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French MPs have voted to make it illegal to put models who are too thin on the catwalk. Modeling agencies who put models on the catwalk who are deemed too thin face significant fines (up to $75,000) and even more astonishingly up to six months in prison.
The MPs are engaging in this crackdown in an attempt to help curb anorexia and other eating disorders in France. The fashion industry, especially in Paris, has a very important cultural effect on young women. And there is no question that the average Paris fashion model is startlingly thin. According to the WHO, a BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight. 18 is considered malnourished and 17 is considered severely malnourished. The average fashion model is 5ft. 9in. and weighs in at just over 110 pounds. This makes the average BMI in the fashion industry a 16. The French MPs have thus far failed to determine what BMI will be considered too low for the fashion industry.
The lower house of Parliament also voted recently to mark all photos of models that have been retouched to change body size or shape and to make promotion of anorexia on the Internet. One supposes that it is fairly easy to legislate the first of these ideas, but I admit, I’m not sure how they will enforce the latter.
While we all know that BMI is an unreliable indicator of health, nevertheless extremely low weights (along with extremely high weights) are associated with health risks. In particular, extremely low weights are sometimes indicative of Anorexia–a serious eating disorder which has proven the most deadly of all forms of mental illness. While one could imagine that some of these women are simply naturally very thin, it is unlikely that all or even most of them have a natural BMI that low. And first hand accounts from many models who speak of living on diet coke and cotton balls, and who pass out at photo shoots from lack of nutrition, lead us to believe that achieving a weight this low for many models requires extreme measures.
Naturally the fashion industry is fighting back. They state that just because their models are thin, does not mean they are anorexic. And there is a certain amount of truth to that. If we are going to argue for body diversity, we must accept that some people are naturally very thin, just as some people are naturally very fat. And if we ban very thin models, shouldn’t we ban very fat ones too?
Personally, I think it’s important to recognize that the Paris fashion industry is not representing body diversity on the catwalk. The average Paris fashion model’s body size is far, FAR below the national average for BMI. And there is virtually no representation of even averaged sized women on the catwalk. By focusing the fashion shows on body sizes that are way below average, the modeling industry creates a “new normal”. As people come to see a body type that is not healthy or normal for the vast majority of the population as the right and most desired one.
So what say you? Do you think these proposed French measures go too far? Or not far enough? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.