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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

France Considers Law Banning Extremely Skinny Fashion Models


Browsing fashion magazines exposes girls and young women to ads and layouts featuring models who are extremely thin. Some even look emaciated. One country wants to do something about it.

That country is France, and it is considering a law banning extremely skinny fashion models. It may also fine the modeling agency or fashion house that hires the models, the Guardian reported. Italy, Spain and Israel have passed similar laws.

What specifically would the law do? According to the Guardian, it would “enforce regular weight checks and fines of up to 75,000 euros ($79,000) for any breaches, with up to six months in jail for staff involved.” Models would be required to show a medical certificate indicating they have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 18 prior to being hired. In addition, amendments to the legislation “propose penalties for anything made public that could be seen as encouraging extreme thinness, notably pro-anorexia websites that glorify unhealthy lifestyles.”

Perhaps you are thinking that extremely thin fashion models are not a big deal. Consider the fact that former fashion model Isabelle Caro died in 2007. The French national was only 28 years old and anorexic. Eating disorders, namely anorexia nervosa, can kill. Consider also that Paris is a fashion capital, perhaps the fashion capital. In France, there are 30,000 to 40,000 people with anorexia. The average BMI for French women is 23.2, CNN reports, and that is the lowest among Western European countries.

The link between media images and body image

Models have a responsibility for the image they project. They represent an ideal to girls and young women who browse through fashion magazines. “It’s important for fashion models to say that they need to eat well and take care of their health, especially for young women who look to the models as an aesthetic ideal,” Health Minister Marisol Touraine said to BFM TV.

Does the media really play a role in the development of eating disorders? Almost half of girls in fifth to 12th grade reported wanting to lose weight after looking at magazine pictures, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Almost 70 percent of girls in the same grades said that magazine pictures influence their idea of a perfect body shape. In other words: Girls are looking at fashion magazines, and the pictures of skinny models influence their body image.

A 2004 study on eating disorders and the role of media found that the media contributes to the development of eating disorders. Researchers concluded that there is a “need for media literacy and media activism to help change the current normative body discontent of women in the Western world.”

Studies have also found that models are more prone to developing eating disorders. A 2007 study of models found that up to 40 percent of them may be suffering from an eating disorder. A year later, a study of 55 fashion models from Sardinia, Italy, found that 54.4 percent (34 models) had BMIs below 18. Only 12.7  percent of the control group, who were not fashion models, had BMIs below 18.

Is government intervention really warranted to help prevent eating disorders? A 2011 study by the London School of Economics found that self image and peer effects influence certain health-related behaviors, including eating disorders. Researchers found that the larger the body mass of peers are, the lower the chance of developing anorexia. They recommended “government intervention to adjust individual biases in self-image.”

Put the studies aside for a moment and consider the testimony of one woman who grew up pouring over fashion magazines geared toward teenagers. Although she had a naturally thin build, she felt she was not skinny enough and became afraid of weighing too much. She developed bulimia as a teenager, and in her early 20s suffered from a bout of anorexia. Now in her early 40s, she is free from both diseases, but it took a lot of hard work to get there. That woman is me.

Image credit: fervent-adepte-de-la-mode

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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