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News & Insight

France Passes Law Banning Ultra-Skinny Models & Photoshopped Images Without Disclaimer

By Kishore Sawh on December 22nd 2015

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When you think of France, what is it that comes to mind? Is it the delicate summer days in Provence where the sun ambles through the sky as if propelled by a gentle breeze? Or is it more a ‘Hemingway’s Paris’, indulging in indulgence and soaking up the mix of bohemian atmos in the Left Bank and the sophistication on of the Right as you wander La Rive Droite?

Either way, France is iconic for its visuals, and its people are part of that. I’ve heard it said that French women spend four times as much on lingerie a year as their American counterparts, so it’s clearly a place where image on and off the streets and in and out of the sheets, means something. No wonder then, it’s a major stop on the fashion world tour.

It may come as a surprise then to learn that just days ago, France adopted a law to effectively ban excessively thin fashion models. That’s right, the country known for its tidy women in striking silhouettes smoking away on cafe’d boulevards has accepted new legislation where models who intend to work within its borders must provide a doctor’s certificate indicating they are in good overall health, and that their body mass index is appropriate for their vocation.

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Agencies who do not require and enforce these new measures could face fines up to 75,000 Euro, and even imprisonment for six months. Furthermore, there’s another provision stating that commercial photographs of models whose physical appearance has been digitally altered either thinner or larger must be accompanied by the disclaimer of ‘retouched photograph,’ and a violation of this carries with it a fine of 37,500 Euros, or even 30 percent of the ad’s budget.

The details of these new articles are to be worked on, and terms laid out pending the opinion of the French National Authority For Health, and the law regarding the photographs must be implemented no later than January 1st, 2017.

Thoughts

This is a pretty big deal, and I’m personally unsure of it all at this time. Firstly, while France, and Paris specifically, is a fashion hub, the vast majority of models who can be found there at any given time are not French natives, but are simply transient workers there to do a job and then leave, so if the same measures implemented by France aren’t adopted elsewhere as in the home countries of these models, how then can this work?

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For one, the home countries may not have the same measures of good health and acceptable BMI, and you can’t expect me to believe the French authorities are going to spend the money and resources it will take to ensure the authenticity of all documents presented. So how effective this will be may be only little.

Granted, France isn’t exactly pioneering here since Italy, and Spain have also adopted measures aimed at preventing excessively thin models one might consider unhealthy from participating in runways. Then there’s Denmark, who opted for something similar but less drastic, which is more an ethical charter agreed upon between photographers, agencies, and those who would publish the images.

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So is this some sort of European co-operative initiative like the Euro? I can’t see that really happening, given the fact that Europe as a federal superstate hasn’t resolved the most concerning issue for all those who live and travel within its borders – a unified power outlet – so I’m not lugging around half a hundredweight of adapters for every country. 

That aside, I just see this as being something that’s going to run into a lot of trouble because no doubt, there has to be some degree of case-by-case subjectivity. Coming from a family of docs I know that we aren’t all made the same and what can be normal for one isn’t for another, so what’s healthy for one isn’t for another. People of different genetics simply cannot be measured against all the same indices. Where does the line get drawn, and who is to say it gets drawn there?

I also find it interesting, always, that whereas in almost any other profession, we elevate and praise, or at least not tear down, those who are excelling, but within fashion and modeling, there’s always a bone to be picked (pun intended). Rarely do we hear about the physical trauma that must be endured by top athletes much less anyone speaking out against it, but those in the fashion industry are always hit by the same stick over and over again.

[REWIND: My Favorite & Most Used Photography Accessories This Year]

Quite literally, a male model who chooses to be top of his craft and happy to live that way works hard to be in top shape and will often be taunted by those who think they’re unhealthy for not living and eating what they deem to be moderate. Somehow, top athletes who do the same aren’t told the same routine. I’m all for models being healthy, but I’m not sure who can say what that is in a blanket statement for everyone.

Source: Women’s Wear Daily

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Paul Nguyen

    I don’t really believe that there is a “right thing” so to speak in any of this.

    If a model wants to be skinny, then so be it, why is it the responsibility of the state to go around creating legislation to prevent people from doing things they should have every right to do when there are terrorist attacks, violence on the streets and people living homeless?

    I would go so far as to say that this legislation is discriminatory. So if someone is skinny, they cannot be employed because the organisation will get fined? How is that any different to *legally* discriminating against a fat person getting work or a person of colour getting work.

