A chorus of disapproval has been heard by modelling agencies in the world's fashion capital, France, as lawmakers debate a ban on ultra thin catwalk models.
Socialist MP Olivier Veran, also a neurologist at the University Hospital of Grenoble, pushed for an amendment that would make the hiring of underweight girls illegal. Those fashion bosses who violate the law would be imprisoned for six months and also fined up to €75,000 (£60,000). He said that models must submit medical certificates proving a healthy body mass index (BMI) of at least 18 and also have regualr health check-ups. BMI is calculated by dividing one's weight by the square of one's height.
Health Minister Marisol Touraine has given her backing to amendments to a broader health law that would stop model agencies employing models whose BMI falls below a certain level. "I believe that models should eat well and look after their health. This is an important message to young women who see these models as an aesthetic example," she said.
The National Union of Modelling Agencies (SYNAM) complained this would affect the competitiveness of French modelling. "French modelling agencies are in permanent competition with their European counterparts. As a result, a European approach is needed," the union said in a statement.
Some countries, notably Spain, Italy, Belgium, Chile and Israel, have already passed laws on the issue. A second amendment would outlaw sites 'condoning anorexia' and make it a crime to 'glamorise excessive thinness'.
Veran said that "between 30,000 and 40,000" French people suffer from anorexia. "In 90% of the cases, these are adolescents. The image that the fashion industry gives — which is that women have to be pathologically thin to be beautiful and appear on the catwalk — has a very strong social impact," he said.
However, Gerald Marie, head of a Paris model agency, said that while any legislation that reduces anorexia is a positive development, "we shouldn't mix things up. There is anorexia and there are girls who are thin, very thin, naturally and you can make them eat all day and they would stay thin," he said.