Saturday, 19 April 2008

Weight crime

Up till now the horror of anorexia has been tackled through model agencies, magazines, TV companies and businesses agreeing not to promote stick-thin, underweight women. But now France is going a stage farther and making such quasi-anorexic images illegal.

The new law, currently going through parliament, will make it a criminal offence to encourage extreme thinness that could lead to ill-health or death. The penalty is two years' jail or a £24,000 fine.

Up to 40,000 people in France could be anorexic, and the cult of super-slimness is widespread. Pro-anorexia websites give young girls advice on lying to their doctors, foods that are easy to vomit, and punishing themselves for eating. Clearly action is needed.

But my question is, will this new law achieve its aims? It sounds all right in theory, but actually proving an offence could be tricky. Just how do you distinguish between a photo of a naturally thin woman, used because it appeals to readers, and the active encouragement of pro-starvation lifestyles?

Fairly straightforward with explicitly pro-anorexia websites, but less so with the ambiguous, run-of-the-mill images the media are full of. Are they just examples of fetching prettiness or are they supporting something more unhealthy? It's hard to say.

I'm reminded of the now discredited English law against 'promoting' homosexuality, which rapidly collapsed because it was impossible to define what was meant by promotion. Did school textbooks featuring gay heroes come under this heading or did you have to be busily seducing young Johnny behind the bike sheds? Confusion reigned and teachers became paranoid.

I suspect this well-intentioned measure could soon turn into a tangled morass. Which would be a shame when it's aimed at such a truly alarming phenomenon.

22 comments:

Grannymar said...

While all the fuss and talk of law changes rages on, people like me suffer unnecessary agony. I was born thin and for most of my life was like a skeleton covered with skin. I was the laugh and soul of any party and the butt end of jokes.

Only recently a lady poked me in the ribs and said “Look how thin you are!” as if it were a crime. My answer was “That was how God made me”.

I would never dream of saying to anyone that they looked fat.

Nick said...

Grannymar, that's the other aspect of the anorexia crisis - people naturally thin like you and me are now seen as quasi-anorexic and told we should put on a bit of weight. But I'm the normal weight for my height, it's just that plump is now the visual norm!

Textual Healer said...

Great photo to get your point across - where doyou dig them up from?

Nick said...

TH, I just trawl Google images like most people! Sometimes I find exactly what I want straightaway, sometimes I have to rake through hundreds of possibles - I'm very fussy. Anyway, are you dodging the issue?

Wisewebwoman said...

I know first hand of eating disorders, Nick, and it is an agonizing way of living. I will write on it sometime.

I doubt if the French laws will achieve anything but the intention is good. So many young people buy into this image of the perfect body, face, and I have personally known people who died from the disease.

I was so pleased to see recently a size 18 woman win a beauty contest in England.(not that I agree with beauty contests, per se, bleurgh). but for someone outside the perceived norm to be applauded was so out of mainstream thinking as to be considered extraordinary.

We are so twisted and extreme in concept of what is lovely.

I was restricting food intake at twelve years of age. TWELVE! Not they are doing it at seven and eight.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Yes, do write about it, especially those who went to such an extreme it killed them. Hadn't heard about the size 18 beauty contest winner - that makes a healthy change! Terrible that at age 12 you were already so image and diet conscious. We'll have dieting babies at the rate things are going....

Textual Healer said...

What issue I am avoiding? I was merely congratulating you on finding an image that really caught the story well (one picture worth 1000 words and all that).

I have just read (most of) Affluenza by Oliver James - one of the best books I have read for ages (as it says many things I have sub consciously known for a long time but not seen in print before). He blames TV (mainly American) as being one of the vectors of our current day dissatisfactions. Frequent exposure to such programmes unrealistically raises people's expectations about lifetsyles(read consumption patterns)and body image. He quotes the case of Fiji where bulimia was unknown prior to the introduction of TV (and there was a cultural preference for full female figures). Within 3 years of TV being introduced 11% of young women were bulimic and this figure was three times higher among households owning TVs. So I think you have hit the nail on the head- its the sublmal messages that need controlling as much as the overt "how-to-be-bulimic" web sites.
I've always admired Kate Winslet's stand on this issue - even though I am more attracted to the Calista Flockharts of this world.

Nick said...

TH - Sorry, wasn't trying to be snide, just wondered what you thought about the French law! The evidence from Fiji is fascinating, and certainly suggests TV images can be a pretty pernicious influence on vulnerable minds. And I think Kate Winslet's criticism of super-thinness is brilliant - if only more celebs would say the same.

