French fashion industry signs anti-anorexia charter
Roselyne Bachelot in April 2008 in Paris - Photo : AFP
The charter was signed the same day that a bill was proposed to the French parliament, to be examined next week by deputies, that would make it an offence to encourage anorexia or extreme thinness.
After more than a year of talks, officials from fashion houses, advertising firms and media outlets joined Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot to ink the voluntary charter, joining a worldwide drive to combat anorexia.
The document outlines a series of guidelines but falls short of imposing restrictions, as is the case in Spain which has set a minimum body mass index of 18 for catwalk models.
This translates to a minimum weight of 56 kilos (123 pounds) for a height of 1.75 metres (5.74 feet).
French fashion supremos committed themselves to a series of "positive actions" to promote healthy body images, mostly through awareness-raising and information sharing.
Signatories pledged to refrain from using "images of people, in particular youth, that could contribute to promoting a model of extreme thinness."
Isabelle Saint Felix, the head of France's national union of model agencies, said that agencies "have to explain to to models that it is not necessary to be anorexic to be a model."
But Caroline Tancrede, deputy editor of Femme Actuelle women's magazine, which also signed the charter, said applying the new rules would likely prove difficult.
She noted "to what point the economic stakes are important and to what point there are antagonisms between the different professions" concerned.
The measures were drafted by a working group set up in January 2007 by the health ministry to respond to recent alarm over the deaths of models and an outcry over bare-bone physiques being held up as the epitome of beauty.
In November 2006, Ana Carolina Reston in Brazil died at the age of 21, weighing in at less than 40 kilos for her tall 1.7 metre frame.Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died of heart failure in August that same year.
Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani caused a stir last year with a series of anti-anorexia ads featuring Frenchwoman Isabelle Caro, who weighs just 32 kilogrammes (70 pounds) for a height of 1.65 metres.
The ads for the Italian clothing firm No-l-ita were launched in the middle of Milan fashion week under the slogan "No to Anorexia."
The head of the French Couture Federation, Didier Grumbach, assailed the ad campaign, describing it as a cheap sensationalist bid by a clothing label.
"Winning notoriety through people's illness is painful. What we're seeing here is sensationalism by a label, to the detriment of an extremely serious social problem," Grumbach said.
The French working group was headed by child psychiatrist Marcel Rufo and sociologist Jean-Pierre Poulain and included representatives from the fashion, media and advertisement industry as well as consumers and scientists.
Spain, the first European country to take a tough stance, decided in September 2006 to ban models whose frail bodies came under the set body mass index at its Pasarela Cibeles fashion show in Madrid.
Early last year, Spanish fashion houses Zara and Mango agreed to put size 38-and-up mannequins (US size 8) in their window showcases and not to display bigger-size racks of clothing at the back of their shops.
But neither New York, Paris nor London have followed suit, saying they did not want to impose constraints and pointing to measures already in place in the industry.
In France, agencies require a government-registered licence and must request special authorisation for models aged under 16, who undergo regular medical check-ups.
In Italy, an anti-anorexia charter signed in February 2007 seeks to promote healthy beauty and bans girls under 16 from catwalks.
Models on Italian catwalks must present health certificates showing that they do not suffer from eating disorders.
Under new measures adopted in Britain, models suffering from anorexia or bulimia will have to present a certificate showing that they are being treated for the disorder and that it is under control before taking part in British Fashion Week in London in September.
by Dominique Schroeder
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