France just rejected a potential ban on super-skinny models, citing discrimination in the workplace as the reason. While initial reactions to the potential ban may have been positive, it could have had a much greater and negative impact than they realized. The rejection of the ban was a good thing, in my opinion, but not because it was discriminatory.
While France’s Health Minister Marisol Touraine may have had good intentions, she was quoted as saying, “This is an important message to young women, young women who see these models as an aesthetic ideal.” The minister should take a realistic look at the bigger picture at hand. Popular media has increasingly sent out more and more mixed messages and put an idealization on thinner body images for women. However, should the blame and, subsequently, the responsibility to make changes be placed on the models themselves?
The fashion industry is a huge part of this problem. If the government lays blame on the models working in this industry, then the real problems facing the industry as a whole will not improve. By passing blame onto the models and not providing any help or resources to the modelling agencies and fashion houses on disordered eating or health at any size, then essentially what the government is doing is sweeping these banned models under the rug and providing increased guilt, shame and anxiety, which can lead to more internalized destructive behaviour. In addition, the BMI is often considered an archaic way to measure health. Using the BMI alone could isolate models who are just naturally thin or exclude others who may actually have a problem yet fall into an average BMI range.
Is there a catch-all solution for the fashion industry and France? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure there is — bodies are complicated. I do know that, on the whole, the industry should be taking steps toward making bodies of all sizes represented in its medium, messaging and campaigns, and they are — ever so slowly. Another thing the industry can and should do is recognize disordered eating and provide help and resources to those in the field. Rather than focusing on size, the fashion industry should focus on health, including both physical and mental. Many things can contribute to how a woman feels about her body, so France can take this opportunity to right the wrongs within the fashion world, and hopefully the rest of the world will follow suit.