Experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health propose that the U.S. prohibit dangerously thin runway models from participating in fashion shows or photo shoots. They assert that this could help prevent serious health problems due to low weight, including anorexia nervosa and even death from starvation among young women in the industry.
International models are often referred to as “Paris thin” because France is so prominent in the fashion industry. But last April, the French National Assembly passed a law that would ban the hiring of excessively thin models. The Harvard experts are hoping the U.S. will follow their lead.
In an editorial published online in the American Journal of Public Health, S. Bryn Austin, director of the Harvard Chan School’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) and professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Katherine Record, also with STRIPED and an instructor in health policy and management, call for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set regulations that would prohibit the hiring of models below a given body mass index, such as BMI < 18.
The authors say that the average runway model’s BMI is typically below the World Health Organization’s threshold for medically dangerous thinness for adults, BMI < 16.
“Models have died of starvation-related complications, sometimes just after stepping off the runway,” Austin and Record wrote.
The authors are well aware that attempting to regulate the U.S. fashion industry will certainly meet with resistance, so they have come up with rebuttals to likely arguments that would arise. For example, the industry might argue that BMI is an arbitrary, or random, measure.
But, write Record and Austin, “given the prevalence of starvation in the modeling industry…and the health harms that models suffer as a consequence, BMI is a necessary indicator of being dangerously underweight. Indeed, when it comes to extremes, the deficiencies associated with BMI as a metric dwindle.”
They noted that if the U.S. joins France in regulating the hiring of dangerously thin models, it “would shake the fashion industry, even if enforcement dollars were few and far between. Designers would be hard pressed to maintain a presence in the fashion industry without participating in the New York City and Paris Fashion Weeks.”