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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Law banning too-skinny models achieves nothing

France recently passed legislation prohibiting fashion models with a body mass index below 18 from working. Modeling agencies violating the ban could face over $80,000 in fines and up to six months in prison.

Perhaps obviously, this ban affects a large segment of the industry. When similar legislation was enacted in Spain, 30 percent of the models from previous years were turned away.

The ban is a response by François Hollande’s administration to the growing body image issues and cases of eating disorders in the country. Currently, an estimated 40,000 people — 90 percent of them women — in France suffer from anorexia nervosa, just one type of eating disorder prevalent worldwide.

In theory, limiting the exposure of teenage girls to models who are deemed to be unhealthily thin could improve these statistics. After all, 47 percent of girls in grades five through 12 reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

However, this legislation is problematic on several levels. The first is that BMI, the measure by which the models are deemed “fit to work,” is already a noticeably flawed standard of health.

BMI is a number derived from your height and weight — and only your height and weight. It ignores factors that could actually make for a better holistic assessment of a given model’s health, like age, metabolism, muscle composition or the location of body fat.

In short, a low BMI does not indicate an eating disorder, or even that a model is unhealthy. Applying it in this way, then, is somewhat akin to using a hammer on a screw — it’s the entirely wrong tool to fix the problem. Moreover, forcing models into a body type that may not be natural for them could bring about a whole host of other issues of image and self-esteem.

“Eating disorders are emotional disorders that have psychological, behavioral, social and physical manifestations, of which body weight is only one,” as was nicely put by the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s website.

Almost ironically, the image of disordered eating presented by the media is that of a rail-thin waif suffering from anorexia. However, it is possible to suffer from anorexia and be at a normal weight, or even be considered overweight — it is even more likely that this will occur if the patient is suffering from a different eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder.

Moreover, the consequences of eating disorders reach beyond the physical consequences of extreme weight loss: Almost 50 percent of people suffering from eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.

Reducing eating disorders to a mere question of body weight, as this legislation does, ignores the larger scope of the problem. It is, in short, a one-size-fits-all solution — pun intended — for a problem filled with nuances.

“Rather than being focused on all the talk about thinness and obesity, I am personally interested in championing healthy eating choices and behaviors, as well as improving physical activity,” said Sheila Parker, a UA public health lecturer.

Real solutions to society’s problem of body image will address not only these healthier behaviors, but also the competitive, comparative and image-obsessed nature of the media and culture.

However, all the proposed “solutions” are akin to this new law — simplistic, blanket bans that ignore the complex scope of eating disorders as illnesses that are just as mental as they are physical. Until this changes, legislation like France’s will only be making things worse.

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Maddy Bynes is a junior studying political science and history. Follow her on Twitter.

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