France Takes Aim At Companies That Hire Ultrathin Models

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The controversial measure is part of an overall healthcare bill expected to pass into law. Spain, Israel and Italy have rules against ultrathin models, but none go as far as the French measure would.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In France, it may soon become a crime to hire or work with dangerously thin fashion models. A controversial new measure is included in a health care bill expected to become law next week. Other nations - Spain, Italy, Israel - have rules against ultrathin models, but none go as far as the new French law would. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has more.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Slinky models strut down a runway in Paris. In the world's fashion capital, there may soon be a limit on just how thin those models can be. Lawmaker and doctor Olivier Veran says he's on a crusade against the mental eating disorder anorexia. His amendment, approved by the French Parliament Friday, will define a minimum body mass index for models. Employers who hire anyone below that index could face an $80,000 fine and a six-month jail term.

OLIVIER VERAN: (Through interpreter) We want to have sufficiently dissuasive measures so people in model work are protected and not pressured to become malnourished. This will also help protect our adolescents at risk because teenagers are under social pressure from the image these models convey to always be thinner and thinner.

BEARDSLEY: If Veran's amendments become law as expected, models will have to present a medical certificate proving they have enough body fat if they want to work as a model in France, and they'll be subject to periodic weighings. The National Union of Modeling Agencies in France issued a statement calling anorexia a mental illness that cannot be fought with selectively repressive measures against the fashion industry. The agency said they are complying with a 2008 voluntary charter that discourages the use of anorexic models. But critics say it's not good enough.

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ISABELLE CARO: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In 2010, Isabelle Caro, an anorexic 28-year-old French fashion model, raised awareness about anorexia in videos like this one and in shocking photo spreads that highlighted her near-skeletal figure. She died shortly after of her illness. After calling half a dozen modeling agencies and not being able to find anyone to comment on the new measures, I simply show up at one agency.

Bonjour. Eleanor Beardsley.

An assistant tells me no one will talk about it. Then she says, you should go visit the designers. They're the ones who give us the measurements of the models they want. We just comply. Another measure in the health bill will require that all retouched photos making models look thinner be clearly labeled. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.