France has always blazed a trail in the fashion industry; and this time, they’re doing it through a new policy that requires their models to present a doctor’s certificate to prove that they are healthy enough to work. The policy was issued last week by the French Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, ABCNews.go.com reported. In a statement, ministry officials said that the aim of the new policy is to end the promotion of unrealistic beauty ideals and prevent eating disorders among the youth. “The objective is also to protect the health of a category of the population particularly affected by this risk: models.”
Under the policy, doctors are required to pay specific attention to Body Mass Index (BMI) when they evaluate the models’ health. This could put many underweight models out of work, even though the accuracy of BMI as a health indicator has long been debated. The policy specified that even models under 16 have to go through the same assessment. The medical certificate they present will be valid for two years. Additionally, the ministry issued a measure, effective October 1, that will require advertisements to disclose any image manipulation on a model by marking commercial photographs with the label “photographie retouchee”.
Violating these policies could cost companies and agencies a lot of money. Those that hire models without medical clearance could face a hefty fine of up to 75,000 euros and be imprisoned for up to six months.
While the move has been applauded by many as a step in the right direction in the campaign against eating disorders, there is some concern about using BMI to evaluate the health of models. In an article published in the journal Obesity, doctors argued that BMI is no longer an effective tool to diagnose obesity, saying that some people with high BMIs are considered unhealthy but are otherwise found to have good blood pressure, properly functioning livers, and normal cholesterol levels.
The fashion industry has long been criticized for promoting impossible beauty standards, not just to the general public, but among the models that struggle to build a career in a notoriously discriminating field. A recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders surveyed 85 female fashion models to assess unhealthy weight control behaviors and perceived pressure from their agencies to lose weight. According to the results, models reported being pressured to lose weight, which increased the risk of engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors. The study has prompted over 40 top models to sign an open letter urging the American fashion industry to take more measures against eating disorders, saying they will promote the brands and companies that lead the initiative on social media.
The letter, entitled #DEARNYFW, read: “too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment…together we are challenging you to make a serious commitment to promote health and diversity on the runway. Through our social media platforms, which collectively reach millions of people, we will recognize the industry leaders who step up to this challenge.”
While the fashion industry has always been associated with eating disorders, they are not the only ones who experience it. In fact the problem is more widespread than people realize. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), over 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the US across all ages and genders. Eating disorders directly result in the death of at least one person every 62 minutes, and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Additionally, 13 percent of women over 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors, showing that it is not exclusive to teenagers and fashion models.