I stopped blaming the fashion industry a long time ago for my body image and food issues. As a teenager, I would leaf through Seventeen and Sassy, looking longingly at the tiny waists, long legs and sleek collar bones and thinking, “That’s what I’m supposed to look like.” Yes, it was damaging. But to blame the media for my food issues would be like alcoholics blaming bars for their drinking problems.
I’ve outgrown my need to pick up fashion magazines—I don’t want to feel bad anymore. But I have a daughter. How will she feel? Will she squeeze the fat on her thighs, suck in her belly, starve herself or binge because marketers and advertisers are selling an unhealthy idea of perfection?
Now she may stand a fighting chance. She could grow up in a world where women don’t have to starve themselves to walk a runway or pose for a Vogue cover. And if she’s interested in fashion, music, perfume samples or anything else found at the magazine stand, she won’t be doomed to feel like crap about herself every time she picks up a glossy.
Hire a Skeleton, Go to Jail
Early last month, France passed a new law banning underweight models from walking the runway. Designers can now only hire models who have a medical document proving their BMI (Body mass index) is at least 18, meaning on average a model standing 5 feet 7 inches should weigh no less than 120 pounds. Which means slender, but not skeletal.
Fashion houses and modeling agencies that flout the law and continue to employ could face up to six months of jail time and a fine of 75,000 euros ($82,000).
The French have added their legal weight to a trend that began in 2006, when Spain banned models from appearing in fashion shows if their BMI was considered dangerously low (18.5 or lower). Italy soon followed, requiring a health certificate for models and adding the further restriction of only allowing models older than 16 to walk the runway. Beyond the EU, Israel in 2013 passed a law requiring advertisers to publish a disclaimer if their ads used photo-shopping to alter a model’s appearance.
I picture my girl sitting at a table in an outdoor café, sipping a cappuccino, watching pigeons attack an errant croissant, flipping through a magazine that tells her she’s just fine the way she is.
Helping Women Who Can’t Help Themselves
There is no arguing with the fact that young women are literally starving themselves for work. Already thin young women who feel the pressure to appear androgynous (read: no visible feminine lumps) to fit the “I’m just a hanger for a designer’s clothes” paradigm will do what it takes to get the work. So if fashion firms are barred from hiring the ultra-skinny, what’s the problem?
Isabelle Saint-Félix, secretary-general of a French model agency trade group, called the French law “discrimination” and predicted it would hurt the fashion industry. “Our models are thin, not sick,” she protested. “The government forgets that the fashion industry is international. Ninety percent of our models are foreigners. How can French agencies be competitive if they’re held to one standard in France that others are not in other countries?”
Well, ma chère Isabelle, why not follow the lead of French designers such as St. Laurent, Givenchy and Dior and create fashion trends that the rest of the world will want to follow?
Also, none of these laws prohibit hiring thin models. They simply help women who maybe can’t help themselves—by promoting awareness of the very real diseases of anorexia and bulimia. We can no longer ignore the reality that many who suffer from eating disorders have worked in an industry that not only doesn’t care about all that, but subscribes to the mentality that just as long as you stay thin, we’ll hire you.
Hey, designers, you can hire thin girls and women, but please give a shit about their health and ability to remain upright.
À Vôtre Santé
Did you know that the French word for model is mannequin? I mention this because it speaks to the industry belief that the women and girls used to display fashions for the elite are often seen as lifeless droids programmed to walk a certain way, stand a certain way and fit into the one-size-fits-all-models mode (that was French, too). In fact, whenever a model is hired who has personality, she is celebrated for her unique qualities (Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, Agyness Deyn).
Maybe if the industry wasn’t so addicted to promoting one physical archetype, governments wouldn’t have to impose legislation.
It’s refreshing and hopeful that there seems to be a trend toward protecting young women and girls from unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards. I’m also hoping this trend moves us toward removing the polarizing categorization of women into “plus sized” and “regular sized” models. Instead, let’s just call us what we are: women.