PARIS (AFP) — A French move to outlaw websites and blogs that encourage young girls to become dangerously thin is stirring much debate among fashion gurus, health experts and politicians.
The groundbreaking bill adopted by the National Assembly this week would make it a crime punishable by up to three years in jail to "incite" anorexia or extreme thinness on websites, magazines and in advertisements.
The measure targets pro-anorexia websites that surfaced in the United States in the 1990s and have made their way to France, offering tips to girls who starve themselves in a self-destructive quest for beauty.
"There has been an explosion of these sites over the past year," said right-wing deputy Valery Boyer, the author of the bill that goes before the Senate in the coming weeks for final approval.
"They offer morbid advice to young girls on how to lie to their parents. It's mental manipulation," Boyer told AFP.
Displaying photos of stick-thin model Kate Moss and actress Nicole Richie, the sites lay down the 10 commandments of the "pro-ana" movement: 1. You are not beautiful unless you are thin. 2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.... And finally 10. Being thin and not eating show real willpower and success.
Called "Ana ma reine" ("Ana my queen"), another site provides a list of ploys to avoid eating such as announcing that you are invited to a friend's house for a meal or taking tiny bites.
Boyer said she was confident that bloggers and website operators would decide voluntarily to shut down, but added that she expected quick action against those who resist.
"We will now have the means to shut them down," said Boyer, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing party.
In presenting the bill, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot singled out what she termed "death messages" being disseminated on the web to young girls who are made to believe that anorexia and bulimia are lifestyle choices and not illnesses.
"These messages are death messages. Our country must be able to prosecute those who are hiding behind these websites," Bachelot said.
Under the measure, offenders could face jail sentences of up to two years and 30,000 euros (47,387 dollars) in fines. A three-year jail term and 45,000 euros in fines could be sought if the incitement leads to death.
There have been voices however questioning whether the measure will be effective in the battle against anorexia, which affects between 30,000 and 40,000 women in France.
Fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier was quoted in Liberation newspaper as saying: "This kind of problem cannot be resolved with laws, but through understanding."
Opposition Socialists abstained from the vote, saying many of the bloggers were suffering from eating disorders themselves and were in denial.
"It's grotesque and ridiculous," said the Socialists' health critic Jean Marie Le Guen. "There are limits to using laws on issues that relate to health."
"In France, we know how to punish, we know how to treat, but we don't seem to know much about prevention," said psychiatrist Sophie Criquillion-Doublet.
"We have to do early detection, before the eating disorders get out of hand," she said. "We need to take notice of low self-esteem or changes in behaviour."
The vote in the lower house came a week after the French fashion industry signed a charter to promote healthy body images in magazine ads and on the catwalks of Paris, the world's fashion capital.
Concern over weight healthy body images have grown since the death in November 2006 of 21-year-old Brazilian supermodel Ana Carolina Reston, who weighed less than 40 kilos for her tall 1.7 metre frame.
Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, collapsed and died on a catwalk during a fashion show in Montevideo in 2006.
Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani caused a stir last year with a series of anti-anorexia ads featuring Frenchwoman Isabelle Caro, who weighs just 32 kilogrammes (70 pounds) for a height of 1.65 metres.
The ads for the Italian clothing firm No-l-ita were launched in the middle of Milan fashion week under the slogan "No to Anorexia" but were banned in France under a law which prohibits making commercial use of someone's illness.
The charter outlines a series of guidelines but falls short of imposing restrictions, as is the case in Spain which has set limits on the weight for catwalk models.
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