A new law has been introduced in France under which employers who hire models with a BMI under 18, may face jail time.
The French government is the latest to ban excessively thin models from their catwalks. Other nations that have introduced similar restrictions include Spain, Italy and Israel.
According to Reuters, the legislation states that “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.” This proposed level is a BMI of 18, which means a person around 175 centimetres tall would have to weigh at least 55 kilograms.
Fashion agencies found in violation of these restrictions could face a 75,000 Euro fine and up to 6 months imprisonment.
The bill has been criticised by members of the modelling industry for conflating thinness and anorexia. Isabelle Saint-Felix, head of France’s Nation Union of Modelling Agencies told the AFP:
“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…It’s important that the models are healthy, but it’s a little simplistic to think there won’t be any more anorexics if we get rid of very thin models.”
The legislation follows another bill passed by French Government, branding pro-anorexia websites and their content, illegal. The Daily Beast reports that sites which share information promoting unhealthy habits and provoking excessive thinness may receive a 10,000 Euro fine, the site’s distributers facing jail time.
Reportedly between 30,000- 40,000 people in France suffer from anorexia nervosa, and the government hopes the laaw will help curb this growing issue. French Foreign Minister Marisol Touraine states, “This is an important message to young women who see these models as an aesthetic example.”
In 2014, Australian designer Alex Perry received media backlash after featuring a model in one of his fashion shows who appeared unhealthily underweight. Perry recognised the dangers of featuring underweight models, but stated that appropriate management of the issue is not just the responsibility of designers.
Perry told the Today Show at the time that:
“Everybody needs to get in this together. Everyone is complicit in this. You can’t say designers shouldn’t book those models… You know what, let’s say, model agencies shouldn’t have those models, magazines shouldn’t shoot those models, designers shouldn’t use those models.”
Our very own Mia Freedman responded, noting that this discussion is not new – and nor are calls for industry regulation. In fact, industry regulation already exists; however it is voluntary. She said:
“A Code Of Conduct for the industry already exists. I know this because I was the Chair of The National Body Image Advisory Group – a group of health professionals and industry representatives (you can see who they were here) convened by the then federal Minister for Youth Kate Ellis to do exactly what Alex has suggested.”
The guidelines, (featured below) cover issues such naturalism and realistic imagery, diversity, body image, weight and age.
But as Freedman pointed out, the guidelines were just that. Guidelines.
She explains that “the thinking was that the most effective approach to change in the fashion and media industries was to work with them in a constructive, collaborative, voluntary way.”
But when industry professionals have no obligation to adhere to these guidelines, they don’t. These regulations haven’t been enforced, so we continue to see drastically underweight women on catwalks in Australia and around the world.
Perhaps France, like Italy and Israel before them, have now taken the necessary steps to combat this issue. The question remains though, will Australia follow suit?