The Trouble With Spikol

Finding thinspiration in French law.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 23, 2008

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Model citizen: Isabelle Caro raised awareness of anorexia in this controversial campaign.

I know a lot of Americans don't like France, but I'm not one of those freedom fries types. I've been to France several times and love it--especially Paris. The people have always been incredibly nice to me, the public transportation is excellent and the graffiti is gorgeous. And I love French culture: films in which people do nothing but talk, novels in which people suffer because they're sexually obsessed, music that has that "we've had too much wine and now we're weepy" quality.

The last time I was in Paris I went to a fancy olive oil store to buy some to bring home, hoping Customs wouldn't arrest me, take me to Guant�namo and string me up to an electric box with dogs barking at my underwear-covered head. Given America's unfavorable image around the world, I was sensitive to being rude, so I didn't ask the clerk to get the bottle for me from a high shelf. Instead I reached for it myself and knocked it down, the oil seeping onto the red-tile floor as if onto a massive sundried tomato wrap.

Though I speak some French, only three words came to me: "Je suis desolee"--I'm sorry--which I repeated about 50 times, with a pained look on my face the clerk couldn't see because she was too busy mopping. She told me it was her last day on the job. She hated working there. When she went to take my credit card, she said: "Don't tell me--American, right?"

I was crushed.

Despite the oil incident, I'm always happy to take up for the French. Only a country that has sex objects as old as Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert could pass a bill against glamorizing excessive thinness, as France's National Assembly did last week.

According to the Associated Press, "The bill would make it illegal to 'provoke a person to seek excessive weight loss by encouraging prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the effect of exposing them to risk of death or directly compromise health.'"

The bill takes direct aim at anorexia, and in particular, "pro-ana" websites, which are typically maintained by young anorexic women. The sites serve as online supports for women who choose--within the context of severe illness, which offers little choice--to be anorexic. They offer starve-yourself tips, excessive exercise routines, vomiting stratagems and other DIY info for the woman who wants to be thinner than thin. Some of these sites--including the earliest ones--have been shut down. Others are hidden in such a way that only those in the know can track them down.

But this bill, which has been passed by only one of France's houses of Parliament, could indeed put a dent in the pro-ana culture. There's plenty of opposition.

Quoted in La Liberation, Socialist lawmaker Jean-Marie Le Guen called the bill "grotesque et ridicule," which I don't think I need to translate.

Some disagree with the measure in the U.S. as well. The AP quotes Marleen S. Williams, a Brigham Young professor, who says no one is able to substantiate the claim that the media trigger eating disorders. "It's much more complex than that," she says.

But I like the idea of the bill. At least it's generating serious discussion--which might be needed in France's political climate. The next major health news story I read on was about how France's health minister might've used public funds to pay for her glasses. How much could they have cost? Don't they have Lenscrafters there?

If the bill passes, it'll be hard to enforce. But not all legislation has to be practical to be effective. Sometimes sending a message is enough.

Imagine what might happen if such a bill passed here. If a TV news show believed it could be fined thousands of dollars for featuring too many thin newscasters and meteorologists, they might have to hire people who represented the population at large. Philadelphia news shows would be in serious trouble.

I shouldn't be glib. Eating disorders have plagued my family. A close friend of mine died from anorexia. These issues are real to me. Would a proposed bill like this work in the U.S.? Let me know what you think. I'd like to hear your opinions, mes amies.

Speaking of opinions, PW reader Carlye Benedict wrote us a funny email about sexism on WIP sports radio:

"I just got done reading Karen Heller's disturbing report in today's Inky on the sexist comments made about Hillary Clinton by the smirking Neanderthals employed on WIP's morning show. I think it's high time the tables were turned on the sexist pigs of WIP's airwaves (none of whom are worth writing home about, lookswise, themselves). I'd like to propose a PW contest, by way of your column, in which readers can cast their votes guessing which on-air guy at WIP has ... the smallest dick."

Well, Carlye, it's a strange suggestion, but after so much serious talk during the lead-up to the primary, maybe it's time to take a break for some fun. But let's keep the contest between Angelo Cataldi and Howard Eskin. You know what they say about guys with the highest profiles ... Email with any guesses or humorous responses.

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