France Bans Skinny Models: Let’s Stop Eating Disorders

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that fashion models are thin, often too thin. What is surprising is that France has said ENOUGH (trop c’est trop)!

A new French law will require models to have a certificate of health from a medical doctor before they walk the runway. If a doctor determines that the model is anorexic or too thin for their height, weight, age and body shape, they can’t work as a model. Agencies that fail to comply with the law could face fines of nearly $82,000 and up to six months in jail.

The activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor.

And just in case those wily photo editors try to “doctor” the model’s pictures, all digital alterations or photo manipulations must be labeled “retouched photograph” beginning October 1.

The goal of the bill is to prevent eating disorders and unrealistic standards of beauty. About 30,000 – 40,000 people in France, mostly women, suffer from anorexia.

Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behaviour. — France’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Marisol Touraine, said in a statement reported by French media.

Italy, Spain and Israel have all enacted similar legislation. If a model in Italy, for example, has a BMI (body mass index) less than 18.5, they will be sent home.

Rosie Nelson, a 24-year-old model in the UK has started a campaign to get a similar ban in Britain. Nelson publicly refused to follow her agency’s demand to “get [her weight] down to the bone.” She was instructed to shrink her 37” hips down to 35.”

More than 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005). — National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA

The laws designed to keep a model’s weight healthy are aimed at more than waistlines. Images from fashion magazines help shape girls and teens impression of what a woman’s figure should look like.

Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight (Martin, 2010). — National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA

The Model Alliance, a not-for-profit organization started in 2012 by model Sara Ziff, sent an anonymous online survey to 241 fashion models in New York and Los Angeles. Of the 85 who responded, 68.3% said they suffered from either anorexia and/or depression and 64.1% were asked by their agency to lose weight. Among other things Ziff wants the fashion industry to “Uphold the understanding that models under age 16 do not belong on the runway. Most children have prepubescent bodies, which makes them unsuitable to market clothing to adults.”

Girls developed eating disorders when our culture developed a standard of beauty that they couldn’t obtain by being healthy. When unnatural thinness became attractive, girls did unnatural things to be thin. — Mary Pipher

It’s hard to say whether banning extremely skinny models will have an impact on the modeling industry or cultural mores about weight. One thing is clear, France’s influence on the fashion industry cannot be denied, and some expect the effect of the new law to be felt around the world.

The average BMI of Miss America winners has decreased from around 22 in the 1920s to 16.9 in the 2000s. The World Health Organization classifies a normal BMI as falling between 18.5 and 24.9 (Martin, 2010). — National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA

Olympic ice skater, Nancy Kerrigan, struggled with anorexia. Now she’s executive producer of an upcoming documentary, “Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds?” to help shed light on the enormous pressure athletes and dancers face to be thin.

Kerrigan told People magazine:

I’ve seen women who have ended up having hysterectomies because they had an eating disorder for so many years that they damaged their bodies so much. There’s one girl that I competed against when I was young, she died,” she says of what inspired her to get involved on the project. “I think a lot of times people see it as something they can control, but frankly the eating disorder starts to control you.

The pressure to be thin also affects actresses. Actress Emma Thompson recently discussed the ‘terrible’ problem of anorexia in Hollywood with a Swedish talk show “Skavlan.”

Sometimes there are just some subjects that you absolutely have to make noise about because it’s so tedious and it’s gone on and on. It is evil what is going on out there and it is getting worse.

The anorexia – there’s so many kids, girls and boys now, and actresses who are very, very thin into their 30s, who simply don’t eat. They don’t eat.

Thompson remembered the time when she told an American producer: ‘Do you want me to be an actress or a model?’


Ballerinas also feel enormous pressure to be thin. American Ballet Theatre (ABT) soloist Misty Copeland has not admitted to having an eating disorder, but she did discuss the pressure to be thin with The New Yorker magazine.

I didn’t want to be seen ordering huge amounts of food, but the local Krispy Kreme would do deliveries if the order was large enough,” Copeland said. “After practice, I would order two dozen doughnuts and then, alone in my apartment, eat most of them.” She felt that her ballet career was getting away from her, that she was far from family, that she was alone. “I was barely over a hundred pounds, but I felt so fat, and even a stranger at a club, when I told him I was a ballerina, said, ‘No way.’

Another ballet dancer claims ballet nearly killed her. She told The Guardian about her experience in ballet class.

When I was training as a teenager, the instructors would call me ‘mozzarella’ and ‘Chinese dumpling’ in front of everyone. I reduced my eating so much that my period stopped for a year and a half when I was 16 and 17, and I dropped to 43 kilos [95 pounds]. I would get by on an apple and a yoghurt a day, relying on adrenaline to make it through rehearsal.

If you need help with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association’s helpline @ 1-800-931-2237.

BBC – “France bans extremely thin models”
Huffington Post – “France’s Law Banning Underweight Models Is Now In Effect”
NBC Sports – “Nancy Kerrigan Details Eating Issues Before 1994 Olympics”
Vogue – “How Sara Ziff and More Than 40 Other Models Are Leading the Charge Against Eating Disorders”
U.S. News & World Report Health – “Eating Disorders”
National Eating Disorders Association– “What Are Eating Disorders?”
XPOSE.IE – “Emma Thompson calls Hollywood’s obsession with actresses’ weight ‘evil’”
News.com.au – “Rosie Nelson refusing to back down from healthy model campaign”
The Washington Post – “James Scully’s radical idea for the fashion industry: Treat models like human beings”

Feature image – martinkay78- iStock

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