France has always been dubbed the country of 'belles femmes', but having lived in Paris for the last five years, I have discovered that beauty can come at a high price. When I first moved here I was staggered by the absolute obsession with appearance. You are viewed and assessed from head to toe when you walk in a restaurant, a cafe, or even the boulangerie.
In some arrondissements of Paris you can barely leave the house without a blow dry. You can't help falling over anti-cellulite tablets and slimming potions in the pharmacy and most women are permanently 'au regime' (on a diet).
In fact, my first bout of eating issues happened here when I was 19 and living in a shared flat. The owner, a stick thin mum of 50 would berate her daughter and all of us teens for eating bread and would serve up spinach or green beans instead. That was 20 years ago. Some beauty therapist friends have confided that today's Parisian mums are the same - quite happy to let their daughters have a full Brazilian and an injectable lip boost.
After living in grungy Camden where you could wear your PJ'S to your local Starbucks and no one would notice, it took me ages to work out the code. You are judged on looks first, then status/money, then anything else. It sounds cruel but then the beauty and fashion industry is one of the cruellest of all.
The recent law passed by the French National Assembly to clamp down on pro-anorexic sites seems extreme to many. As someone with previous eating disorders, I fully appreciate the argument that banning images of thin models won't stop you being anorexic. Punishing your body comes from a deep-seated insecurity. For me I never believed in myself as a teen. I thought I was pig ugly and a general loser. Stopping eating was a way of controlling one thing in my life when everything else was out of control.
But I know that when I was vulnerable seeing an ad with a stick thin model made me feel worse. I know that even a few years ago when I covered Paris Fashion Week for the Huffington Post I felt dumpy and inadequate. The ambiance was also anything but healthy, akin to a meatmarket. Girls were pushed and shoved, primadonna stylists had hissy fits over nothing and the front row judging the clothes horses that paraded before them.
Today the situation is even more serious - models are thinner than ever, told they are fat when their BMI is scarily low and couture is even more demanding of them. The trend of the thigh gap comes straight from the catwalk. If you're six foot tall and weigh seven stone maybe you'll have a thigh gap. But for the other 98 per cent of the population are thighs touch each other. But young girls take all these images and rules literally so much so that they tape their thighs before they sleep or pound the streets every morning to lose weight.
Sending models to prison for being thin is not the answer either. But we have tried the softly, softly approach. The slow shift in perceptions by brands like Dove all help. But it's not enough. We need radical measures to force the industry to change their norms, so they represent normal healthy women in their campaigns and so they are providing positive role models to fragile teens.
In the West beauty is now intrinsically linked with being thin. Ironically in other cultures such as African ones thinness is more a sign of poverty, flesh is wealth.
In Paris, London and New York it is impossible to be a top model if you aren't thin. It's impossible to be a top actress for that matter if you're fat. France, and it's brands, it's designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, are in part responsible for this. Art has got in the way of health. Their quest for the perfect androgynous frame to hang clothes off is at the expense of their well-being. The first createur to address this, will be the one who wins all, the hearts of the models, the minds of parents and the happiness of their daughters.Suggest a correction