The fashion industry has been criticised for decades for projecting unhealthy and unrealistic expectations onto female consumers. Now, in France, it has become illegal to put excessively skinny models on the runway if they are unable to provide a doctor’s note confirming that they are in good health.
These medical certificates will include a record of body mass index (BMI), which will render a model ineligible to find work should it fall below a certain point. If an employer hires a model without this evidence, they risk a €75,000 fine and six month prison sentence.
“[Fashion] has gone beyond thinness. We are now talking about malnutrition,” says surgeon Olivier Veran, who first proposed a law against ultra-thin models back in March. “If someone with a body mass index of 18 (the malnutrition threshold) is regarded by the professionals as too fat, then we have a real problem.”
The law also insists that French fashion publications disclose when they digitally alter photographs of models; these images are legally required to be accompanied by a visible “retouched photograph” notice. An earlier draft of the law included a proposal which sought to punish the operators of online pro-anorexia forums. This was ultimately dropped from the final bill, due in part to the practical difficulty in enforcing such a law, in addition to the vulnerable mental state of many site owners who might react negatively to legal action.
Spain, Italy and Israel have also implemented regulations that prohibit fashion houses from hiring models they deem too thin. Denmark, meanwhile, has introduced an “ethical charter” signed by leading magazines, designers and photographers.