In countries like France, Italy, Spain and Israel, models are required by law to meet certain body mass index (BMI) requirements to prove that they aren’t dangerously thin. In France, agencies who use models with a BMI of under 18 could even face jail time.
But in the US, there isn’t similar regulation for the modeling industry — it's all left up to models to advocate for their own health. Instead of a law, the Council of Fashion Designers of America formed its Health Initiative in 2007, which tries to implore the fashion industry to look out for models with signs of eating disorders.
“Models who are identified as having an eating disorder should be required to seek professional help, and models who are receiving professional help for an eating disorder should not continue modeling without that professional’s approval,” the initiative reads. “The CFDA Health Initiative is about awareness and education, not policing. Therefore, the committee does not recommend that models get a doctor’s physical examination to assess their health or body-mass index to be permitted to work. Eating disorders are emotional disorders that have psychological, behavioral, social, and physical manifestations, of which body weight is only one.”
The CFDA also recommends that designers provide models with water and healthy snacks, along with regular breaks. Designers are encouraged not to hire models under age 16 and not to allow models under age 18 to work past midnight at fitting or shoots.
These guidelines and suggestions were just sent out again last month, WWD reports, with an email blast from CFDA's Steven Kolb and Diane von Furstenberg, who also asked for diversity in casting.
But there’s a contingent of models advocating for more overt action. Vogue notes that a new study by the International Journal of Eating Disorders showed that 62% of the 85 models polled were asked to lose weight by their agency or someone in the industry. Among the sample of models, 81 percent had BMIs that were classified as underweight. 21 percent said that their agency threatened to drop them unless they lost weight.
In response to the study, 40 models wrote an open letter to the American Fashion industry on January 31 advocating for a greater emphasis on health and diversity on the runway. The letter reads: “Too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment… No one likes the hassle or expense of increased regulations and paperwork. However, data shows that the American fashion industry has yet to prove that it is capable of following healthy practices on its own.”
The letter is just the beginning: models are posting on Instagram with the hashtag #DearNYFW, sharing harrowing stories about being asked to change their bodies in order to work in the fashion industry. Here are some of their posts:
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