PARIS — France is to ban excessively thin fashion models and expose modeling agents and the fashion houses to possible fines and jail sentences under a new measure approved by French parliamentarians last week.
“The activity of modeling is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor,” the bill said.
The provision, voted through the lower house of parliament on Friday morning, envisages imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of 75,000 euros, or $81,861 at current exchange, for any agency contravening it.
Another amendment adopted by parliamentarians Friday says that commercial photographs of models whose physical appearance has been modified to look thinner must be accompanied by the mention “Retouched photograph.” Failure to comply warrants a fine of 37,500 euros, or $40,930 at current exchange, and the amount could represent up to 30 percent of the advertising spending.
This comes just a few days after Denmark chose a different path by updating the Danish Fashion Ethical Charter, a document cowritten by the biggest players in Danish fashion, relaunching the debate over a political approach to the issue versus a fashion industry commitment.
The French measure is part of the country’s “health system modernization” bill. The full bill, backed by the Socialist majority, is to be adopted or rejected by the lower house on April 14. Then it has yet to be considered by the senate.
According to Socialist lawmaker Olivier Véran, who is behind the ban of the use of underweight models, the measure would apply to all models, including foreigners “who wish to work on the French soil.”
This would amend the French labor law and will apply throughout the territory to all persons wanting to work as a model, either by temporary or permanent contracts with an agency. They will have to “prove by a medical certificate” that they aren’t “starved,” Véran said during a press conference Friday afternoon.
A statutory order would determine the minimum BMI that models must have in order to be allowed to work.
Elite model and Ford agencies in France declined to comment.
“This is very serious to mix anorexia with models’ thinness, it is a misunderstanding of anorexia, which is an illness caused by psychological factors,” Isabelle Saint-Félix, general secretary of SYNAM, the national union for model agencies told AFP.
Vogue Paris declined to comment on the subject, as did the fashion houses Chanel and Saint Laurent. The Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode could not be reached at press time.
Not all countries believe in political sanctions. While Israel passed a law banning underweight models in 2012, and Italy and Spain also adopted measures to send super-thin models home, Denmark has chosen the path of the industry commitment. The newer version of its charter has a much more stringent approach and includes sanctions.
“It is more hurtful for a brand or a company to be banned and blacklisted by the industry than paying a fine,” said Eva Kruse, chief executive officer of Copenhagen Fashion Week.
“We are taking responsibility for the body image that we send out,” Kruse said. “A company that doesn’t respect the rules would be banned from Copenhagen Fashion Week and blacklisted.”
For instance, agencies have to treat models with respect, provide food and send them to a comprehensive health and psychological check every year. “The comments that we get from medical experts is that considering the BMI only is a narrow-minded approach; it doesn’t go deep enough,” Kruse said.
So far, about 330 companies — brands, model agencies, magazines, photographers — have signed the charter. Signatories include By Malene Birger, Danish Elle and the Danish subsidiary of Elite Model.
It’s already common for fashion bodies to have standards. For instance, the Council of Fashion Designers of America already has set model health guidelines, which it sends to fashion houses on the eve of each fashion season in February and September.
“We are going to share [the charter] with sister organizations abroad. I hope they will follow and commit to a sort of ‘fashion law,’” Kruse said.