Having led the gold standard in fashion and couture for centuries, the French have done it again, this time by banning over-thin models as part of a new law targeting “unrealistic body images” and eating disorders.
Models are now required to provide medical evidence proving their overall health and that their body mass index (BMI) sits within a healthy range before being allowed to work. The BMI will be compared to the World Health Organisation’s definitions of what is deemed underweight to decide whether a model is fit to be certified, although a minimum BMI has not been set after protests from modelling agencies.
A second law requires that photos where a model’s silhouette has been digitally altered has to be clearly labelled “photographie retouchée” beginning this October.
According to the BBC, anorexia is believed to affect up to 40,000 people in France, 90 per cent of whom are women.
News of the laws came into effect soon after Paris banned sexist and discriminatory adverts in an effort to stop “degrading” representations of men and women, homophobia and racism.
In March, the French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent was ordered to modify two “degrading” adverts by the French advertising authorities.
Apart from the sexist manner in which the ads were shot (focusing on the model’s crotch), the ads caused outrage on social media, where critics also mentioned the fact that the models were extremely thin and could have a damaging impact on young girls.
Italy, Spain and Israel have the same idea with legislation being drawn up for models , while there have been similar calls for it in the UK, where Victoria Beckham was slammed last year for bringing ultra-skinny models back onto the runway.
In the meantime, a study in the Journal of Eating Disorders in the UK has uncovered that female shop mannequins are unrealistic and if humans were to have those proportions, they would be considered ‘emaciated and unhealthy’.
The study by Eric Robinson and Paul Averyard states:
“There is concern that the body size of fashion store mannequins are too thin and promote unrealistic body ideals. Although some retailers have reported that they now use more appropriate sized mannequins, the actual size of mannequins being used in high street fashion stores has not been formally examined. We surveyed national fashion retailers located on the high street of two English cities. The average female mannequin body size was representative of a very underweight woman and all mannequins rated represented an underweight body size. The average male mannequin body size was significantly larger than the average female mannequin body size. The body size of mannequins used to advertise female fashion is unrealistic and would be considered medically unhealthy in humans.”
There is no doubt that what’s influenced our ideals of body image lies in the media that we consume: movies, magazines, commercials and TV shows. However, equally potent is the toxic affect that social media can have on how we perceive ourselves.
A separate report by psychologists showed that there was a strong association between body image concerns and social media. The study linked social media use to ‘dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents’.
Another study last year found that female college students who spend most of their time posting, commenting on and comparing themselves to photos on Facebook were more likely to link their self-worth to their looks, and guys were equally affected.
GIF: via Stylecaster
An article in Time magazine also highlighted that the array of free applications available today means that ‘selfie-holics’ can now digitally change their bodies in pictures to be on par with professional media standards:
“If the Internet has been called a great democratizer, perhaps what social media has done is let anyone enter the beauty pageant. Teens can cover up pimples, whiten teeth and even airbrush with the swipe of a finger, curating their own image to become prettier, thinner and hotter.
All this provides an illusion of control: if I spend more time and really work at it, I can improve at being beautiful. ‘I don’t get to choose how I’m going to leave my apartment today,’ one young woman told me. If I could, my body would look different. But I can choose which picture makes my arms look thinner.’ “
The writer Rachel Simmons also added that the new wave of health fads surrounding eating clean, eating raw and veganism may also disguise starving and deprivation.
This phenomenon doesn’t only impact the general public. A local celebrity told Tongue in Chic that it may take up to 300 snaps before she gets the picture she is satisfied with, trying different angles and playing around with light. Google “why celebrity selfies look so good” and you’ll see hundreds of articles offering information including the apps that celebs use to modify their images, and the best time of day to take a selfie. The Kardashians and the Jenners apparently use the Perfect 365 app, while Beyonce has also been outed for altering her Instagram posts.
While our obsession with social media and the selfie are not likely to go away soon, what we are hopeful about is that moves like the French government’s ban on skinny and more appearances of plus-sized models (apart from the sole plus-sized token model Ashley Graham) can pave the way for a healthier us.