Two Models Size Up France’s New BMI Proposal

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Claire Löes

Credit: Courtesy of Clothes by RHODAWONG

Model Claire Löes (left) at a photo shoot.

PITTSBURGH (WOMENSENEWS)–Claire Löes worries that the French bill designed to keep fashion models from being too thin might do more harm than good

“Asking them to gain weight is a scary thing for someone who is most likely suffering from an eating disorder,” the 19-year-old model, who is attending Parsons School for Design at the New School in New York, said in an email interview. “Such strict attention to diet and physique can become obsessive and compulsive; I say this because I’ve seen it. When you ask someone who has rigidly controlled themselves like that to suddenly make a change, it can be absolutely shattering.”

Under the French amendment, which awaits confirmation by the country’s Senate, models are required to meet the minimum BMI requirements for their heights. If an agency’s model doesn’t meet that minimum, it can face fines of over $80,000 and prison times of up to six months.

In 2012, 64 percent of models were required by their agencies to drop weight, according to The Model Alliance’s Industry Analysis.

The French legislation has met mixed reactions from members of the industry.

Isabelle Saint-Felix, head of the National Union of Modeling Agencies, said in an article in Time Magazine that a BMI requirement that banishes extremely thin models won’t rid the industry of all anorexic models; just those who exhibit extreme thinness. Low weight is only one of several effects of anorexia, she said. Hair loss and poor teeth are also signs, among others.

Girls ‘Comparing Fat’

A model since age 13, Löes is not signed with an agency. She works on and off as a fashion model and a subject for drawing classes. While she questions the effects of the proposed law on some models, she understands the impulse to change the culture of modeling. She recounts instances of girls “comparing fat while pinching centimeters of skin on their bodies” and engaging in “obsessive exercise and interval training and intentionally under-eating to prevent any body fat from being gained.”

Löes describes another model, a friend of hers, who was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 98 pounds. “People praised her constantly for how thin she was. I don’t think many saw how terrified she was at that time.”

Löes said models under that kind of pressure are also aware of how the industry’s beauty standards affect viewers. “It’s a nightmare the way the industry affects not only models, but even more so everyone else who sees the photos.”

Since appearance drives business relationships Löes said models are constantly trying to “improve” how they look. “Eating disorders are a slippery slope. Relationships that are built on these rocky states of mentality are toxic.”

The culture of the performing industry can also undermine the intention of the bill, said Löes, recalling childhood friends who worked as dancers and had a skewed idea of how they should look. “A person who is immersed in this culture has a view of what is beautiful and what is not,” said Löes. “These girls, even as 11 and 12 year olds, would stand and compare where they had the most fat on their bodies.”

Need to Encourage Respect

As a relative newcomer to the industry, Marie doesn’t know how the French bill will reverberate throughout the industry. The 24-year-old Pittsburgh-based model spoke in a Facebook interview on the condition that only her middle name be used. “I don’t want to piss my agency off,” she said.

Marie said that while models volunteer to adhere to extreme physical standards, other girls and women, outside the industry, should not try to do the same. “I feel very sad that some girls feel the need to go to extremes to change themselves to fit a standard. We need to be encouraging girls to respect their bodies.”

She hasn’t witnessed any unhealthy practices in the two years she has been a model, but she was shocked to find out that some of the models in New York Fashion Week are very young. “I had no idea girls as young as 14 represented these huge brands,” she said.

Marie thinks, all in all, the push for greater acceptance of all body types is getting helped along by brands and agencies that are showcasing women of all sizes as beautiful. “With companies like ModCloth and American Eagle [and] modeling agencies like Jag models, we are starting to move [toward] a well-rounded fashion industry,” she said.

The French proposal joins other reform efforts. Recently, for instance, Britain’s independent advertising regulator banned an Yves Saint Laurent ad featuring a model lying on the floor, her ribs clearly visible in the black and white photo.

In 2006, 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died from anorexia complications during the Montevideo, Uruguay, Fashion Week. Immediately following Ramos’s death, Madrid banned models with a BMI of less than 18 from participating in its Fashion Week. Medical certificates also became a requirement for Brazilian models in order to participate in walking catwalks.

New York has also set new standards for child models. Under its labor law, child models must have a medical statement ensuring they are fit to work and a guardian must review information about eating disorders before they obtain a work permit. If employers fail to fulfill these requirements, they face fines or revocation of their certification to employ child performers.

This story is part of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. In 2013 Women’s eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women’s eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views.

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