France Outlaws “Unrealistic Body Images” for Models

France has published two decrees in an attempt to protect the health of models, prevent anorexia and other eating disorders, and reduce the appearance of “unrealistic body images”.

Former model Isabelle Caro (left) and model Chloe Memisevic (right). Photo Credit: Style Quotidien

The first decree states that models are now required to provide a medical certificate from a doctor proving that they are healthy and are not severely underweight. The new law applies for all models who are working in the European Union and European Economic Area; once obtained the medical certificates are valid for 2 years.

Doctors are instructed to use BMI (Body Mass Index) as part of determining whether a model is within the new health guidelines, however, there isn’t a minimum BMI for models to meet as the BMI method doesn’t take into consideration different body types and shapes. The new law states “unless specified and identified in medical records for a model over 16, the Body Mass Index will be taken into account, particularly when its value suggests moderate or severe thinness after the age of 18, and is lower than the third percentile in French references for height and gender before that age”.

Jennifer Polixenni Brankin. Photo Credit: AAP Image

The second decree is aimed at the advertising industry. It is now a requirement of any “commercial” or advertisement where a model, especially their figure, has been digitally manipulated or “touched up” must be labelled “Photographie Retouchèe,” (Retouched photograph). This law, however, does not apply to editorial images such as those in magazines.

To show the sincerity that the government feels towards the laws, the repercussions for not following the strict laws are severe. The consequences for employing any model that does not meet the health requirements and is without a medical certificate incurs a fine of €75,000 and six months in jail for the offending party. If an image is retouched and the edit is not disclosed, the offending party is fined between €37,500 – €41,00, or up to 30% of the amount spent on the advert, whichever is greater.

“Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behaviour,”

France’s Health and Social Affairs Minister, Marisol Touraine.

The two new laws aim to act on the influencers of body image within society and hope to avoid the promotion of “inaccessible beauty ideals” as well as preventing anorexia in young people.

While these laws have been greeted with cautious optimism, some skepticism lingers as well. Will the laws have any effect? Are they strong enough? Could there be any negative effects? One of the dominant reasons for the prevalence of anorexia among models is the heavily skewed balance of power which leaves models at the bottom of the pile and easily pressured by agents, bookers, stylists, and photographers. Adding another authority figure (doctors) which models have to go to in order to be ‘certified’ once again puts someone other than the model in the position of judging her health. It also adds one more potential option for corruption and exploitation in the industry.

Photo credit: Silverfox

Furthermore, the second decree aimed at retouching and digitally manipulating images only applies to advertising and not to editorial images in high-end fashion magazines in which models face the most pressure to be thin. It is often in the glossy pages of editorials that models make their break-throughs before they are offered commercial campaigns. It seems strange to not direct the laws at the area in which models are most likely to face pressure to conform to unrealistic standards. It remains to be seen if these laws will have their intended consequences; for the future of the modelling and fashion industries, we sure hope so.

If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, please contact your local doctor immediately. 

If you live in Australia you can also seek help at:

The Butterfly National Helpline

Phone: 1800 334 673