    How skinny or fat someone wants to be is their own business and what line of work they choose is their own problem. I don’t see there being a direct harm to anybody else.

    If anything, the world isn’t getting skinnier, it’s getting fatter, so how about we ban all fat people from TV, so kids don’t see fat people and therefore are less likely to be fat. That’s pretty ridiculous logic isn’t it? Well it’s the same logic being applied here.

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    • Paul Nguyen

      Whilst we’re on the topic of making sure every employee is happy, why don’t we make sure all office workers are forced to be of a certain BMI so they’re not overweight because we know that sitting still for long periods of time is bad.

      Why don’t we ban all sports because clearly all athletes overwork their bodies and attain standards that are generally unhealthy if aspired to by the rest of the population.

      Why don’t we also ban autosport and car racing because clearly that’s a dangerous profession with really high risk of injury…etc.

      You get the point – it’s ridiculous for this sort of legislation to be enforced on any other industry.

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  2. Andy & Amii Kauth

    This: “I’m all for models being healthy, but I’m not sure who can say what that is in a blanket statement for everyone.” We have always been of the opinion that freedom is good. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, watch it, participate in it, etc. etc. etc. More regulation is never a good thing. Denmark’s approach seems more reasonable for those who feel that regulation of some sort is necessary …

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  3. Daniel Thullen

    While I understand the medical and social reasons behind the ban on models being too thin, where does this type of legislation stop? How about models who are obese?, too tall?, too short?, too . . . whatever? Isn’t it the responsibility of the entity issuing the assignment and the photographer “do the right thing?” With regard to retouching, this is also a slippery slope of government intervention. Where does correcting a photograph end and “retouching” begin. Mr. Blanchard is right.

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  4. David Blanchard

    Ahh, the joys of a busybody left wing government!

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  5. Amanda Jehle

    My question is about the new disclaimer on photos. Is this disclaimer only for photos where the model’s size has been altered? Or will photographers have to put that disclaimer for all the “normal” post processing they do? Skin smoothing, sharpening, removing a few mascara flakes and/or flyaway hairs. What counts as retouched?

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    • Michael Burnham

      I agree completely and again, how is it going to be enforce? Looks like there is going to be a lot of photo retouchers in France with less work to do.

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  6. Tyler Friesen

    Great step in the right direction.

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  7. Walid Isar

    Thank you France

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  8. Lauchlan Toal

    It’s disappointing that they still use BMI as an indicator of weight. It’s like using the aggregate DxOMark score to judge a lens. Body fat percentage is by far the best measure – no matter what their body composition, if a woman is under ~12% body fat then she’s putting her health at risk (closer to 5% for men). BMI is easier to measure though, and governments care more about side-stepping work than actually helping people.

    That aside, always good to promote health and such. Enjoyed reading your thoughts, good point about traveling models and their finding work.

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  9. Colin Woods

    I agree with most of the points that you raise Kishore, but I do think that the fact that girls (and its mostly girls that are affected) are bombarded with images that tell them that if you are more than size 8 then you are a fattie (this outstandingly handsome woman http://www.si.com/swimsuit/2015/models/robyn-lawley/photos/6 is considered ‘plus size’) needs to be addressed. And if France taking this admittedly difficult to enforce step helps a trend towards stopping the promotion of ultra thin as normal, then I am all for it.

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  10. Hannes Nitzsche

    Good on ya, France!

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  11. Michael Burnham

    Does this new law apply only to the fashion industry or does it apply to general commercial photography where the model is just part of a scene? Or, does it also apply to artistic and art photography? It is interesting that the European Union countries that were for centuries considered the vanguards of art are placing more and more restrictions on the art of photography.

    2 years ago I was doing some long-exposure work on the street in Germany. The camera was on a tripod in an area of sidewalk were it wouldn’t impede foot traffic but I still had the veiw of the scene I wanted. I noticed that every few minutes a different stranger would stop and tell me that the law is I was not allowed to take their photo in public. Fortunately my exposures were between 10 and 30 seconds that didn’t matter but it was interesting. That couple with the new restrictions on photographing at a lot of the major tourist attractions in Europe as well as this new law create a very chilly climate for all disciplines of photography, just my 2 cents.

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  12. Joseph Ford

    I wonder how do they define excessively thin, I seen plenty of Thin models with low body fat that looks perfectly normal. I understanding the Photoshopped work with out a disclaimer because I see others who have taken it to far.

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