French lawmakers aim to outlaw glamorizing thinness

.PARIS (AP) – In image-conscious France, it may soon be a crime to glamorize the ultrathin. A new French bill cracks down on Web sites that advise anorexics on how to starve – and could be used to hit fashion industry heavyweights, too.

The groundbreaking bill, adopted Tuesday by Parliament’s lower house, recommends fines of up to $71,000 and three-year prison sentences for offenders who encourage “extreme thinness.” It goes to the Senate in the coming weeks.

Critics said the bill is too vague about whom it is targeting and doesn’t even clearly define “extreme thinness.”

If passed, the law would be the strongest of its kind anywhere, fashion industry experts said. It is the latest measure proposed after the 2006 anorexia-linked death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston prompted efforts throughout the fashion industry to address the health repercussions of ultrathin models.

Doctors and psychologists treating patients with anorexia nervosa – a disorder characterized by an extreme fear of becoming overweight – welcomed the French effort, but said anorexia’s link with media images remains hazy.

For the bill’s backers, the message behind the measure is important enough.

The bill’s author, conservative French lawmaker Valery Boyer, said she wanted to encourage discussion about women’s health and body image. Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said Web sites that encourage young girls to starve should not be protected by freedom of expression.

So-called “pro-ana” – for pro-anorexia – sites and blogs have flourished in the United States and beyond, often hosted by adolescents sharing stories of how they deprive their bodies of nourishment.

French lawmakers and fashion industry members signed a nonbinding charter last week on promoting healthier body images. In 2007, Spain banned from catwalks models whose body mass-to-height ratio is below 18.