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article imageFrance puts the smackdown on anorexia, bans ultra-skinny models

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 6, 2015 in Health
Paris - In an effort to crackdown on anorexia, France is banning exceptionally thin fashion models. Modeling agents and the fashion houses who hire them will be subject to possible fines and even prison, as a result of a new law passed on Friday.
This move will undoubtedly shake up France's fashion and luxury industries which are worth tens of billions of euros, Reuters reports. Israel enacted a similar ban in 2013, and other countries, such as Italy and Spain, rely on voluntary codes of conduct in order to protect models.
President Francois Hollande's government is in the midst of a campaign to fight anorexia, and lawmakers have also made it illegal to condone anorexia. Plus, any re-touched photo that alters a model's bodily appearance must carry a message stating that the photo has been manipulated.
According to the legislation:
"The activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor."
Any fashion agency caught using models with a BMI under 18 (approximately 121 pounds for a 5'7" model), may face up to six months of jail time and a 75,000 euro ($82,000) fine, Time reports.
The bill also requires models to have a medical certificate that vouches for what the government considers a healthy BMI, and it was paired with another recent bill that bans pro-anorexia websites that encourage unhealthy weight loss. This legislation is an attempt to prevent the worship of the dangerously thin, and to hopefully curb anorexia.
For some, the legislation comes too late. French fashion model Isabelle Caro posed in 2007 for a severely shocking anti-anorexia campaign, but the disease claimed her life when she was 28.
There is a great deal of cultural misunderstanding of eating disorders and being thin is often idealized, so this means patients aren't often able to perceive the gravity of their illness, nor able to seek assistance on their own without the help of family, friends, or clinicians, the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) reports.
For some, society's emphasis on appearance and thinness promotes dangerous dieting behaviors and also blinds many of us to people who are in trouble and in need of treatment, the EDC reports, adding that even young children are sometimes influenced to feel bad about their bodies and encouraged to practice unhealthy dieting behaviors.
In the U.S., about 11 million Americans suffer some form of an eating disorder. Shockingly, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. It's a mental illness that can have a particularly tragic outcome. Commonly known as Anorexia Nervosa, the disease has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder — as high as 20 percent, the EDC reports.
Health complications from the disorder can include heart muscle shrinkage, heart failure, kidney stones and kidney failure, muscle atrophy, delayed gastric emptying, bowel irritation, and osteoporosis.
In the U.S., the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), considered to be the "governing body" of fashion, has focused on education and creating awareness, MTV News reports. Each season, the CFDA sends a set of health guidelines to industry members, but the organization's president has said it doesn't intend to push for legislation.
Relying on the use of BMI as a health indicator is controversial. Because the measurement is calculated based on weight and height alone, critics say that it doesn't account for differences in muscle and body types, and therefore it can't determine if someone is naturally thin or truly suffering from an eating disorder.
Others are also protesting the legislation of what constitutes "healthy" weight, saying that thinness doesn't always connote disease, Time reports.
"When you look at the criteria behind anorexia, you can't look only at the body mass index when other criteria are also involved: psychological, a history of hair loss, dental problems," Isabelle Saint-Felix, head of France's National Union of Modeling Agencies told AFP, per Time. "It's important that the models are healthy, but it's a little simplistic to think there won't be any more anorexics if we get rid of very thin models."
Model Lindsey Scott had an interesting take on the situation. In college she was a healthy athlete, but her BMI was under 18--she weighed 108 pounds and is 5'8," but she'd known people with eating disorders who may have a BMI that would be considered healthy, she told Cosmopolitan, per Time.
Her suggestion?
"Perhaps they should have doctors check for signs of anorexia and bulimia instead of making assumptions based on weight," she said. "Having a bunch of tall, thin, pretty, potentially healthy teenagers cram cupcakes for two weeks and fill themselves with fat injections until they're runway-ready might sound like a great idea for a reality show, but really, is forcing some models into a thicker body type that may not be natural for them the best way to solve a health problem?"
Reuters reports that between 30,000-40,000 people in France suffer from anorexia, and most are teenagers, health experts estimate.
While this legislation may not be perfect, it's still a big step for France, and since the country is the center of the fashion world, perhaps this will encourage models, and those who idealize them, to adopt healthier habits.
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