Quickroute said...

Argentina is second only to Brazil for the number of people getting cosmetic surgery. Seems like if you don't like waht god gave you you just go under the knife - very shocking! Eating disorders are rife down here and size zero is the norm!

Baino said...

Well as a fuller figured woman . . .I'm pleased to say that there is a required BMI for models in Australia (not that you'd know as many are naturally very thin). I don't think you can 'legislate' against this sort of thing. Perhaps some editorial policy that becomes broadly used via TV and Magazines would be better. Industry self control. Cleo, a women's magazine here for instance, has decided not to put the high selling photos of say Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan on their covers because they are poor role models. Perhaps something similar could be implemented to combat eating disorders. More rounded women on the cover and on TV. Dove skin care has mature, attractive and varied shaped women on their commercials with the slogan 'Beauty Has No Age Limit".

! I'm not saying fat women should be featured, obesity is a problem in all western countries but size 12-14 might be a change.

Nick said...

Quickie - Depressing how this obsession with physical perfection is rife in so many countries. Perhaps it's about time we had zero tolerance for size zero??

Baino - Good to know about the required BMI for Oz models. And Cleo's decision not to use certain types of photo. Yes, the Dove ads are great. There are some UK women's magazines that feature a lot of older, fleshier women in their articles which is a step forward.

Nicole said...

Seems like a temporary fix. As long as societies continue to value perfection and have limited views of beauty, the pressure to look a certain way will continue. But I also think that for many anorexia/bulimia sufferers, there's an added psychological element. They really do see a distorted version of themselves when they look in the mirror and may feel that weight is the one thing they can control in their lives. Laws may change behavior, but it's our mindsets that really need impacting.

Nick said...

Nicole - You're right, mindsets have to change as well or the law will have a limited effect. And I agree anorexics and bulimics often have a distorted view of their bodies though I don't understand how that happens. I also don't understand why control means getting even slimmer if they're already slim and therefore already in control.

Textual Healer said...

Nick do you moderate your comments ??

heartinsanfrancisco said...

It's a very serious problem, but I doubt that making it illegal will help. Legality means nothing to those in the throes of an addiction, and it should be recognized as that.

I have always been so thin naturally that my daughter's friends in high school used to ask her if I was anorexic. I wasn't. I love to eat but have a fast metabolism. Both my daughters and one niece are also small-boned and proportionately slim, which looks abnormal in an overweight world. I would hate to see people like us criminalized for our body type.

However, websites promoting dangerous weight loss should be closed down and purveyors of such material penalized heavily.

Nick said...

TH - Come again? Do you mean do I moderate my own comments, or do I moderate other people's comments?? Certainly not the latter.

Heart - I don't think the intention is to criminalise thin people (like me!). It's to criminalise organisations which encourage unnatural thinness in others. Like the websites you mention. But you're right, addicts will carry on their addiction whatever the law says.

Medbh said...

I love the google image search engine, Nick.
This law won't do anything but add to the people who want to decry the PC Police. There's still plenty of ways to punish women in patriarchy.

Nick said...

Medbh, I hadn't thought of that - another so-called example of political correctness that the anti-PC mob will use for more self-righteous ranting. Still, they'll always find something to rail against, however unlikely the target.

Fate's Granddaughter said...

I think laws like this whiff of appeasement. Governments want to be seen to be doing something and seek out a high-profile quick fix. Perhaps I am too cynical, and at least it gets the issue out there, but it is just not holistic enough.

Nicole makes a really important point. For most people coping with eating disorders, weight management is a by-product of a need for control and comfort.

Until policies start addressing more than one facet of problems they will continue to be ineffective.

Nick said...

FG - True, it's probably an attempt at an easy quick-fix, and it needs to be accompanied by more fundamental cultural changes, but if it closes down some of the more blatant pro-anorexia websites that's a good start.

What puzzles me about the control motive is the need not just for ordinary stay-slim control but for extreme control that becomes self-torture.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

I think the danger with this legislation is that young girls might be attracted to the sheer rebellion of being skinny if it's made illegal. This cruel disease does not need to be made any more glamourous or attractive.

Nick said...

Sam, that's very possible, in the same way as drugs and smoking and drink-driving can be appealing to some. But I suppose any law on any issue can be fuel for rebellious characters.