France’s ban on skinny models needs examination

Image: Ben Watkin

Image: Ben Watkin

Recent suggestions that France is in the process of banning “excessively skinny” models from its catwalks have sparked worldwide controversy. The proposals, which were tabled by Socialist MP Olivier Véran, aim to put an end to the presence of skeletal models within France’s fashion industry.

Socialist MP Olivier Véran stated: “It is intolerable to promote malnutrition and to exploit people commercially who are endangering their own health. The social impact of the image conveyed by fashion…is very severe.”

The proposals’ first amendment would see agencies threatened with a maximum six-month prison term and a €75,000 (£54,000) fine if they were to use models under the currently unspecified minimum Body Mass Index, or BMI. Models would be obliged to provide medical certificates showing their BMI in order to enforce this.

The second amendment would make it a criminal offence to “glorify excessive skinniness”. Powers would be granted to shut down websites that “promote anorexia”, such as “pro-ana” sites that encourage young women to be as thin as possible.

France would not be the first country to bring in regulations of this kind. Countries such as Italy, Spain, Belgium and Chile, have already imposed regulations on their fashion industries, while last year, Israel became the first country to enforce legislation directly combating eating disorders.

The proposed regulations are aimed at tackling the promotion of anorexia. Currently, up to 40,000 people in France are suffering from anorexia, around 90 per cent of whom are adolescents. Many believe the image of women portrayed by fashion industries has a direct affect on anorexia statistics. Marisol Touraine, France’s health minister, said: “When you are a model, you must eat and take care of your health. This is an important message to young girls, girls who see in these models an aesthetic ideal.”

Current suggestions for the minimum BMI are in the region of 18; currently, the World Health Organisation defines anyone with a BMI below 18 to be suffering from malnutrition. Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health, observes: “In order to have a BMI of under 18, food has been restricted resulting in nutritional deficiencies.”

However, many argue that BMI is not a definitive indicator of anorexia, a complex, emotional illness. American model, Lyndsay Scott, said: “I was an All-American 400m runner at 5-foot-9 and 108 pounds during college. Perfectly healthy but still way under an 18 BMI. Bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes, thin and otherwise. Even people with eating disorders can have a so-called healthy BMI.”

Instead, people such as Polly Vernon, author of the forthcoming book Hot Feminist, see the move towards a ban of “excessively skinny” models as a reflection of the “growing tendency to demonise thin women – to expose them as either mentally ill or dangerous”.

While the proposed move away from the skeletal model figure can be seen as a commendable action in the fight against anorexia, it also arguably demonises naturally skinny women and ignores an equally serious issue; obesity. About 2.1 billion people, nearly 30% of the population of the planet, are overweight or obese and, as a result, have a higher risk of developing many health problems.

Certainly, any promotion of anorexia should be fought, whether that is the image presented by skeletal models or pro-ana sights. However, demonising and putting naturally slim women out of work based on BMI is not the way forward. Fashion industries need to promote healthy, nourished women combating both sides of the weight issue spectrum; excessively skinny and excessively large.

One comment

  1. So basically Europe is banning ectomorphs that can’t gain weight not for lack of trying? There’s plenty of lanky models that can eat literally anything and everything and due to their extremely high BMR rate, they don’t gain a pound. I should know as I have tried everything to put meat on my bones. The most I’ve weighed is 132 pounds and that’s only because I was full-term. My husband and I have 5 healthy children with their birth weight ranging from 6 to 7 pounds. Our 2 youngest have the same difficulty gaining weight as myself. Now, I do understand the good intentions motivating this ban but it’s unfair to women like myself. I’m fearless with my caloric intake and take it for granted as I know I will never be overweight. Due to my frame, I was relentlessly teased by mostly females in high school for having an eating disorder which is no different than being call f a t, it’s just as hurtful. I’ve never starved myself or forced myself to vomit in an effort to lose weight. I’ve never felt guilty for digesting high caloric meals, I welcome calories. Anyways, I just think these new bans discriminate against models that are built like myself but are healthy. These so called lawmakers need to learn how not to judge a book by it’s cover.