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Experts Say U.S. Should Follow France's New Fashion Model Ban

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This year, France followed in Israel‘s footsteps, banning models deemed “ultra-thin” — as in, under what’s considered a healthy body mass index (BMI) — from working in the fashion industry.

Now, two eating disorder experts from Harvard University say America should do the same.

In an editorial published in the American Journal of Public Health, Prof. S. Bryn Austin, director of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, and Katherine L. Record, deputy director of Accountable Care and Behavioral Health Integration at the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, argue that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates workplace safety, should place a ban on hiring models below a certain BMI.

Currently, the average international runway model has a BMI under 16. The measure French lawmakers passed requires models to have a BMI of at least 18, which, according to the World Health Organization, is actually just a tad below what’s considered a “normal” BMI for an adult.

“One of the pressures we are very concerned about is the expectation that [models] be extremely thin — thin beyond what anyone would consider healthy and certainly beyond what any physician would consider healthy,” Austin, one of the paper’s authors, told WBUR.

“They’re really putting pressure on these young women and girls and sometimes boys to risk starvation — self-starvation in a way — to achieve the standards to be able to work in the industry,” he said.

The National Eating Disorder Association states the social factors that can contribute to eating disorders — along with biological factors and psychological factors — include: cultural pressures that glorify “thinness,” narrow definitions of beauty and cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance. “Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal and disordered eating among women,” its site says.

Isabelle Saint-Felix, head of France’s National Union of Modeling Agencies, disagrees that the ban will stop people from developing anorexia. “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,” she told the Agence France-Presse. “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.”

But according to Austin, the ban would benefit models who are sometimes pressured to undergo unhealthy measures to lose weight, and those who consume what he calls the “toxic media environment” the fashion industry has created.

The point is not to punish the models themselves — we know they don’t need any more punishment, they’re already working under horrendous conditions. The purpose of these regulations would be to prevent agents, their employers, from forcing them to keep their weight so low, to lose weight in order to get jobs,” Austin said.

The National Eating Disorder Association suggests consumers keep in mind all media images and messages are constructions, and don’t reflect reality. For more information, check out their Digital Media Literacy Toolkit.

Originally published: December 28, 2015
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