Regulating the runway

Emily Harris, Staff Writer

For female models, height and weight standards make it almost impossible to be healthy. Models are often required to weigh between 90 lbs and 120 lbs. Health concerns intermingled with the world of models and fashion is not a new issue. In 2007 the Council of Fashion Designers of America, made up of designers like Rebecca Minkoff and Kate Spade, formed a health initiative to ensure the healthiness and well-being of models.

Overall, the CFDA stands for preventing mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, and encouraging fit fashion. The committee recommends educating the industry on eating disorders so that agencies, editors and all industry professionals can identify the symptoms. Ironically, this initiative was meant to educate the fashion industry, but instead mass audiences noticed models’ ill health more so than the industry insiders.

Since 2007, the CFDA has made numerous advancements in securing their health initiative for the fashion world. In February 2012, during New York Fashion Week, they hosted “A Well-Balanced Life,” a panel aimed at fostering a healthy environment for models and agents. In 2011, CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg wrote in an open letter that she will check identification of all models booked for her shows to ensure they are not under 16.

The CFDA recognizes some models are naturally thin and tall, but there is a concern for the girls who succomb to the pressure of the modeling world, which can quickly influence the rest of society. Body image issues are not just a product of model agencies or runway shows, but a product of society in general.

Vogue, Diane von Furstenberg and groups like The Model Alliance have been pioneers of this health initiative for the past few years. But despite their efforts to enforce regulations under the New York State Law that requires models under the age of 18 to have work permits and trust funds, and forces designers to have certificates of eligibility for child performers, there are still ongoing issues with the general well-being of models.

In September 2014, Armani’s Milan Fashion Week models, described as “rail-thin” by the Huffington Post, caused major controversy. The health concern for the models was so apparent that Twitter blew up from concerned members of the fashion world. According to the Huffington Post, a lot of people expected to witness the new chapter of fashion, “with health and diversity at its heart” (Huffington Post).

More recently, France has put a new ban on very thin models with a law passed on March 27 to regulate Body Mass Index levels. The law not only bans skinny models, but will fine agencies with models who are too thin up to 75,000 euros and up to six months of jail time. The law also states that it is illegal to condone anorexia in any form and requires that photos must clearly state that they altered models’ bodies for commercial purposes. However, it should be noted that France is not the first nation to enact such a law. Their law resembles legislation passed in Israel and other countries.

Evidently, there has been major backlash about this legislation. A lot of critics, ranging from models to agencies, feel that because of this law, the healthy initiative transitions into to body-shaming.

In a Cosmopolitan piece asking for views regarding the bill, the models interviewed all agree that there is a pertinent issue concerning healthiness, but there has to be a better solution than BMI regulations. BMI is not completely accurate and does not take into account all possible variables that go into a person’s BMI. While someone may be underweight according to their BMI, it does not directly equate to an eating disorder or an unhealthy size.

There is not a right or wrong answer to solving this issue of distinguishing between being healthy and being too thin to be healthy in the fashion world. No one should be prevented from modeling based upon their weight, but all models should be healthy. The industry should not shame thinner girls, but rather promote a healthy lifestyle.

The fact that models are using methods such as illegal substances, laxatives or starving themselves to represent designers whose demographic is the average woman is questionable and dangerous. This feeds the average woman an unrealistic picture of who they need to be in order to wear certain clothes, possibly leading to unrealistic, harmful actions to attain that body image. Hopefully, the strides the industry has been taking toward healthier model standards will continue to evolve and be adapted in every aspect of the fashion industry.