New Laws Prohibiting Underweight Models: Step Forward or Step Too Far?

New Laws Prohibiting Underweight Models: Step Forward or Step Too Far?

French MPs have passed a new law that makes it illegal for employers to recruit models that are unhealthily thin and fall below the BMI level fixed by the French Higher Health Authority. This new law which mainly targets and impacts the fashion industry can see employers facing a €75,000 (£54,000) fine as well as a maximum of 6 months in prison. The law extends also to magazines that could face an additional fine of €37,500 (£27,000) if a picture was photo shopped making the model look thinner without an express indication to the reader that the photo was adjusted.

France and more specifically Paris has for a long time been at the centre of fashion on a global scale. It gave birth and currently hosts some of the biggest fashion houses such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent. This new law, therefore, affects the global advertisement of such brands and could set in motion ripples of change in order to alter mentalities towards body shape and weight.

Heavy criticism has come from within the fashion industry; with some saying it could possibly confuse the distinction between anorexia and the slimness of models. Others state how the BMI measurement is inaccurate at assessing the health of a model because it is in an objective test of numbers with no subjectivity as to the proportions of bone, fat and muscle in the human body, which differs from person to person. It also does not take in factors such as genetics, which many well-known models claim is the reason for their slender physics. Another criticism surrounding the law concerns its potential to violate French employment law and discrimination during recruitment. The criticism calls for reconsideration, inferring that this is not a step forward but rather a step too far.

Due to the fact that Paris is the hub of the current trends and has an influential stance within the fashion industry it poses the question of global repercussions. The UK and the USA, home to the major fashion capitals of London and New York respectively, do not have any current restrictions on the employment on fashion models. However, change has come in other parts of the world such as Israel, where the law prohibits underweight models from appearing on the catwalks or in adverts. In fact, the law makes it an offence to hire a man or woman for a modelling job who has a BMI below 18.5, unless they have a doctor’s authority to do so. Furthermore, models must ensure they show up-to-date medical records at every photo-shoot, show or form of employment. Brazil which is a country of increasing popularity within the fashion industry, both as a source and destination, is currently considering measures of ensuring models are healthy. It is necessary to ask why the UK and USA haven’t introduced restrictions on employers, with eating disorders being a big problem among adolescents due to the increasing pressures of modern society and attaining perfect proportions.

In early 2013, such restrictions became present within Europe as well, when Spain barred models from being employed if they were under a certain BMI. Similarly, the fashion capital of Italy, Milan, which comprises the renowned and globally well-known fashion houses of Versace, Dolce&Gabbana and Gucci has made a similar move to Israel, requiring health certificates for models. Such fashion houses are household names across much of the world and the men and women who represent them through wearing their clothing are thus enormously influential on people and body ideals. It therefore sheds light on why France has made such a law, combined with the fact that there are over 40,000 people in France suffering from anorexia (close to 90% of those are adolescents and thus a major source of attention for the fashion houses). The steps taken by France, Italy and Spain may pave the way for new laws that are binding on the whole of Europe should the European Union choose to intervene. Such legislations may also reduce discrimination within the fashion industry as companies may not recruit French models but will opt for foreign models instead who better fit within their definition of the body perfect.


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