France bans encouragement of anorexia, to set limits on how thin models can be

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A Pedestrian walks past a Nolita advertising poster  during Spring/Summer 2008 fashion week on September 26, 2007 in Milan. Isabelle Caro, 27, had her naked form captured by controversial photographer Oliviero Toscani for Flash & Partners' Italian clothing company's label Nolita. They have said they are running a "campaign" to raise the issue of the fashion industry's responsibility for anorexia. It has received the backing of Italy's health minister.  (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

A Pedestrian walks past a Nolita advertising poster showing Isabelle Caro, 27, had her naked form captured by controversial photographer Oliviero Toscani. They have said they are running a “campaign” to raise the issue of the fashion industry’s responsibility for anorexia. It has received the backing of Italy’s health minister. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

PARIS (CNN) — French lawmakers are weighing a ban on extremely thin models.

New legislation debated in Parliament Tuesday would require modeling agencies to get medical certificates from models proving that their body mass index is at least 18. Models would also be required to undergo regular weight checks. And agencies that violate the law could face fines and even possible prison sentences.

Dr. Olivier Veran, a doctor and French lawmaker who’s proposing the measures, said it’s time to put a stop to the practice of pressuring models to be so thin that it’s dangerous for their health.

“We want to combat the idea that an agency could urge a model to stop eating; for example eating cotton balls to lose their appetite, to always lose more weight,” he said.

Seeing models’ bones as they parade down the catwalk is a troubling trend, Veran said.

“We have had chief editors of prestigious magazines tell us that more and more often, they are obliged to use Photoshop, not to make the models look slimmer,” he said, “but to erase the tracks of bones under the skin, to make them look bigger.”

Vernan’s proposed amendments to a health bill would also target the dark online world of pro-anorexia websites that promote self-starvation and encourage young women to post photos of their emaciated frames.

The average BMI for a woman in France is 23.2 — the lowest average in Western Europe, according to a 2009 study from France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies.

In France, Veran said, 30,000-40,000 people suffer from eating disorders, mainly teenagers.

Marisol Touraine, France’s minister of social affairs, expressed her support for the new anti-anorexia measures in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV.

“The approach is good,” she said, adding that the government will have to examine the wording of the new legislation in further detail.

Extreme cases such as that of French model Isabelle Caro have sparked calls for change for years. Caro died in 2010, three years after she posed nude in a controversial ad campaign against anorexia.

Similar concerns in Spain, Italy and Israel prompted those countries to adopt laws against the use of ultra-thin models on catwalks and in advertising campaigns.

Israel even has strict rules on how model’s bodies are Photoshopped; any changes must be clearly marked on the photo.

Some in the industry are supportive of the proposed laws, but say they don’t strike at the real issue.

“The fact of the matter is, fashion creatives have to think about the messaging they are promoting around body image ideals and the fact they are normalizing an unachievable physical appearance,” said Caryn Franklin, a fashion commentator.

Veran’s legislation is set to go before the French Parliament at the end of the month for discussion. And he wants to outlaw what he calls starving models by the end of the year.

“I think that by the end of 2015,” he said, “we will no longer have anorexic models on the catwalk.”