On France’s ban on ‘Skinny Bitches’

Emily Grotto Women 0 Comments

There has been a lot of talk surrounding a recent law that was introduced in France to tackle anorexia and the promotion of unhealthy body images. The legislation would punish modelling agencies for employing girls whose BMI is below what is considered to be ‘healthy’, close down ‘thinspirational’ websites, ie blogs where people share extreme dieting plans and post photos of their weight loss ‘successes’, and force magazines to clearly state when they are using photoshopped images.

The policy decision has attracted a lot of attention; the French fashion industry is worth tens of billions of euros and has always been a market leader. Models like Victoire Dauxerre and Ines de la Fressange rose through this industry and conformed to its punishing requirements. Olivier Véran, the socialist MP and doctor championing the initiative, has come under attack from many different sides: his opponents in the fashion industry claim that the regulations curtailing French agencies are going to cause them to be uncompetitive on a global scale, arguing that designers will just choose to work with foreign agencies and that the girls employed to represent brands will change only in nationality. The opposition party in France (UMP) also claim the law is “inapplicable and discriminatory”, as it denies ‘naturally skinny’ girls from pursuing a career on the runway, whether they suffer from eating disorders or not (obviously choosing to ignore the fact that most girls who are a size 10 or above are automatically excluded from being anything other than ‘plus-size’ models).

There is also a feminist argument against this law: many claim that we don’t need more forms of body-policing and that women’s bodies should not be controlled by the government.

It rejects the idea that the law should have any say in how skinny ‘ideal’ women should or shouldn’t be.

This is an interesting argument, as it obviously appeals to many women who would instinctively have a problem with the unrealistic ideals promulgated by the fashion industry. It is in fact an argument that is also used in pro-choice debates and raises a very important question as to how to combat society’s unhealthy obsession with the female body. It feels like there is always a wrong way to be; if it’s not the constant body shaming for being too fat (or not skinny enough) it’s being accused of being a “stick figure, silicone Barbie doll” (yes, Meghan Trainor, I’m looking at you and your body-shaming lyrics). There has in fact been an uncomfortable rise in the kind of rhetoric that is meant to empower women who do not identify with the narrow ideal of super thin beauty, but is actually just as demonising of some women (“Fuck them skinny bitches”, Nicki Minaj) and is offering yet another standard to conform to in order to look ‘feminine’ or ‘womanly’.

Despite all this, I can’t bring myself to condemn the law being passed in France; for one thing, models will not be forced to have severe eating disorders in order to keep their jobs, and agencies will not have to be constantly looking for girls who look underage. I don’t think that attempts to steer fashion away from an extreme ideal of beauty can be a bad thing and I really don’t think that it is an attack on naturally thin women. After all, shifting the average weight of models to fit into a category that is more in line with reality could really impact beauty norms: if fashion designers have to create clothes to suit their models they may start to design clothes that are wearable even if you happen to have boobs or a tummy or a bit of a muffin top. Wouldn’t that be a happy day!

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