FASHION AND FOOD: THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT ATTACK EATING DISORDERS HEAD ON

by Jess Howard

While some may see it as a separate entity altogether, fashion is unquestionably a form of art. From the creative process that designers progress through to create high fashion pieces, to the advertising campaigns used to sell them, fashion design influences the masses. But this is where the industry often encounters conflict: thousands of people are being diagnosed with eating disorders each year, and many are pointing their fingers at the fashion industry, for its insinuation that thinness represents the epitome of beauty.

In an attempt to combat this, France recently passed a bill stating that fashion models must prove they are healthy weight in order to appear on runways and in advertising campaigns. Failure to comply with this new ruling could lead to up to 6 months in prison and a £54,000 fine. Further more, magazines and advertising campaigns will now be required to make it clear to consumers that their images have been retouched. The purpose of this bill is to attempt to dramatically decrease the percentage of people in the country who develop anorexia, but is this going to work?

many are pointing their fingers at the fashion industry, for its insinuation that thinness represents the epitome of beauty

France’s capital Paris is one of the most important cities in the fashion world. Year upon year journalists, models, and designers flock to the capital for fashion week, and the country is home to a number of prominent fashion houses. Whether the presence of high fashion and couture within the country is to blame or not, it is thought that between 30 and 40,000 of its people deal with anorexia at some point in their lives.

( New York Fashion Week © Mara Hoffman )

( New York Fashion Week © Mara Hoffman )

Ironically, as I write this, it is Christmas day and I am tucking into a chocolate reindeer, having already consumed a toasted bagel with an inch thick layer of cream cheese on top. But this attitude to food hasn’t always been the case for me. As a teenager, I grew up exposed to the Size 0 phenomenon, where models and actresses alike could squeeze into tiny clothes in sizes normally appropriate for young children. Then came Size 00 (and Size 000 after that), and it seemed every network commissioned journalists to crash diet, practically educating viewers on how to ‘lose the weight’, in a way that I still believe to be extremely unethical. Partially in response to this, I developed a non-specific eating disorder, and have been living with it for the past decade, still often turning to the methods I learned in these programmes to control my weight.

many have agreed that the time spent enforcing this bill could be better spent improving resources, and increasing awareness of the danger of these potentially fatal conditions.

While the government may feel they are making progress by passing this bill, psychologists and psychoanalysts disagree. Many believe it deters from the fact that anorexia nervosa, and other eating disorders such as bulimia and EDNOS, are mental health conditions. In my case, I initially became fixated on reaching a “goal” weight, though my own eating disorder was also caused by the surrounding environment. Seeing models on a catwalk isn’t always the catalyst for these potentially life threatening illnesses. In accordance with these opinions, many have agreed that the time spent enforcing this bill could be better spent improving resources, and increasing awareness of the danger of these potentially fatal conditions.

Not only do I have a problem with the message that is being sent by this bill, but I also disagree with the way it’s being advertised by the press. Filtering through news articles and online posts, I have yet to see a single male model featuring in the campaign. As with so many things, this only perpetuates the myth that eating disorders only affect women. I myself have known men who have lived with anorexia, and it is in no way less damaging to them than it is to women.

skinny

I appreciate the effort that the French government are making, but it seems that their intention and the execution of the bill are not in sync. Sadly, in the case of so many illnesses, it is difficult to understand the logistics without being properly trained or experiencing them first hand. In this instance, I am inclined to agree with the psychologists and psychoanalysts who have commented on the bill. It is far better to increase the levels of awareness and treatment available to those who live with these eating disorders, instead of simply laying blame on the fashion industry.

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