A recent news article describes a new law in France which, if passed, will make it illegal to promote “extreme thinness.” This ban outlaws images of excessively skinny models in the media and on websites that incite people to severely restrict the amount they eat. The purpose of this law is to protect individuals, particularly children, from the saturation of unhealthy dietary habits in the culture. Such regulation will purportedly reduce the prevalence of anorexia in France.
The underlying premise of this law is that people cannot help being influenced by these images and websites and so need the government to protect them. If someone reads that “eat[ing only] an apple a day” is the key to looking thin and beautiful, he or she will helplessly eat only an apple a day. Using this logic, if I demanded that everyone who reads this blog give me all their money, people would have no choice but to empty their wallets.
This is obviously absurd. People are not mindless robots; they hold the capacity to think, reason, and make conscientious decisions. Seeing an excessively thin model in a magazine does not force anyone to change their dietary habits, just as reading that I want all your money does not force you to give it to me. Human beings have the capacity and the responsibility to think for themselves and to decide which course of action best furthers their lives.
Regulating the content in magazines and websites is an insult to human nature and will not reduce the prevalence of anorexia precisely because people have minds of their own. If not, then the next logical step is to ban excessively thin individuals from walking the streets.