Will France’s Crackdown On Unhealthy Models Set A New Fashion Industry Standard?

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You may remember back in April 2015 when France signed a new law which would see greater oversight into the alleged unhealthy standards of models throughout the fashion industry. The law, pioneered by socialist lawmaker and doctor Oliver Veran, would ban any models with eating disorders from being allowed to walk in fashion shows and appear in advertising campaigns. It was a specific amendment to an already existing health bill which would be the beginning of the country’s crackdown on eating disorders that are rife within the French fashion industry.

The law imposed fines on agencies and designers, as well as websites which promoted harmful body standards, as well as jail time in some cases.

But it seems French lawmakers were not done with what was signed in to law in April. In December 2015 politicians voted on additional measures which would also force models to get a signed doctor’s certificate to prove they meet the health standards (their BMI must be 18 or higher before working; in France, the average BMI is 23.2) and the law now also requires advertisers to disclose any images that have been retouched or photoshopped, something that we believe should be a worldwide law tbh…

Instead of politicians determining what they think should be a minimum body mass index, they decided it it better to bring in the expertise of doctors and allow them to have the final say on whether a model meets health requirements or not.

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Also changed was the previous measure that could potentially send those who ran websites “glorifying” anorexia and other eating disorders to jail as some lawmakers said the people who ran those sites are most likely suffering with disorders themselves and incarcerating them would not get to the root of the problem.

This is an important health focus for France as the Health Ministry estimates up to 40,000 people suffer with eating disorders, and 90% of that group are adolescent women. With anorexia being the number one killer of all mental illnesses, this is not just a passing matter.

It is easy to recognize the influence of the fashion industry as well as advertising, social media and pressures from an increased amount of visual imagery present in the life of adolescents around the world especially on the internet. So for a country to recognize that part of improving the country’s overall health means implementing strict measures to ensure an industry cannot impose an undue burden on a young woman’s health is a great start.

“The images of the body rewarding excessive thinness or wasting and stigmatizing curves undeniably contribute to unhappiness, especially among many young girls. The appearance of some models helps to spread potentially dangerous stereotypes for fragile populations,” said verbiage in the new bill.

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While there are some modeling agency executives and and other health industry experts say the law is more harmful than helpful, we can see the growing global trend of paying attention to the massive influence fashion has on the well being of young women and men.

In the UK, politician Caroline Nokes has teamed up with model Rosie Nelson to raise awareness and support for a new proposal that could potentially see the implementation of a law like that in France. MP Nokes held an all-Parliamentary inquiry, gathering models, agencies and fashion industry insiders to share candid details of how the industry affects body image, to determine whether a law specifying health standards and a body mass index is necessary.

In the US there is also growing interest in creating laws to protect models from being subjected to unhealthy standards. Aside from being one of only two states to implement protective labor laws for underage models to prevent them from being exploited as has been all too common in the industry (thanks to major lobbying from model advocate group The Model Alliance), Representative Grace Meng of New York introduced the Child Performers Protection Act of 2015, a bill intended to extend federal workplace safety regulations to young professionals, including models.

According to the New York Times, the bill is currently being considered by the Committee on Education and the Work Force, and Representative Meng is waiting to see if it will progress to a vote. This particular measure doesn’t specify whether it includes standards on health and body image, but the fact that laws about the fashion industry and modeling profession are now making it to Congress shows how much more awareness is out there, and how it is no longer being ignored.

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Experts at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have weighed in on the issue saying the US needs to enforce fashion houses from using models who have a BMI of 18 or less. The academic report states unhealthy models should not be allowed to be used in fashion campaigns or walk in runway shows to prevent the increase of eating disorders in fans.

“Given the prevalence of starvation in the modelling industry…and the health harms that models suffer as a consequence, BMI is a necessary indicator of being dangerously underweight,” said Professor Bryn Austin, a specialist in adolescent health and the prevention of eating disorders.

“It would shake the fashion industry, even if enforcement dollars were few and far between. Designers would be hard pressed to maintain a presence in the fashion industry without participating in the New York City and Paris Fashion Weeks,” she continued.

Katherine Record and S. Bryn Austin of the Harvard Chan School’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders believe forcing companies to ensure the health of a model first and foremost is important.

“Indeed, the fashion industry refers to its top models as clothes hangers – the less mass within the outfit, the better the display, the better the employee. Not surprisingly, this takes a toll: models have died of starvation-related complications, sometimes just after stepping off the runway,” they wrote in the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Given that New York is home to one of the “big four” fashion hubs in the world, a law pertaining to healthy body standards in the US should be a necessity, not a luxury in our opinion.

In the meantime, France joins Spain and Italy as leaders in what could be perceived as a new wave of body image standards globally. If MP Caroline Nokes in the UK is successful enough to bring in a law to protect British models from potential eating disorders, we have no doubt other countries and fashion markets will start to follow suit. With the rise in popularity of body positive bloggers and plus size models, perhaps the change resulting from voices being raised is finally starting to happen. Watch this space!

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  1. Pingback: Following In France's Footsteps, California Will Introduce A Bill To Protect The Health Of Models - GirlTalkHQ

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