New French law says airbrushed or Photoshopped images must be labelled

Models present creations by British designer Jasper Conran during a show held during The London Fashion Week Women's on September 16, 2017.
Models present creations by British designer Jasper Conran during a show held during The London Fashion Week Women's on September 16, 2017. NIKLAS HALLE'N, AFP

All commercial photos that have been digitally retouched will now have to bear a label in accordance with a new French law that aims to combat unrealistic body images and eating disorders.


As of October 1, "it will be mandatory to use the label ‘retouched photo’ alongside any photo used for commercial purposes when the body of a model has been modified by an image-editing software to either slim or flesh out her figure”, the French ministry of health said in a statement published last May. The law applies to photos published both in magazines and online. Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to €37,500.

The new law is part of a two-fold attempt by French lawmakers to restrict fake and unhealthy portrayals of people’s bodies and, by doing so, combat eating disorders.

While a range of factors contributes to the development of an eating disorder, unrealistic portrayals of physical beauty in the fashion and advertising industries are known to play a role for some, who develop the illness by aspiring to look like the images they see. For these girls, the problem begins when they aspire to an ideal that has been computer edited and, therefore, isn't real or attainable.

But trying to sort the real from the fake has become increasingly difficult over the past 25 years, when editing and airbrushing models and their bodies has become the norm in both the advertising and fashion industries.

Some 600,000 young people are thought to suffer from eating disorders in France, including 40,000 people suffering from anorexia. Eating disorders are the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, after road accidents.

France is also seeking to make sure the models themselves are healthier. Another law – which took effect in May – requires French or European models working in France to present a medical certificate attesting to their health. The doctor who signs off on the certificate must pay extra attention to the model’s Body Mass Index (BMI). According to the World Health Organization, a person is considered unhealthily skinny if their BMI is less than 18.5.

The two laws were approved in January 2016 but were not implemented until this year.

This is not France’s first attempt to combat eating disorders. A 2015 law punishes anyone who advocates excessive thinness – especially those who run pro-anorexia websites – with up to a year in jail and a fine of more than €10,000.

French fashion companies have also been taking recent steps to regulate the industry itself. Ahead of New York Fashion Week this September, a host of French-owned fashion labels from Christian Dior to Yves Saint-Laurent pledged to ban ultra-thin models from their ads and shows as part of a charter drafted by two French conglomerates. The charter – by LVH and Kering, who, together, own dozens of top brands – would also outlaw using girls under the age of 16 to model adult clothes. Moreover, it stipulates that models under the age of 18 should be accompanied by a guardian or chaperone and should not be served alcohol.

In tandem with these reforms, more and more women in France have been breaking taboos to speak out about their own experiences with eating disorders. One is former model Victoire Maçon-Dauxerre, a strong supporter of the new French laws. In 2016, Maçon-Dauxerre published a book called “Never Thin Enough, the Diary of a Top Model” in which she recounts her own descent into anorexia. In an attempt to get more modelling gigs, Maçon-Dauxerre started severely dieting, culminating in her only eating three apples a day. After a suicide attempt, she left her career in fashion and, eventually, started on a journey towards healing. In September, French YouTube star EnjoyPhoenix (whose real name is Marie Lopez) also went public about her struggles with an eating disorder in a video watched by more than a million of her followers.

Another French woman, Gabrielle Deydier, just published a book in France called “You’re Not Born Fat” that details what she describes as France’s particular fear of being overweight, or “grossphobia” (sizeism). She is not the first person to write about the struggles of being female, French and fat.

Other countries are also taking steps to regulate the body images projected by the fashion industry. In 2012, Israel became the first country to pass laws banning too-thin models and regulating the use of Photoshop and image editing in media and advertising. Belgium, Spain and Italy are among several countries that now legislate the BMI of fashion models.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning