Legislating Away Illness: Examining Efforts to Curb the Development of Eating Disorders Through Law

Connor Bildfell

Abstract


In response to concerns over the alarmingly high incidence of eating disorders, both the Israeli Parliament and the French Parliament have passed legislation restricting advertising and modelling practices, and the California State Assembly has recently sought to do the same. In light of the severity and prevalence of eating disorders, as well as the growing body of evidence suggesting a strong connection between the media and the proliferation of eating disorders, legislators are understandably attempting to stem this scourge through legal means. Although recent attempts to “legislate away” eating disorders are laudable and may make a significant difference in reversing current trends, this article argues that such legal measures are not enough.

The prospect of regulating the fashion and media industries through law raises several important questions. To what extent should the state regulate commercial expression to protect vulnerable individuals? Is such an intrusion overly paternalistic? If law is the answer (or at least part of the answer), precisely how should the legislation be devised, and what might be its contours? How do we strike a balance between the public interest in promoting healthy body images and protecting lives and the interests of fashion and media industry stakeholders’ freedom of expression? More generally, a key concern canvassed in this article is how the appropriate balance can be struck between public health concerns and other compelling interests, principles, and values.


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