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French See Little Impact From ‘Skinny’ Bill

Designers, modeling agents and other fashion experts applauded a proposed law in France prohibiting "the incitement of excess thinness," but predicted it...

PARIS — Designers, modeling agents and other fashion experts applauded a proposed law in France prohibiting “the incitement of excess thinness,” but predicted it would have limited impact on the industry.

The law would primarily target Web sites and blogs that encourage eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

“We’ll see what happens if the law comes out, but I don’t believe in it for one minute,” said Didier Grumbach, president of the French Fashion Federation, dismissing media speculation that models soon will have to be weighed before hitting the runway. “We all agree there should be condemnation of any site encouraging anorexia, but…I think the Parliament has better things to do.”

The bill, which was approved in the lower house of Parliament and faces a vote in the Senate, would make it illegal to provoke people to seek excessive weight loss or prolonged nutritional deprivation that would endanger their health or risk death. It is sponsored by the UMP party’s Valérie Boyer.

“[The law] is a weapon for those targeting pro-anorexia blogs, but otherwise it’s a bit of a useless law as it’s so difficult to apply,” said Joseph Besnainou, director of France’s advertising authorities. “I know of no advertising campaign that promotes anorexia.”

Boyer said the intent of the bill “is not to criminalize the fashion or the beauty or the sports world, but there will be sanctions for anybody [found guilty of such acts].”

If passed in the Senate, the law would provide maximum penalties of three years in prison and more than $70,000 in fines.

“The truth is that designers like their clothes to be seen on young skinny models, but we don’t promote [anorexia],” added Saif Mahdhi, booking director for the Viva Paris agency, who argued that being ultraskinny is typically in a model’s genes.

“I can have lunch with Natalia Vodianova and she’ll eat three times as much as I do and then get up on the catwalk. She can have a baby and be walking shows a few weeks later and be perfectly healthy,” he said. “People are pointing the finger at the fashion industry, but I see anorexia as more of an issue for society in general.”

Despite the presence of very thin models on the runway, laws have long existed in France monitoring the health of models, said Grumbach, who opposes any regulation linked to body weight. Grumbach and Besnainou consider a body-diversity charter signed last week by a number of France’s health and fashion professionals as having more potential impact.

“We engaged in a pact not to hire girls considered to be excessively underweight,” Besnainou said. He noted that the advertising authority has yet to receive a complaint about a girl in a campaign appearing anorexic.

Most designers have yet to shy away from using ultrathin models.

“I’m all for them cracking down on pro-anorexia Web sites, but I’ll always have very slender people in my show,” said Rick Owens. “I’m pretty thin myself and I don’t really have a problem with that. I don’t think any model who is unhealthy can be successful.”

“The idea that a stylist or a model agency or a casting director would force a model to stop eating is unfathomable to me, but maybe if a law is passed, then people will be more conscientious,” noted John Pfeiffer, a New York-based casting director who worked on the Akris show in Paris last season.