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Anorexia bill comes under fire

Websites encouraging anorexia could be outlawed – but some, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, say the law is inappropriate.

A move to outlaw websites and magazines that encourage anorexia has caused intense debate among health experts, opposition politicians and fashion gurus including Jean-Paul Gaultier.

The bill - adopted by the National Assembly this week - would make it a crime punishable by up to three years in jail to "incite" anorexia or extreme thinness on websites, magazines and in advertisements.

The measure targets pro-anorexia websites that surfaced in the United States in the 1990s and have made their way to France, offering tips and advice to girls who want to starve themselves.

Valérie Boyer, the UMP parliamentarian who authored the bill, said: "There has been an explosion of these sites over the past year.

"They offer morbid advice to young girls on how to lie to their parents. It's mental manipulation.”

One such site, called Ana ma Reine provides a list of ploys to help people get away with “stopping eating” and has a list of “ten commandments”.

These include “if you are not thin you are not attractive”; “never eat without feeling guilty about it”; and “being thin and not eating are signs of free will and success.”

Boyer said she was confident that bloggers and website operators would decide to shut down voluntarily but added that she expected quick action against those who resist.

She said: "We will now have the means to shut them down.”

In presenting the bill, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot singled out what she termed "death messages" being disseminated on the web to young girls who are made to believe that anorexia and bulimia are lifestyle choices and not illnesses.

She said: "These messages are death messages. Our country must be able to prosecute those who are hiding behind these websites.”

Under the proposed laws offenders could face jail sentences of up to two years and €30,000 fines. A three-year jail term and €45,000 fines could be sought if the incitement leads to death.

”This kind of problem cannot be resolved with laws, but through understanding." Jean-Paul Gaultier

However, some politicians and Fashion gurus have questioned whether the measure will be effective in the battle against anorexia, which affects between 30,000 and 40,000 women in France.

Fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier said: "This kind of problem cannot be resolved with laws but through understanding."

Opposition Socialists abstained from the vote, saying many of the bloggers were suffering from eating disorders themselves and were in denial.

Socialist Party health critic Jean Marie Le Guen: "It’s grotesque and ridiculous. There are limits to using laws on issues that relate to health."

Psychiatrist Sophie Criquillion-Doublet added: "In France, we know how to punish, we know how to treat, but we don't seem to know much about prevention.

"We have to do early detection, before the eating disorders get out of hand.

"We need to take notice of low self-esteem or changes in behaviour."

The vote in the lower house came a week after the French fashion industry signed a charter to promote healthy body images in magazine ads and on the catwalks of Paris, the world's fashion capital.

The charter outlines a series of guidelines but falls short of imposing restrictions, as is the case in Spain which has set limits on the weight for catwalk models.

Concern over weight healthy body images have grown since the death in November 2006 of 21-year-old Brazilian supermodel Ana Carolina Reston, who weighed less than 40 kilos for her tall 1.7 metre frame.

Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, collapsed and died on a catwalk during a fashion show in Montevideo in 2006.

Photo: Captain Catan (Wikipedia)

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