BY: JACK M.
In what can only be described as a major rejection of an industry that has put countless young women and girls at serious health risks by promoting and glamorizing super-skinny models, France recently made it illegal for the fashion industry to exploit these same women and girls for its own greedy ends. And this new law has teeth; fines of up €75,000 and six months in prison for first time infractions. There are even serious consequences if agencies have their models’ photographs altered to reflect a thinner look, or if they are found to be encouraging excessive weight loss.
Fashion – and the fashion industry – has been around for centuries, but it is only in the last fifty or so years that clothing designers and manufacturers have been using live models to help popularize their products and fatten their wallets. The designers realized very early in the game that their clothes simply “look” better when they hang loosely on the wearers, and “hang loosely” quickly translated into skinny models. Because of its ubiquity and its effect on young women in particular, skinny became synonymous with beauty, success and happiness, and a body shape that even approached “normal” was often seen as a pathway to failure.
Because of its ubiquity and its effect on young women, skinny became synonymous with beauty, success and happiness.
Magazines, television and Hollywood weren’t far behind in hitching their wagons to the money train, and it wasn’t long before being merely skinny wasn’t even good enough. Super-skinny became the “in” look. Models, would-be models and those young girls who admired and envied them became pawns in a ruthless and manipulative industry, and the inevitable result was an epidemic of eating disorders – anorexia and bulimia, and their attendant side effects, including death itself. The Uruguayan-born model Eliana Ramos died of a heart attack at the age of 18, directly related to malnutrition. The Brazilian-born model Ana Reston died in 2006, aged 21, the direct result of anorexia. The French model and actress Isabelle Caro died at the age of 28, again the result of a compulsive need to be unnaturally thin. And these are just a few of the well-known women who have fallen prey to the fashion industry’s selfish and ruthless tactics. The number of those unknowns who have been physically and emotionally scarred is countless.
French model and actress Isabelle Caro shortly before she died at the age of 28, the result of a compulsive need to be unnaturally thin.
In a twist of irony, it was largely due to the efforts of an anorexia awareness campaign by Isabelle Caro herself that instigated the French authorities to take steps to stop the industry in its tracks. Needless to say, the French fashion and modelling industries reacted with vitriol, accusing the government and law makers of meddling in matters they don’t understand. Details of the new legislation have yet to be finalized, but what seems to be certain is that World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines connecting body mass index (commonly known as BMI) to ill-health will be the guiding light. These guidelines suggest in no uncertain terms that a BMI below 18.5 is underweight, below 18 is considered malnourished and 17 or less is severely malnourished. A female model who weighs 110 pounds and is 5ft 9in has a BMI of 16, and this has become the number that the industry has tacitly not just approved of, but encouraged.
Other jurisdictions such as Italy, Spain and Israel have enacted voluntary codes of conduct for the fashion industry, and along with France are actively making the practice of using super-skinny models socially unacceptable. There was a time when cigarette smoking was seen as something cool to do, but the tobacco industry today is fighting an uphill battle in marketing its products. And there was a time when drinking and driving was borderline socially acceptable, but today it’s a taboo. Maybe it’s time for the abuse of young girls and women by the fashion industry to be seen for the pariah that it is, and just as equally frowned upon.