French MPs back law to bar promotion of anorexia

French MPs on Tuesday approved a groundbreaking law against the promotion of anorexia, making it illegal to publicly incite excessive thinness.

The Bill, which would bar any form of media, including websites, magazines and advertisers, from promoting extreme thinness, encouraging severe weight-loss or methods for self-starvation, is the furthest any Parliament has gone in the fight against anorexia and its public portrayal.

The law is specifically aimed at what French MPs called pro-anorexia ”propaganda” websites. These sites, loosely termed ”pro-ana”, often support anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than a medical disorder, sometimes personifying the condition as a girl called ”Ana”.

The blogs and forums, which have developed in the United States since 2000 and grown in France over the past two years, often include message boards frequented mainly by teenage girls and young women with advice on how to get through the pain of extreme hunger after eating a yoghurt a day, or how to hide extreme weight loss from parents or doctors. Some use pictures of excessively thin models as ”thinspiration” for self-starvation.

The law, which will go before the French Senate next month, allows judges to imprison and fine offenders up to â,¬30 000 if found guilty of inciting others to seek to become dangerously thin by depriving themselves of food to an ”excessive” degree. If a victim dies, the offender risks three years in prison and a â,¬45 000 fine.

Last week, French MPs, fashion-industry leaders and advertisers signed a separate voluntary charter on promoting healthier body images after a long consultation following the anorexia-linked death of a Brazilian model in 2006. Spain banned ultra-thin models from catwalks in 2007.

But Valery Boyer, the centre-right MP who tabled the Bill, said the voluntary charter did not go far enough.

It is not clear whether the proposed law could affect the fashion industry or fashion magazines over use of models who are extremely thin. In an interview with The Associated Press, Boyer said the legislation, if passed, could enable a judge to punish those responsible for a magazine photo of a model whose ”thinness altered her health”.

She said: ”We have noticed that the socio-cultural and media environment seems to favour the emergence of troubled nutritional behaviour, and that is why I think it necessary to act.”

The French Health Minister, Roselyne Bachelot, said the law would allow ”a larger public debate” on anorexia and its 30 000 to 40 000 sufferers in France.

Opponents said the Bill was too vague in defining ”extreme thinness” and describing who might be punished for promoting it. Left-wing opposition MPs largely abstained from Tuesday’s vote.

Didier Grumbach, president of the French Federation of Couture, said he was not aware how broad the proposed legislation was, but opposed sweeping measures. — guardian.co.uk Â

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