Should Low-BMI Models Be Illegal?
Models. Some of us love to hate them and hate to love them. Teenagers want to be them and parents expend immeasurable energy trying to convince teens that modeling is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a hard sell, because on the surface, the life of a model appears the thing of which dreams are made.
Image: © Jose Perez Gegundez/ZUMA Press
Models get to wear great clothes, travel the world, have their pictures splashed across the covers of magazines across the globe, and gain entry into some of the most exclusive events known to man. They appear confident and successful. They exude perfection.
You can’t escape them –- they’re everywhere and they peddle everything. They’re ambassadors for fashion houses, fresh faces of the latest glamorous cosmetics, and sometimes, they are spokespersons for charitable causes. However, what many of them clearly shouldn’t be are body image role models for young girls and women.
It’s no secret that the modeling world encourages unhealthy eating habits and is a breeding ground for eating disorders. Many of the industry’s stars and wannabes have body mass indexes (BMI) in dangerously low territory. This is why some governments have gotten into the business of modeling. Not literally, but figuratively…no pun intended.
In 2006, 22-year-old Uruguayan Luisel Ramos collapsed and died shortly after exiting a runway. Her death is believed to have been caused by heart failure brought on by her severe anorexic condition. That same year, governments in India and Italy subsequently enacted laws banning underweight models. Two years later, in 2008, popular fashion week production companies in Madrid and Milan banned models who failed to meet minimum BMI standards, 18.0 and 18.5, respectively.
The industry still has a lot of work to do as it works to reform its image, but Israel’s government isn’t willing to wait any longer.
On January 1, 2012, a new Israeli law banned advertisers from using models whose BMIs are too low. The minimum BMI for models in Israel is now 18.5. To put that into relatable terms, a 5’10” model must weigh at least 129 pounds to be considered healthy enough to get work as a model in Israel. Models must produce a medical report showing they have maintained a healthy BMI for three months prior to a photo shoot or runway show. The law also bans companies from using undisclosed airbrushing techniques to alter the appearance of their models to make them look thinner than they really are. Finally, advertisers who use software to digitally alter images must clearly mark them as such.
Critics argue that BMI laws do not take into account the genetic disposition of some models who just can’t seem to gain weight despite their best efforts.
While I’m not a fan of big government, I applaud lawmakers in India, Israel, and Italy for having the courage to legislate healthy body images in advertisements. The United States and other countries could take a page out of their books.
What do you think? Are governments trampling upon the rights of ultra-thin models who seek work? Are they limiting the creative authority of advertisers? Is more legislation needed? Share your thoughts here or on my Facebook page.
Israeli model Bar Refaeli - BMI 18.8. Image: © Nancy Rivera/Ace Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com>