Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sacre Bill!

This article, which appeared last week in the New York Times, discusses a bill which has been approved by France's lower house of Parliament aimed at cracking down on media outlets "that promote eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia." Specifically, the language of the bill indicts any fragment of the mass media, including magazines, television, and websites that may “provoke a person to seek excessive weight loss by encouraging prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the effect of exposing them to risk of death or endangering health.” Though the article itself focuses on pro-anorexia and bulimia websites as the primary target of the legislators, the bill's language is broad enough to encompass a wide range of imagery that celebrates thinness.

This is not a new issue - the last country in the spotlight for its legislative actions against the glorification of eating disorders was Spain, which banned models with a BMI of under 18 from the catwalks. Pro-eating disorder websites have also been a topic of media scrutiny in the US and abroad. The debate about thin models and their effect on young girls could not be more visible within pop culture.

Of course the proliferation of eating disorders is a huge social concern. I feel terrible that so many young girls are entrenched in a culture that at least somewhat contributes to their disease. Still, I question the utility of legislative measures to combat the presence of thinness.

Banning thin runway models from the catwalks seems silly to me. Indeed, I have little love for the models of today. In fact, I think most of them look like corpses and are not half as enchanting as the models of yesterday. Still, my opinion about the bill has nothing to do with my feelings about the aesthetic pleasantness of these women. If the bill is intended to shield young girls (indeed, teenagers are the primary at-risk group for eating disorders,) then those who pass it should be quite certain that a significant amount of influence eminates from the weight of runway models. With only a few exceptions, though, the era of the super runway model has drawn to a close. It seems as if designers want to be the stars of their own shows and wish to usurp no glory to a Cindy Crawford or Naomi Campbell. Thus, the models who appear on the runways are known quite little amongst those who do not harbor an interest in fashion. Have you ever heard a 14-year old lament that "If only I looked like Carolina Pantoliano, maybe then I could marry ZAC EFRON!" Instead, the images that promote unattainable body types are more visible (and indeed, physically healthier,) than runway models - actresses, musicians, the list goes on...

Furthermore, I am uncomfortable with the vagueness of the language guiding this bill. It could be easily manipulated to be applied to many instances, and causality is difficult to prove. It does not comment on gradation or intent of thin imagery, nor does it suggest a clear ascription of liability (writer, or webmaster?)

Ultimately, I would argue that images of the McDonalds golden arches are far more damaging to society than a thin runway model or someone's website which provides tips about how to purge. The media is not a static actor - it is created and fueled by the society in which it is rooted. I am not sure how exactly negative body images among teens can be counteracted, but I am highly cynical about this avenue.

Your thoughts?


L. said...

Awesome post! The bill does sound a bit broad. I fully support its intentions, particularly regarding the banning of pro-anorexia and thinspiration sites but the lack of boundaries is worrying/confusing. Perhaps this will get ironed out and the bill will be more focused. I agree the body image is a massive problem but rather than remove triggers, perhaps the solution lies in proactively educating young women.

As a smallish girl I never felt that I needed to be thinner, in fact, quite the opposite. However, during my childhood/early high school, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on inner beauty, personality and developing a strong sense of self from both my parents and school teachers. Therefore, when I did have body issues I felt as though it wasn't the end of the world.

Sorry about the long comment. It's just a very interesting topic!

the iron chic said...

I personally don't think a bill like that is necessary. Isn't it distracting people from the REAL issue in Western society which is OVER-eating??!! Last time I checked, fat in America was an epidemic!! Some people are freakishly skinny and freakishly tall and beautiful- that is why they are models. They are different from us therefore interesting.
Also, cracking down on pro-ana websites is a free-speech violation.
I'm not advocating eating disorders here, just looking at statistics. There isn't an anorexia epidemic happening right now......

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