Is Body Mass Index Really the Best Way to Regulate Modeling Agencies?
When looking at the beautiful clothes that make their way onto the runways each season, we often forget the nuances that go into selecting the models wearing them. But the recent ban of too-thin models in France based on body mass index, which comes on the heels of Israel, Spain, and Italy’s decision to do the same, has us taking a closer look at the logic of it all.
Fashion houses and agencies that employ models with a BMI under 18—that's 122 pounds for a 5'9" woman—could face jail time and a fine of 75,000 euros (about $82,000).
The French government’s fear is that ultra-thin models encourage eating disorders among regular women. While this may be a push to change beauty standards on the catwalk, many models feel the government is setting unrealistic expectations by policing their weight.
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"When you look at the criteria behind anorexia, you can't look only at the body mass index when other criteria are also involved: psychological, a history of hair loss, dental problems," the head of France's National Union of Modelling Agencies, Isabelle Saint-Felix, told the AFP.
After the regulations passed in Spain in 2006, some agencies figured out loopholes to conceal women's true weight. One model told the New York Observer that a Spanish agency gave models weights to tie to their hair or sandbags to tuck inside their shapewear before stepping on the scale.
While we love seeing diversity on the runway, we're afraid that this new mandate may lead folks to believe that being thin automatically makes you unhealthy—which isn’t necessarily the case. And at the same time, you can have a weight that seems healthy, and still have an eating disorder.
Everyone agrees that the fashion industry should try to prevent more cases like Isabelle Caro, the French model who died from anorexia in 2010 at age 28 and prompted discussions that led to the rule change. But hopefully they can do a better job of identifying (and treating) eating disorders than simply relying on a number on the scale.
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