Models, actresses and too many of their followers have gotten thinner and thinner. Now, more people – and governments – are saying enough is enough. France became the latest country to pass legislation barring models who are too thin.
It used to be a size 2 was hard to find, much less a size 0. While Middle America pushed the average woman’s size from 12 upward, scary skinny became the norm for celebs and a image far too many adolescent girls emulated in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
Concerned about eating disorders and unrealistic expectations for thigh gaps and such, France joined Spain, Italy and Israel in banning “excessively thin” models from their fashion industry. The legislation passed today keeps them from working “in advertising campaigns or on catwalks.”
The countries are aware that eating disorders abound and that public opinion toward body image is evolving. Unrealistic beauty standards are being widely criticized for both dolls and models. Sports Illustrated was lauded for being more representative of real women by recently including its first plus-size model in its swimsuit edition.
In reaction to the fashion industry’s reputation to encouraging models to stay way too thin if they want to be employed, the law details potential fines and imprisonment for those modeling agencies or fashion houses that hire models who do not meet the minimal weight versus height standards. The French are threatening to impose prison terms of up to six months and up to 75,000 euros in fines (roughly $82,000).
The specific standards for Body Mass Index (BMI) minimums are to be set by health authorities and the ministers of health and labor. (It is believed that the French minimum limit will be set at a BMI of 18, which is approximately 121 pounds for a 5 foot 7 inch model.) To be sure crash diets, both up and down, are not used to get around the law, the model must meet the minimum before being hired and for a period afterwards.
Critics point out that a BMI can be a misleading indication of health, particularly for someone athletic, and that models may take drastic measures to be runway-ready. While there are always potential issues, the bill is part of ongoing effort to try to eliminate anorexia in the fashion industry, and present more positive “role models.” In 2007, a shocking but effective anti-anorexia campaign featured a French fashion model, Isabelle Caro, shortly before she died from the disease at age 28.
Modeling agencies are hiring more models these days with a variety of body shapes and sizes. One British agency recently hired a 5 feet 5 inches model who is a size 22, the largest model signed to a major modeling agency. However, re-shaping people’s images of women’s bodies will require her and others who are larger than a size 2 or 4 getting hired for catwalks and photo shoots.
France may be the latest country to try barring the use of too thin models. Now fashion houses, ad agencies and others needs to take the next step and change the images they are presenting to be more realistic.
By Dyanne Weiss