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A Weighty Issue

I should have warned you that I'm not great when it comes to sticking to timetables/deadlines.

So here is the second article I wrote - 2 days late.

This one is my take on a current affairs issue. And, as you may have guessed from the title, it deals with the recent decision in France to ban the use of "ultra-slim" models.

(Warning - if you want something light hearted then I'd probably stop reading here!)


The sun has come out of hibernation. As the first rays of warmth penetrate through the atmosphere, our Instagram feeds begin to be over-run by photos of bikini clad, mini short wearing women reminding us that our ‘New Year. New Me’ goals died somewhere back in early February. Whilst some use these pictures as motivation to go to the gym and finally use the new workout clothes they optimistically bought at the start of year; others go to more drastic measures to obtain the elusive ‘bikini body’.

Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa are a growing concern for governments around the world. In the UK over 1.6 million people suffer from some form of eating disorder; the large majority from anorexia. Whilst in non-Western countries the prevalence of eating disorders, though lower than Western countries, is increasing. Today children as young as 6 are being diagnosed with anorexia. The obvious ‘baddie’ in this ongoing battle is the fashion industry. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), nearly 70 percent of girls aged 11-18 said magazine images influence their ideals of the a perfect body. Blaming the fashion industry for eating disorders is not a new phenomenon. But, the debate has been reignited by the French Parliament's recent decision to ban ultra-thin models. Across the Channel, it is now a crime for modelling agencies to use dangerously thin or undernourished models. A decision which has received backlash from modelling agencies who warned against confusing thinness with anorexia. “It’s very serious to conflate anorexia with the thinness of models” argues Isabelle Saint-Felix, secretary general of Synam, which represents around 40 modelling agencies in France, “it ignores the fact that anorexia is a psychogenic illness”. The legislation will attempt to impose a minimum BMI (body mass index) for models, and agencies will be issued with a fine or prison sentence for flouting the law. This is not a new idea. Way back in 2006, the Spanish Association of Fashion Designers, in response to government pressure, banned models with a BMI of less than 18 (considered a healthy BMI) from walking in Madrid Fashion Week. Italy and Israel also have similar measures introduced in 2013. But it is the importance of France, and Paris, to the fashion industry which makes the ruling harder to swallow.

Despite having the best intentions, the legislation is flawed. It doesn’t take into account the fact many models are naturally slim. Favoured by mother nature; blessed with a high metabolism. Jourdan Dunn with her love of fried chicken, or Cara Delevingne with her aversion to the gym, are famous examples. According to the index, I, with a BMI of 16.4, am underweight. I don’t have an eating disorder. I eat the same rubbish as any student and am similarly unmotivated when it comes to exercise. But I’m fortunate to have a high metabolism and that is something French MPs have not considered. As modelling agencies protested, being thin does not automatically make you anorexic. I’m not attempting to justify the industry’s decision to use rake thin models. Things need to change and the ruling by French MPs is a turning point for the industry. However, imposing a set BMI is not going to make a significant difference. Anorexia may be exacerbated by images of ultra-thin models, but ultimately society is as much to blame as the fashion industry. Unlike the illegalisation of underweight models, the decision to make the glorification of anorexia on the internet a crime, could be very beneficial. Reducing the social pressure on teenagers to conform to a certain body image is key to overcoming the illness. Instead of using the fashion industry as a scapegoat, more needs to be done to increase awareness of eating disorders in society. Maire-Rose Moro,, psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, makes the argument that “it would be better to provide more resources to care for anorexic patients”. With as many as 40,000 anorexia sufferers in France, 90 percent of them women, perhaps she has a point.

France may have joined Italy, Spain and Israel in the banning of ultra-thin models from catwalks and advertising campaigns but the real turning point will come if the UK and the US decide to follow suit.


Calendar Girl