Tag Archives: legislation

Don’t Change the Law: Change How We See

Laurie and Debbie say:

We are delighted to be back; we think we’ve solved all of the problems with the blog, and got a spiffy new back-end upgrade into the bargain. Thanks to our webmaster, Paul, and our advisor Bill for helping us figure it all out!

To jump back into the deep end, you may remember that just before we went offline, we blogged about how the Japanese have implemented a punitive “overweight” law.

This week’s news is eerily similar and very different: another way that governments try to legislate how we should or shouldn’t look. In France, a law punishing the promotion of extreme thin-ness is moving through the legislature.

The bill was the latest and strongest of measures proposed after the 2006 anorexia-linked death of a Brazilian model prompted efforts throughout the international fashion industry to address the health repercussions of using ultra-thin models.

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.

However, conservative lawmaker Valery Boyer, who authored the French bill, said such measures did not go far enough.

Her bill mainly focuses on so-called “pro-anorexic” Web sites that, for instance, give advice on how to eat an apple a day — and nothing else. In a telephone interview, Boyer said the legislation, if passed, would enable a judge to sanction those responsible for a magazine photo of a model whose “thinness altered her health. In a telephone interview, Boyer said the legislation, if passed, would enable a judge to sanction those responsible for a magazine photo of a model whose “thinness altered her health.

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 would give judges the power to imprison offenders for up to two years and impose fines of up to euro30,000 (about US$47,000). Punishment would increase to three years in prison and euro45,000 ($71,000) in cases where a victim dies of an eating disorder.

French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said France could push for a similar, Europe-wide measure when it takes over the rotating EU presidency in July.

Boyer said she was focusing on women’s health, though the bill applies to models of both sexes. Most of the 30,000 to 40,000 people with anorexia in France are women, according to the Health Ministry.

We blogged about the Spanish law in 2006. We said then,

We’re all for sending good messages to young Spanish girls, and young girls everywhere. What’s more, we agree strongly with the government’s reasons for making this rule. We just don’t think banning models of any size is, overall, a good message.

We feel the same way in this case. We believe that laws which protect people, such as height/weight discrimination laws, are really important, but that laws which punish people for how they look are wrong. Prosecuting pro-ana sites and making ultra-thin models disappear will have the following results:

1) Adolescents who are already anorexic or close to it will cling strongly to their beliefs, and get to feel even more martyred than they do already.
2) What you see in ads and commercials will change a little, but not a lot.
3) The law will be enforced selectively, creating resentment and distrust.
4) The message that there’s a “right kind of body” will be reinforced yet again.

France and Japan are very different from each other, although both are more prone to legislating behavior than our home country of the U.S.A. has traditionally been. The two laws are also very different–the Japanese law targets individuals through employers; the French law targets behavior through advertising and promotion. The French law, is a little better in that it does not directly target ultra-thin people, unless they are actively promoting thin-ness in others. Nonetheless, the effects will be disturbingly similar.

Valery Boyer is trying to save lives, which is laudable … but she will only be able to do it if she works at changing minds and hearts. And she can’t do that by persecuting yet another group of people. We really look forward to the day when we can see acceptance of a range of bodies and welcoming of diversity in shape, size, and everything else … instead of these half-assed punitive measures which reinforce self-hatred.

Thanks to Lizzy for the pointer.

Fat Outlawed in Japan

Laurie and Debbie say:

We would so like to believe that this is an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not.

Corporate Japan will join the country’s battle against bulging waistlines next month with the introduction of compulsory “flab checks” for the over-40s and penalties for firms that fail to bring their employees’ weight under control.

Health authorities hope the measures will arrest the rise in obesity among middle-aged men and slow soaring medical costs. All employees over 40 – about 56 million people – will be required to take the test to determine whether they are at risk of metabolic syndrome – symptoms associated with being overweight that, if left unchecked, increase the risk of strokes, heart disease and diabetes. Men with girths of more than 85cm (33.5in) will be given exercise and diet plans .

According to reports, firms will be required to cut the number of overweight workers and their dependants by 10% by 2012. Those that fail to reach the targets face surcharges of up to 10% on contributions to a welfare fund for the elderly.

By the way, the waist size limit is an inch and a half bigger than Laurie’s waist, and Laurie is thin by American standards, even though she looks like the “before” picture in Japanese weight loss ads for women.

As so often, Sandy Szwarc is in first with trenchant commentary.

According to government officials as reported by the Independent, 27 million Japanese — that’s about half of all adult workers! — have health indices (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and BMI) that don’t meet ideal numbers. They will be targeted for mandatory medical intervention. That means compulsory medication, because, as we know, health indices have been set so low that most adults with normal aging will fall on the wrong side.

And this is happening in a country with almost no fat people! Japan has one of the lowest rates of obesity of anywhere on the planet, except for starving, impoverished regions of the world. According to the IOTF, as of March 2008, only 3.4% of Japanese had BMI over 30. This compares to 3.3% in 2005.

The director of the Medical Urban Clinic in Osaka, Toshio Mochizuki, told Bloomberg he is concerned about the new movement to castigate heavier people in Japanese society. “I’m worried that the overweight will start to be shunned at the workplace and these new rules will make no one want to hire them,” he said. Others have noted that older workers will also be hurt in employment by this.

We agree with every word of Sandy’s post. It’s hard to think how this could be worse for Japanese people, not to mention the risk of it spreading to other countries.

As we would expect, fads for men’s girdles and other gadgets to disguise “girth” are already getting a lot of play. The next thing that will happen is potentially dangerous weight-loss surgery for people we would call thin, which will (of course) increase the “soaring health costs.” Since no corporation is going to be willing to pay the 10% surcharge, thousands (if we’re lucky, only thousands) of people will lose their jobs. Women will be hurt less than men, because the Japanese have not previously discriminated against fat men, while the vast majority of female corporate employees have jobs which “require” being young, thin, and pretty.

And don’t think the victims here will “just” be the corporate employees. Children and adolescents are at real risk here. Anorexia levels are already extremely high in Japan, and this will raise them further: “Don’t eat, dear, you’ll never get a job.” And kids who don’t fit will, as everywhere, be harassed, bullied, and excluded.

Let’s keep working on those height-weight discrimination laws!

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