No More 'Paris Thin' Models

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A model on the runway for the Ralph Lauren Fall/Winter 2015 collection during New York Fashion Week. Some experts argue that U.S. health officials need to regulate the industry's use of emaciated models. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

It's well-known that the waifish women who sashay down runways and grace the pages of glossy fashion magazines have a way of compelling young girls to seek out an unrealistic and unhealthy beauty ideal. But many forget that young models in the fashion business suffer some serious consequences while trying to remain employed.

Two experts from the Harvard Chan School's Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) are now arguing that employers in the industry should follow France's lead and prohibit the hiring of models with a body mass index (BMI) lower than 18, according to a paper published this week in the American Journal of Public Health. They argue that the average fashion model has a BMI of less than 16, which is considered dangerous thinness—or anorexia nervosa—under World Health Organization guidelines.

"The fashion industry refers to its top models as clothes hangers—the less mass within the outfit, the better the display, the better the employee," the authors write. "Not surprisingly, this takes a toll: models have died of starvation-related complications, sometimes just after stepping off the runway."

According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, a young woman with anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than women without the eating disorder. Additionally, as much as 10 percent of those with anorexia die within 10 years of the illness's onset, while at least 18 percent die within 20 years. Treatment often arrives too late, and only half of those with disordered eating fully recover.

Last week, political leaders in France passed a public health reform bill that prohibits hiring of excessively thin models. A model working in France is now required to present a note from a doctor that certifies she is healthy and has a BMI of at least 18. There are severe repercussions for any companies or modeling agencies that do not comply with this new regulation, including imprisonment for six months and a 75,000-euro fine.

Additionally, French magazines that Photoshop an image to make models appear skinnier or larger than they are in real life are required to note that on the magazine page with the tag "retouched photo." Failing to note alterations will result in a fine of 37,500 euros.

Spain, Italy and Israel have had similar laws in place for some time. Some countries, such as the U.K., have made efforts to ban images of models who are too thin, but after the advertisements have already run.

The experts in the American Journal of Public Health paper point out that U.S. health officials have yet to take steps to address the problem. However, if the U.S. were to join France in regulating models' weight, it could completely alter the industry—since Paris and New York City are the two major capitals in the fashion and couture worlds, designers would have no choice but to adhere to the mandate. Otherwise, the authors say, designers would jeopardize their business and careers, along with their option to participate in Fashion Week in New York and Paris, the two premiere events that drive the industry.