Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Alors, French Models: "Bon Appetit"

We live in a world where size matters and less is more. As mothers of teenage girls, we're well-advised to keep our eyes on their eating habits. 

According to Eating Disorder Hope, an organization that "promotes ending eating disordered behavior, embracing life and pursuing recovery," as many as 50% of teen girls (and 30% of teen boys — really) use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight. And this behavior doesn't necessarily end when girls leave high school; 25% of women on college campuses binge and purge. 

My own daughter, I'm happy to say, doesn't have any of the above problems. She's an athlete and hungry ... well ... pretty much all the time. Don't get me wrong, she's no health food nut. In fact, you might even say she has a "love/hate relationship." She loves to snack all day and hates it when we're out of her favorites, like cookie dough, cheese poofs, and tortilla chips. Luckily she also craves more nutritious options like fresh fruit, steamed edamame, and chicken caesar salad. Otherwise, I might not win that "mother of the year" award I've been counting on.

Anyway ...

Society has sent adolescent girls mixed messages since long before my daughter — or even I — was born. Take popular magazines, for example. Editorial will warn against crash diets and then on the next page you'll see a model who looks like she's a heroine addict in a famine-stricken country who's had four of her ribs removed.

Not cool.

I don't expect the United States to do anything about it. After all, we don't exactly embrace regulations of any kind. (Don't get me started on gun control. More than 90,000 gun deaths since Newtown? I told you, don't get me started.) Common sense here takes a backseat to protecting our rights, partisan politics, and almighty commerce. But, it's with great interest that I've followed news coming out of France the last few weeks.

The so-called "Skinny Model Ban," passed into French legislation right before Christmas. It stipulates that models must have a doctor's note saying that they are of a healthy weight (technically with a BMI of 18 or higher). Advertisers that hire non-conforming models risk a 6-month prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros. In addition, if a photo of a model is edited to make her appear thinner, a disclaimer of "Retouched Photo" must accompany it. Failure to do so could incur a lesser but still significant fine of 37,500 euros.

As you can imagine, the outcry from France's fashion industry was swift and loud. Some threatened that the new law would drive design, photography, and publishing out of the country altogether. One stylist insisted that the new rules are body-shaming women with eating disorders and that garment sizes should be regulated rather than the people wearing them.

Regardless of the brouhaha, Frances is not the first country to address the dangerous epidemic of wasp-waisted runway waifs. Israel, Spain, and Italy have similar laws and the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority has the right to ban ads that are "misleading, harmful and offensive." Apparently, images that tell young women that their goal should be zero percent body fat fall into that "harmful" category. I agree.

And, I wholeheartedly applaud France's efforts. The worlds of media, fashion, and publishing hold great influence over the self-image and subsequent behavior of their audiences — especially of pre-teens, teens, and young women. But, I also find it interesting in light of a strange dichotomy I've always observed about the French.

French women, in particular Parisian women, are noted for their sophistication and glamour and — especially — their thinness. In fact,
Mireille Guiliano, former CEO of my favorite champagne Veuve Cliquot, wrote a bestselling book series about it: French Women Don't Get Fat ®.

Three years ago, my daughter and I spent an incredible week together in Paris. Here's what I remember about the beautiful city's beautiful women.

They were stylish.
I knew better than to wear my running shoes (bien sur!), but I still stood out as une americaine. Even my expensive embroidered flats couldn't compete with their sky-high heels. (And on cobblestones, wtf?)

They were smokers.
We're so used to nicotine-shaming our colleagues and neighbors here that it was rather a shock to see virtually everyone, old/young, male/female puffing away.

And they were impossibly thin.
How, one might ask, was this possible given that Paris has arguably the best and most delectable food available everywhere you look? How do French women resist soupe a l'oignon gratinee, des patisseries,
coq au vin, boeuf bourguinon, or even a simple crepe from a street vendor?  

My daughter and I didn't care. After all, it just meant more for us. 
If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.  

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