Why I Have Mixed Feelings About France’s New Law Banning Excessively Thin Models

April 8, 2015  |  

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It looks like the French version of Fashion Week will become a little more curvier thanks in part to a new law that will regulate the dress size of models who shashay down the catwalk.

According to Daily Kos, a new law passed this past Friday will ban “excessively thin models” and fine, or even jail, modeling agents and fashion houses who hire them. As reported by the Huffington Post:

“‘The activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor,’ the bill said.”

The lawmaker behind the bill previously said models would have to present a medical certificate showing a BMI of at least 18 — about 121 pounds for a height of 5 feet seven inches tall — before being hired for a job and for a few weeks afterwards.

The law, passed through the lower house of parliament, could result in six months of prison and a fine of around $82,000 (€75,000) for agencies in violation. It will also crack down on websites promoting them to “seek excessive thinness by encouraging eating restrictions for a prolonged period of time, resulting in risk of mortality or damage to health”—violation of which could also result in prison or large fines.”

France now joins Italy and Spain in banning extremely thin models, as those countries did so in 2013.  France also follows the lead of Israel. That country not only started regulating how much a model must weigh to work in 2012, but it also bans the the use of Photoshop to make curvier models look thinner than what they really are.

Also taking a stand against dangerously underweight models is Vogue magazine. The publication pledged that it would no longer use models over the age of 16 who appear to have eating disorders in any of its fashion editorial spreads. This includes its 19 international editions.

If the move seems a little presumptuous, it should also be mentioned that up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, and a binge eating disorder) in the U.S., this according to eating disorder information website Mirasol. Likewise, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

And as reported back in 2012 by Today, “The Guardian reports that LSE’s study — the first known economic analysis of anorexia — found that reducing the number of images of skinny women on television and in magazines would “lift some of the social pressure women feel to be thin.”

It certainly is a step in the right direction to get the fashion industry more aligned with how women and girls are actually shaped and built in the real world. I get that it is a fantasy that they sell, but clearly these fantasies have become vivid nightmares for women and girls who might suffer from self-worth issues. I’m curious to see how such laws and bans, particularly the ban on the use of Photoshop, could be used to curtail eating disorders, as well as other self-esteem issues.

However, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the government regulating a model’s weight. If we were talking about women working as television news anchors or actresses, which are both occupations where a person’s appearance is a large part of their job, would we be so inclined to think that adding weight requirements would be such a good idea? Also, fashion, and what is considered fashionable, changes often. While the waif-look was all the rage in the late ’90s and early part of this century, what is in now are women with much curvier shapes.

And while that is medically healthier, mentally the emphasis on rounder behinds, smaller waists and bigger boobs has the same negative effect on one’s self esteem, as demonstrated by the rise of women literally dying from back-alley butt injections. What if the industry decides to lean more to the voluptuous side of a woman’s weight, do we then decide to ban the Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé look as well?

Not to be the Debbie Downer wearing last year’s trends, but it seems like we are opening up an ugly can of worms that have the potential to create some dangerous slippery slopes. I think a more effective solution is for the industry to focus more on diversity in shapes, sizes, and of course, color, than finding more ways to make an industry prone for exclusion, even more exclusive.

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