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Why the French Fashion Ban on Size 0 Models Isn't a Step Forward

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

Banning size 0 models at Paris Fashion Week is just more policing of women's bodies

Earlier this week, two major French fashion conglomerates announced that they are banning size 0 models from appearing in runway shows and campaigns. As someone who frequently experiences and writes about fat-shaming and general celebrity body-shaming (sometimes under duress), you’d think I’d be here in our newsroom doing wobbly cartwheels over the announcement, chugging heavy cream in celebration. But honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan of this ban. In fact, I see it as yet another way to police women’s bodies.

Of course, this isn’t the first time models’ body sizes have been regulated – both Israel and France previously enacted laws aimed to protect the health of models, requiring them to produce a doctor’s note confirming their health based on age, weight and body shape. But unlike this ban, those pieces of legislation were health-based, rather than automatic disqualification based on size.

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Another aspect that differs in this case is that the size 0 ban has been included in a charter established by the two fashion conglomerate giants — which includes brands like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Céline, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga — rather than an act of legislation. In other words, this isn’t something mandated by the government, but rather, a step taken by the corporations themselves. The charter also contains provisions limiting the work of models under the age of 18.

“We hope to inspire the entire industry to follow suit, thus making a real difference in the working conditions of fashion models industry-wide,” Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault said in a statement.

But is banning all size 0 models really the answer? I’m not convinced.

While some people, myself included, fall on the well-nourished, big-boned end of the body-size spectrum, others naturally fall on the other. We all have that friend with the magical metabolism who could eat full portions of Cheesecake Factory meals every day and still be incredibly thin. And that’s not even taking into consideration the side effects of certain medications, which can significantly impact a person’s weight (for more on this, I’ll hand you over to Sara Benincasa). For a lot of us, our weight is simply another aspect of our lives over which we have little or no control, and by placing an outright ban on models of a certain size is reinforcing the already unattainable body standards placed on women.

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“While I don’t think that thin-shaming is as serious an issue as fat-shaming by any stretch, I find it disturbing that a shape/size would be ‘banned,’” Kelsey Osgood, author of How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia, told Racked in the only other significant criticism of the ban I was able to locate in the media. Osgood also mentioned the fact that some people are naturally a size 0 and raises the question of where to draw the line between what is considered “healthy” or not, and who gets to draw it.

“What if someone is naturally a size 10, let’s say, and starves herself to maintain a size 6. Do we ban her?” Osgood posed to Racked. “It seems a pretty simplistic and yet draconian way to deal with the issue. I suspect there are better ways agencies and designers could ensure the models they hire are healthy.”

Of course, I absolutely agree that our thin-worshipping culture has negative ramifications on the health of those in the modeling industry — especially if they feel the need to starve themselves in order to diet down to a certain size. Women — and increasingly men — are constantly being told how we have to look, and if our body doesn’t match up to the ideal, we’re supposed to want to change that and take every possible step to do so. And while we’re mentioning men, while they might also have to undergo sometimes drastic changes to be employable during the major fashion weeks, would these huge fashion brands enact a similar size-related ban for them?

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No one likes to be banned from anything or feel excluded. So rather than cutting people out, why not make modeling and the fashion industry in general more inclusive. For every size 0 in a runway show, include someone who is a size 18 (related side note: size 6 or 8 should not count as “plus-size”). Show a wide range of bodies at every height and weight. And yes — that would mean that designers would have to start making clothes to fit different-size models. But that’s just another step in the right direction toward making people in all types of bodies — including people of color and those with disabilities — feel visible and heard.

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