of the modeling industry.”
Sara Ziff, a model and founder of The Model Alliance, has shared similar reservations about the BMI measurement with ThinkProgress:
“As doctors and eating disorders specialists have said, BMI is not an accurate measure of individual health; rather, it was formulated to measure across populations and it makes no allowance for the relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body...It is unfair and unreasonable to ban healthy models from working just because they have a relatively low BMI.”
A similar amendment passed earlier this week targets “pro-ana” websites, criminalizing the act of “provoking people to excessive thinness by encouraging prolonged dietary restrictions that could expose them to a danger of death or directly impair their health.” Violators will face up to a year in prison and fines of up to 100,000 euros.
This legislation has faced criticism, too—there’s a very fine line between willfully promoting unhealthy eating habits and sharing personal experiences on an online forum. It remains to be seen how the distinction will be made. According to CBS News, “Similar anti-anorexia measures in 2008 failed to get final approval in the French legislature, and this effort has also met resistance, including from health professionals who fear it will further stigmatize anorexic youth and make it harder to diagnose and treat them.”
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