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France cracks down on anorexia

Latest update : 2008-04-17

Legislation proposed by French MP Valérie Boyer cracks down on institutions encouraging anorexia, and questions its representation in the media. Pro-anorexic websites are particularly targeted.


The French government is waging a war on those who encourage anorexia - the media in particular.  Parliament passed a bill on Tuesday condemning all “encouragement of dietary restrictions” that could entail “a mortal risk or directly endanger one’s health”. The bill, still to be validated by the Senate, is a direct attack on "pro-ana" (ana = anorexic) websites which incite adolescents to adopt unhealthy habits.  “My name, or the name that doctors have given me, is Anorexia. Mental Anorexia is my full name, but you can call me Ana. We are going to become real friends… welcome to this dangerous game” – can be read on one of  the most-consulted ‘pro-ana’ blogs in France.


Pro-anorexic sites on the rise


Pro-anorexic blogs, apparently based on a movement in the US that began in 2001, consider anorexia as a way of life rather than a disease. Easily assimilated by adolescent communities with social and psychological problems, these blogs aim to convince them that being over-skinny is beautiful. “Instruction manuals” are also provided, with ingredients for a “natural laxative”,  and suggestions for a “zero-calorie” diet.


 French MP Valérie Boyer, who wrote the bill, specifies that these websites are “to be condemned just like websites that are racist or insulting, or that encourage suicide. They represent a danger for the people.”

Anorexia affects between 30,000 – 40,000 people in France, 90% of whom are women, mostly in their early or late adolescent years. Statistics also show that 5% of anorexics die after 10 years of the disease. The bill suggests a punishment of up to  two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros, rising to 3 years and 45,000 euros in cases of death.

“It will finally be possible to close down these websites that send out morbid messages. I based my [bill's] text on the crime of ‘incitement to suicide’ to modify the penal code”, says Boyer


However, no proven link exists between the ‘pro-ana’ websites and anorexics, according to child psychiatrist Stéphane Clerget. “The ‘pro-ana’ sites have no influence on anorexics” says Clerget, who has treated anorexic models. “This law is notably useful for child protection”, he adds, saying that minors on the Internet could come across shocking photographs of malnourished models.


“Modelling is not related to anorexia”


The new French bill also targets media that showcase anorexic models. “Legal action can now be taken on anyone that hires an anorexic model”, says Boyer.


Justine Dincher, former anorexic and author of “This morning, I stopped eating”, says that fashion pictures played a part in her sickness. “I was influenced by fashion phenomena. I excelled in school, and so I just needed one thing to be perfect – the beauty that one sees in magazines”, she reminisces.


Nevertheless, the fashion world is against linking anorexia to the modelling industry. “The accusations are false”, says Bernard Hennet, president of the Elite modelling group. ”There are fewer anorexics in the modelling industry than in the country in general.” The opinion is shared by Clerget, the child psychiatrist - “Anorexia is a medical term that appeared in the 17th century, when women were plump. Modelling is in no way related to anorexia.”


MP Valérie Boyer says that “the fashion industry is not particularly concerned by the bill”, but specifies that it was passed a week after fashion, media and advertising professionals jointly signed a “charter of good conduct on the representation of the human body, and against anorexia.” The charter aims to “reflect the diversity of human morphology”.


Boyer rejoices at the charter - “The people concerned are now around the same table, and we can progress.”

Date created : 2008-04-16