On Friday (April 3), the French parliament passed a measure that makes it illegal for modeling agencies and fashion brands to employ models deemed too skinny. According to Reuters, the bill declares “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.” The new legislation requires models to present a bill of health that proves their BMI (body mass index) is at least 18. Doctors say a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.5. Lawbreakers could face up to six months in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros (about $82,000).
This is just the latest move in President Francois Hollande’s larger effort to crack down on eating disorders, and comes just one day after the country voted to outlaw websites that encourage pro-anorexia behavior and harmful dietary restrictions.
In 2006, Spain became the first country to pass such legislation, requiring models to have a BMI above 18 to walk in Madrid’s Fashion Week. Italy and Israel soon followed suit, mandating that models have a BMI of at least 18.5.
As for the U.S., the CFDA — its “governing body” of fashion — is more focused on education and creating awareness. It sends a set of health guidelines to industry members each season, but the organization’s president has said it has no intention of pushing for legislation.
It should be noted, however, that the use of BMI as a health indicator is notoriously controversial. The measurement is calculated based on weight and height alone, and critics argue that it doesn’t account for differences in muscle and body types, and can’t determine if someone is naturally thin or actually suffering from an eating disorder.
In any case, instating such strict numerical guidelines leaves zero room for interpretation and is definitely a big move on France’s part, especially considering its role as a renowned fashion capital. Hopefully, this new law will be part of making some much-needed, industry-wide changes that will encourage healthy behavior for models and for the people who idealize them.by