New French Law to Ban Models Below Healthy Weight

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It’s long been a pretty poorly kept secret in the fashion industry that many models are very thin–some dangerously so. For years, there’s been various debates in the industry over whether or not to make rules restricting the weight of models to ensure that the women (and men) showing off the latest high fashion designs are a healthy weight. Now France, one of the bastions of the fashion world, took a pretty strong step in that direction. A new French law prevents super-skinny models from being hired by designers and fashion houses. Industry members who do so may be subject to fines, or possibly even jail time.

The new law would essentially ban models who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) under 18. BMIs are calculated on a sort of sliding scale that takes into account an individual’s height and weight. The BMI then fits into one of a few different categories–including under healthy weight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese. However, doctors would also be consulted to ensure that the BMI test was being administered fairly, and to take into account the unique build and structure of the individual. Under a BMI of 18.5 is usually considered under healthy weight, and can be a marker to determine if someone has an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. There’s been an increased awareness brought to the problem of anorexia recently, particularly after the death of Isabelle Caro, a French fashion model who passed away most likely due to the disease in 2010.

An important aspect of the law to keep in mind is that it punishes the agencies or houses that hire the models, not the models themselves. This is to keep members of the industry from putting pressure on the models to lose weight, or stay at an unhealthy weight. As Dr. Oliver Véran, one of the legislators behind the bill put it, “a person should not be obliged to starve herself in order to work.”

France isn’t the first country to implement laws about the sizes of its fashion models. Other nations, such as Israel, Spain, and Italy have limited measures in place as well. However France’s seems to be the most sweeping. In France, punishments for employing a model who is below the healthy weight threshold could include a fine of up to 75,000 Euros ($82,000, under the current exchange rate), or up to six months of jail time.

Not everyone is on board with the new legislation however. Some think that the restrictions are too harsh, as well as too sweeping–they don’t allow as much ability to decide on an ad-hoc basis whether or not a model is healthy. That criticism includes the argument that just because a model has a BMI over the given level, does not mean that they are “healthy,” but could still be suffering from a debilitating eating disorder. Isabelle Saint-Felix, who heads up France’s National Union of Modeling Agencies stated:

When you look at the criteria behind anorexia, you can’t look only at the body mass index when other criteria are also involved: psychological, a history of hair loss, dental problems. It’s important that the models are healthy, but it’s a little simplistic to think there won’t be any more anorexics if we get rid of very thin models.

Overall, the recognition of possible dangerous attitudes in the modeling industry seems like a step in the right direction. That being said, there is clearly still more work to be done to ensure the fact that the models from the world’s top designers are healthy role models.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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