On the catwalk. Photo: Kristjan Porm
Fashion models should be suspended if they are dangerously thin and health regulators should make sure this happens.
So says a provocative editorial published this week in the American Journal of Public Health.
The authors, both experts on eating disorders affiliated with the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, argue that fashion models are just as deserving of protection as coal miners and garment factory workers. Instead of being vulnerable to black lung or repetitive stress injuries, models are at risk of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.
Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died in 2006 from a generalized infection caused by anorexia. Photo: AP
“The US government regulates the extent to which any other industry can expose employees to harm,” write Katherine Record and Bryn Austin. “Professional fashion models are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders resulting from occupational demands to maintain extreme thinness.”
That’s hardly a trivial problem, they say: anorexia is the deadliest of all mental illnesses in the US, claiming the lives of roughly 1 in 10 sufferers, according to Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
In the United States, a woman is considered underweight if her body mass index is below 18.5. But Record and Austin assert that a typical model strutting her stuff at an international fashion show has a BMI below 16, which the World Health Organisation considers “severe thinness”. For a woman who is 175 centimetres tall, that means weighing no more than 49 kilograms.
Pencil thin American model Trish Goff in Vogue UK.
For those who have any doubt that this can be deadly, consider the case of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston. She developed an eating disorder after being told she was too fat. Two years later, the 172cm model dropped down to 40kg by eating only apples and tomatoes. She died in 2006.
A ban on excessively thin fashion models may sound like doublespeak, but several countries have implemented them. The most notable is France, which passed a law in April that requires models to prove they have a BMI of at least 18 in order to work. If they fail to do so, their agents and fashion houses that hire them could be subject to steep fines and jail time.
“Paired with similar restrictions in France, regulations in the United States would shake the fashion industry,” Ms Record and Dr Austin write. “Designers would be hard pressed to maintain a presence in the fashion industry without participating in the New York City and Paris Fashion Weeks.”
A very thin model walks the runway at the Rosa Cha spring 2007 fashion show in New York. Photo: AP
Los Angeles Times