Plus-Sized Paris
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You’ve heard by now, haven’t you, of the new French law banning women with an unhealthy body mass index (BMI) from modeling?

The legislation, backed by the country’s Socialist Party, also makes it illegal to promote anorexia online, or even manipulate a photo to render a woman ultra-thin unless the photoshopping effort is made public. The move is meant to curb “excessive thinness,” which can result in “risk of mortality or damage to health.” Reuters reports on the measure which was earlier adopted by Israel:

The measure is part of a campaign against anorexia by President François Hollande’s government.

Models would have to present a medical certificate showing a BMI of at least 18, about 55 kg (121 lb) for a height of 1.75 meters (5.7 feet), before being hired for a job and for a few weeks afterwards.

The idea that socialists are a bunch of radicals comes off as silly, at least where BMI is concerned. Do you know how many soccer moms are in agreement on this matter? If there were ever a time when socialism had a shot at being as American as apple pie, this might be it.

But the reaction among nominally family-friendly conservatives stateside has been anything but enthusiastic, illustrating the essentially libertarian nature of America’s right-wing.

National Review’s Andrew Stuttaford — a Brit, incidentally — isn’t happy with the French. Expressing agreement with Reason staffer Elizabeth Nolan, he laments that “there is very little about the individual that members of today’s political class regards as something that should be left to the individual to decide; what is it about ‘just go away’ that they don’t understand?”

This is a sentiment you’ll see all over the right-leaning blogosphere. That big soda ban in New York City triggered the same part of the Republican brain, which regulates both motor control and sensitivity to infringements on one’s natural rights.

A more pragmatic and consequentialist take comes from Erin Vargo at the softly conservative Acculturated. Referring to the French law as “prudent public policy” that’s nonetheless far from ideal, she writes:

There are reasonable limitations in any business. At the very least, the French legislation draws the line somewhere, and this is a critically important gesture for young women. Without minimum standards of decency in the fashion industry, commercial exploitation is sure to continue the downward spiral that’s been dismissing women’s health for the pleasure of profit for decades.

Responding to the libertarian complaint — rooted in the “knowledge problem” articulated by Friedrich Hayek — that some women have a healthy BMI of under 18, Vargo reminds us that for most women this isn’t the case. The handful of exceptions don’t disprove the rule. Even a very general rule.

Hers is a point that puts the “knowledge problem” up against common sense. And of course both are staples of what it means to be conservative.

From an American perspective the French law remains problematic — to borrow a buzzword from the left — in the area where it impacts free speech. It’s probably difficult in practice to distinguish websites “promoting” anorexia from websites acting as support groups for people fighting the disorder, as some have pointed out.

But this doesn’t mean the law is entirely ill-conceived. Just ask a soccer mom. Or better yet a dance mom.

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