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Fashion Police

By April 16, 2008 News No Comments

Everybody be quiet for just a second–that’s the sound of too-skinny French models being kicked off the runway.

You can’t hear it, of course, because they are so skinny, but the statement was loud enough when the lower house of Parliament in France passed a law yesterday which would make inciting “excessive thinness” a crime.  If the law passes in the Senate, then offenders could be punished with a fine of over $70,000 and three years of wearing the same clothes (pinstripe prison jumpsuits).

Although I abhor the marketing of rail-thin figures as ‘models’, I’m not sold on the value of this law.  For one thing, it seems a little vague.  What is excessive for one person may be healthy for another, and the only person who has the right to determine what is and isn’t healthy is a doctor examining the person in question.  (Milan got this right in 2006 when they decided to use a standard measuring tool, in this case, BMI.)  I also worry because inciting excessive thinness can easily be a side effect of a media message without being the message itself.  Consider an ad for Calvin Klein.  On the surface, the message they’re sending me is to buy their clothes, but under that, they’re telling me I need to be skinny to be sexy.  But, they may also be telling me that I need to have money, be heterosexual, be of a certain race or any other number of things, depending on how I choose to interpret the message.  Can we really start prosecuting people based on subliminal ad messages?  Would holding marketers accountable for every possible message mean an end to subliminal advertising, or would it just make the practice more refined? On the other end of the spectrum, is it fair to focus only on messages inciting excessive thinness and not look at messages that may incite excessive fatness?

Writing as someone who has zero experience with the law on pretty much any level, I do think this law can do some good if it is passed by the French Senate.  For one thing, it would make pro-an(orexi) a and pro-(buli) mia websites criminal because they advocate extreme and abusive attitudes towards health and body image.  The pro-ana and pro-mia sites wouldn’t shut down overnight, if entirely at all, but a strong measure denouncing them would still send a powerful message that a disease is to be treated, not touted like a pair of Jimmy Choos.  I would love to see models with a bit of meat on their bones at the next Fashion Week, or mannequins at the mall that, were they human, were of such proportions that they could stand without supports.  However, a law needs to be specific in naming the practices which it makes criminal.  Until then it’s fairly toothless as far as I can tell, with far too many loopholes.

I could write pages on this, and I won’t, but I do want to add that no matter what happens with the law against inciting extreme thinness, my biggest concern will always be with the culture of thin.  I don’t think realistic ads or models with a few more pounds are enough to stop a society from believing that thinner women are prettier women, but I am a supporter of holding people responsible for the messages they send–that’s why I hope the French law is revised in such a way that it is clear enough to really effect change.