An expert in eating disorders explains how the new ban could have a powerful effect.
When Paris Fashion Week kicks off later this month, you may notice that the runway models look a little different this year: Kering and LVMH, two major French fashion groups, have announced that they will no longer hire models smaller than a U.S. size 2.
The two giants—which own brands like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Louis Vuitton—have taken this step in response to criticism of the fashion industry for promoting eating disorders, Reuters reports. The new rule is part of a larger charter that requires models to have a recent certificate of health; and also forbids the hiring of girls under age 16 to pose for adult products.
This isn't the first attempt to stop the idealization of excessively thin bodies in the heart of the fashion world: Back in 2015, the French government made it illegal for agencies to use models with a BMI under 18. (Picture a 5-foot, 7-inch woman who weighs 120 pounds.)
Kering and LVMH said their new charter was designed for "the well-being of models." But there's hope it will have ripple effects into society at large. To get an expert's take, we spoke with Tom Hildebrandt, PsyD, chief of the division of eating and weight disorders at Mount Sinai Health System.
"This kind of ban is a good thing," he told Health via email, especially for anyone who struggles with their body image: "Overvaluation of thinness creates a misperception among vulnerable individuals that can lead to equating one's self-worth with being thin."
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When fashion brands use underweight models, it conveys the message that an unhealthy body type is the most socially valued, he explains. For someone with an existing eating disorder, seeing pictures of very thin models can reinforce the desire to lose weight, making recovery all the more difficult: "Viewing these images makes it harder to focus on other ways to value oneself, and others," says Hildebrandt.
The charter isn't a perfect solution, of course: "This ban doesn't ensure models are healthy," Hildebrandt points out, because of course, a woman's dress size isn't the only factor for determining her mental and physical health. But it's a step in the right direction, he says—one that will hopefully protect models, and also take some pressure off women everywhere who struggle with disordered eating, and the desire to be ultra-thin.