France Gives the Fashion Industry a Wake-up Call

“The fashion industry has a long history of provoking and coaxing their models into excessive weight loss. Many of these models start at a low weight, and it becomes a major risk factor for the development of very serious life-threatening eating disorders.”  --Dr. Harry Brandt, co-director, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Recently, French lawmakers approved laws that help ensure the health of fashion models and accurate body portrayals in advertisements.

The bill is an addition to the country’s decision last spring to require a minimum Body Mass Index for models, so they maintain a certain level of body fat based on height and weight. Seven years ago, fashion modeling agencies, designers and advertisers even signed a contract to support positive body image by promoting body diversity in awareness campaigns. Unfortunately, the contract wasn’t binding, so it didn’t affect change.

The new laws for the French fashion industry are focused in 3 areas:

  1. A required bill of health for models. When applying for modeling jobs, women and men must show a current doctor’s note certifying that the applicant is in good health and maintaining a healthy weight.
  2. Disclaimers on fashion advertisements. Ads depicting body shapes that have been digitally altered must be labeled “photograph edited.”
  3. Punishment for not protecting models’ physical and mental health. Employers who don’t require the certified bill of health could face up to $80,000 in fines and six months in jail, and those who don’t appropriately label ads as digitally altered could be fined $40,000 or a portion of the ad’s expenses.

Our take?

[The portrayal of unhealthy bodies in fashion] is a major problem, and I think it needs to be addressed as a public health issue the same way that the tobacco industry had to be taken on with encouraging a glamorous image of smoking and recruiting young people into using cigarettes,” said Dr. Harry Brandt, co-director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.

Today, there’s no question that tobacco products are deadly. The fashion industry needs to come to terms with the idea that supporting body images that are oftentimes only achieved through unhealthy behaviors can be just as bad: eating disorders are the deadliest mental illnesses.  

Dr. Brandt treats hundreds of men and women with eating disorders each year in his practice, and was recently interviewed on the new laws on Canadian national news network CTV News.

Though cultural change can take a long time, France is taking a step in the right direction. While the U.S. has begun to address the issue of unhealthy models, it is time to follow France’s (and Spain’s, and Italy’s) lead and take more responsibility for this problem!

Madeline Caldwell is the public relations manager at Sheppard Pratt Health System, and has six years of healthcare communications experience.