By Laure Guilbault
with contributions from Jennifer Weil
 on December 18, 2015

PARIS — The French government’s adoption of a law intended to ban excessively thin models sent ripples through the fashion industry here on Friday.

As reported, under the new legislation voted in by France’s National Assembly deputies on Thursday night, models applying for a job in the country must furnish a medical certificate proving their overall health and that their Body Mass Index (BMI) is appropriate for the métier.

Breaches of this by any party, including modeling agencies or fashion houses, can result in a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros, or $81,288 at current exchange.

“We are angry because modeling is an international profession. Ninety percent [of models] are foreigners who come for a job and go back [to their countries],” Isabelle Saint-Félix, general secretary of Synam, France’s union of model agencies, told WWD.

She also highlighted that photographers, magazine editors and designers had not been involved or consulted on the legislation.

“Out of nowhere, [lawmakers] came up with the BMI, creating confusion between anorexia nervosa and thinness, while punishing the French agencies only,” she continued. “It’s scandalous. It’s very French. If there’s one profession where you need to think international, it’s modeling. There’s no reason to have a different system for different countries.

“We are waiting to see the terms and conditions,” added Saint-Félix. “We don’t know who is to deliver the certificate, especially for foreign models — if it’s delivered in their country of origin or do they need to a doctor in France?”

A ministerial order is to set out specifics of the law enforcement, including its timing, following an opinion handed down by the French National Authority for Health.

Saint-Félix said that it’s good that more than simply the BMI of a model — but general health, as well — is being taken into account. That said, she thinks there are better ways of fighting eating disorders.

“The power is in the hands of designers, photographers and editors,” she explained. “They’re the ones who make dresses in size 34 or 36, who decide to shoot or feature them.”

The executive added: “Modeling agencies respond to the demand of advertisers, designers and photographers. One asks models to fit in a dress — not the opposite. I would like everyone to sit around a table and say that the time of models who are too thin is over.”

Others agree.

“I think this law goes into the wrong direction,” said Paris-based fashion stylist Simon Gensowski. “Rather than body-shaming women with eating disorders, it would have been wise to reconsider current sample sizes.”

At stake, according to Saint-Félix, is that the new legislation could cause certain fashion shoots or shows to be moved out of France.

The Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode plans to send a circular to its members informing them of the new policy, as it does for all industry-related laws, said Sylvie Zawadzki, its general delegate for legal, social and tax affairs.

“In France, the métier of ‘model’ is already legally defined,” she continued. “Modeling agencies need to have a license issued by a prefect, and models are employees of the agencies.”

The French deputies on Thursday also agreed to an article saying commercial photographs of models whose corporal appearance has been digitally altered — to appear either thinner or larger — must be accompanied by the mention “retouched photograph.”

Any violation of this will result in a fine starting at 37,500 euros, or $40,644 at current exchange, and possibly go up to 30 percent of the spend on the advertising. It’s an article that’s to go into effect by Jan. 1, 2017, at the latest.

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