France Proposes Minimum BMI For Models (UPDATED)

But will banning “unhealthy” models really change anything?

A young Kate Moss

France is taking a bureaucratic approach to battling eating disorders and unhealthy body image ideals in considering a law that would mandate a minimum BMI of 18 for working models. The Atlantic puts that number into perspective:

The U.S. government says any BMI of less than 18.5 indicates someone is underweight, though not necessarily suffering from an eating disorder. The New York Times lists models like Gisele Bündchen and Naomi Campbell as being in the 16 to 17 range, while the particularly wispy Kate Moss's BMI registered at about 15 in her modeling heyday. For a woman who stands 5-foot-2, a BMI of about 18 would require weighing about 100 pounds.

If the law passes French Parliament and goes into effect, models will be subject to regular weight checks and must present medical documentation that proves they meet or exceed the base BMI both before being contracted for a job and a few weeks beyond its completion. Violations of the law will result in stiff fines (up to 75,000 euros) and potentially stints in jail for any agency staff found to be involved. “It’s important for fashion models to say that they need to eat well and take care of their health, especially for young women who look to the models as an aesthetic ideal,” said Marisol Touraine, France’s Health Minister to BFM TV earlier in the week, according to The Guardian.

While any positive efforts in this realm are commendable in spirit, one can’t help but wonder whether this represents anything greater than a symbolic gesture. Israel, Spain, and Italy all have championed similar principles, whether through voluntary agreements or actual legislation, but the impact of such measures is difficult to quantitatively measure. And, to be sure, France joining the list is a weighty addition, as one of the fashion capitals of the world (and home to an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 sufferers of anorexia, most of whom are teenagers). But it seems unlikely that any number of laws passed by any number of countries will do much to suddenly change the practices of an industry which worships at the altar of unrealistic beauty standards in the name of health and positive messaging to the masses—especially when the foundation of that very altar is built upon exclusionary ideals.

At the very least, perhaps this law will crack down on the modeling agencies who willfully perpetuate unhealthy behaviors or even turn a blind eye when their breadwinners are struggling with eating disorders. According to the NYT, The National Union of Modeling Agencies in France released a statement condemning “selectively repressive” legislation, such as France’s proposed law, and calls made by the NYT to ten Paris-based modeling agencies inquiring for comment went unanswered.

UPDATE (April 3, 2015): An edited version of the bill was passed Friday morning, after having been rejected the first time around due to concerns regarding anti-discrimination laws. In its updated state, the law prohibits hiring models who fall beneath a BMI of 18, with violators subjected to a hefty 75,000 euro fine and up to six months behind bars.

An additional amendment to the bill was approved this past Thursday night though, containing further restrictions and punishments aimed specifically at websites that promote or glorify eating disorders, showcasing unhealthy beauty ideals such as the ever-elusive thigh gap and protruding ribs. While some are skeptical, insisting that many of these sites function as support forums for those suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and other less well known disorders, neurologist Olivier Véran, who’s behind the amendment, insists “it carefully differentiates sites that are ‘sometimes run by young women who use it as an outlet’ from those that clearly support ‘methods to lose as much weight as possible,’” reports The Verge.

While the aforementioned bills were approved by France’s lower house of parliament, they will next need to pass the French Senate.

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