PARIS (AP) — In one of the most image-conscious cities on earth, France's Parliament has moved to make it a crime to use anorexic models or encourage anorexia, as authorities try to crack down on the glorification of dangerously thin women.
Other countries including Israel and Spain have taken similar action. The French measures would only apply within France, but could have symbolic impact beyond, because of its outsized influence in setting style trends around the world.
"It's not just about protecting the models but also teenagers, because this body-image pressure also affects them and contributes to the emergence of eating disorders and tendencies to eat less and less," said Olivier Veran, a neurologist and legislator who championed the anorexia measure.
The lower house of Parliament adopted the amendment on models Friday, as part of a larger public health bill working its way through the legislature. The bill goes to a full vote next week, and then goes to the Senate.
The amendment forbids anyone with a body mass index below a certain level from earning money as a model. The level — based on height and weight — would be defined later by decree if the law is definitively passed.
Any modeling agency or person who pays a model below that index would face up to six months in prison and 75,000 euros ($80,000) in fines if convicted.
"The idea behind this law is not to send people to prison or fine them," said Veran. "The law will be dissuasive enough to make sure that the health of people working in the modeling industry is protected."
The measure's defenders say they are targeting modeling agencies and protecting the models from pressure to lose weight.
The French Fashion Federation did not respond to phone calls and emails Friday seeking comment on the bill. Several French modelling agencies contacted by The Associated Press refused to comment until the law is finalized.
One agency representative described pressure from designers for thin models, but insisted that his agency did not employ anyone anorexic because they are suffering from a sickness. He spoke on condition of anonymity because his agency is concerned about repercussions from the bill.
The World Health Organization says that a body mass index of less than 18.5 is "underweight." Britain's National Health Service says adults with anorexia generally have a body mass index of less than 17.5. That would correspond to a woman who is about 5 foot 7 and 112 pounds.
French lawmakers adopted a related amendment earlier this week targeting those who run pro-anorexia websites, and another that would require publications to publish a note telling readers when they have altered a picture to make a model look thinner — or less anorexic.
"When you have websites dedicated to helping you hide from your family, your doctor, your friends that you are not eating, throwing up after meals or taking laxatives, when you have websites detailing what is it to be a perfect anorexic by telling you how to ingest cotton balls, drink tea and let them swell in your stomach to block your appetite, we are faced with a problem," Veran said.
These websites, Veran said, are "aimed at an audience of minors, they are weak and it is normal that authorities take steps to put an end to it."
However, the sites are often blogs run by teenagers themselves, making enforcement complicated.
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.
Up to 40,000 people are estimated to have anorexia in France, 90 percent of whom are women, according to the health ministry.
Alex Turnbull and Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.