For years, the fashion industry has been criticized for unhealthy practices including the casting of ultra-thin models and girls under 18 in runway shows and campaigns alike. With the recent announcement that fashion conglomerates Kering and LVMH joined forces on a model wellbeing charter, it made waves across the industry. Notably, this news comes before the implementation of the French law regulating models’ BMIs in October.
Part of the charter states that women at a size 32 (or 0 in US) will be banned from castings. Models will also have to present a medical certificate verifying their in good health before a shooting or runway show. Additionally, models under the age of 16-years-old can not be hired.
A Slow Start to Change
The idea of regulation in the modeling industry has been a hot topic in recent years. The Model Alliance founded by Sara Ziff in 2012, is a non-profit organization which aims to protect models in New York. Likewise, France officially passed a bill in 2015 that required a model to have a BMI of at least 18. Agents and fashion houses could face 75,000 euros in fines and even jail time.
Shortly thereafter, the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) issued health guidelines which included supplying healthy meals and snacks on set. Models who identified with having an eating disorder are suggested to seek professional help. Although America has yet to pass any model wellbeing laws similar to France’s; these are good suggestions to start with.
Despite brands vowing to look towards more healthy models, there have been some negatively publicized incidents in recent years. For example, in February 2017, model casting agent James Scully accused Balenciaga casting directors of mistreating models. According to Scully, over 150 models were left in a stairwell for over three hours with no light save for their phones. As for the CFDA, a number of models under the age of 16 have walked the runways in New York despite their new guidelines.
Skirting the Rules
With rules being in place to have models at healthy weights, there are ways to skirt the laws. In 2015, an anonymous model spoke to The Observer about using hidden weights to meet regulations. “I did Fashion Week in Spain after they enforced a similar law and agencies found a loophole. They gave us Spanx underwear to stuff with weighted sandbags so the thinnest of girls had a ‘healthy’ weight on the scales. I even saw them put weights in their hair.” The model also went on to say that models should be 18-years-old before participating in the industry to allow time for their bodies to develop.
There was also the case of model Ulrikke Hoyer; who claimed she was fired from a Louis Vuitton show for being “too big”. Allegedly, the casting agents said she “had a very bloated stomach”, “bloated face” and was instructed to “drink only water for the next 24 hours”. Speaking out against a major luxury brand such as Louis Vuitton will no doubt have an impact on her career. “I know by saying my story and speaking out I’m risking it all, but I don’t care,” she said in a Facebook post.
Is Banning Skinny Models What’s Really Best?
Although, seeing healthier models on the runway is seen as a big win, some question whether it is a form of body-shaming. The usage of BMI as a health indicator has also been hotly debated in recent years. While at a show during New York Fashion Week, actress and former model Jaime King talked about the so-called skinny model ban. “I think it would be radically unfair to say if you’re a size zero, then you can’t work, just like it’s unfair to say that if you’re a size 16, you can’t work,” the actress told the New York Post.
“I’m naturally really thin, and sometimes it’s really hard for me to gain weight,” she added. “When people on Instagram say, ‘Go eat a hamburger,’ I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re body-shaming me for the way that I look.’” Similar statements have also been echoed by other models in the past such as Sara Sampaio and Bridget Malcolm.
What Does the Future Hold?
Despite its challenges, the fashion industry is taking steps to make a more healthy environment for models. Whether these rules will make radical change remains to be seen. It will take not only modeling agencies but fashion houses themselves following the requirements. The official European Union law banning size 0 models will not take effect until October 1st, 2017. However, the industry has already spoken.
Antoine Arlnault, Berluti CEO, told Business of Fashion. “I feel that in a way, [other brands] will have to comply because models will not accept being treated certain ways by brands and another way with others” he says. “Once the two leaders of an industry apply reasonable rules, they will need to comply. They’re more than welcome to join even if they’re late to the party.”