23 March 2015

Fashion industry still encourages anorexia

DietDoc examines how the fashion industry's insistence on using models with skeletal figures encourages eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.


Sky News recently reported that the French Parliament was debating “weight standards” for fashion models and proposing a ban of so-called “anorexia websites”.

This kind of legislation would bring France into line with countries such as Israel, Italy and Spain where super-skinny models were banned from catwalks in 2013.

Proposed legislation

The French Parliament is considering publishing minimum weights for models and girls who work as models. Any French fashion house or modelling agency that employs models that are too skinny, with a BMI of less than 18, would be fined to the tune of about approximately $80,000 (almost R1 million) or prison time of up to 6 months.

Read: Forget BMI, these are better ways to measure your body fat

The champion of this proposal is Olivier Véran, a neurologist and member of the National Assembly (lower house) of the French Parliament. Véran estimates that up to 40,000 people in France are victims of anorexia, with young women, making up the majority of cases. It is important to keep in mind that anorexia among young male models is also on the rise as fashion houses demand more and more that models of both sexes have androgynous, emaciated figures.

Can it succeed?

The question is of course if France, regarded as the “Fashion Capital of the World” and the “Arbiter of Chic”, will ever concede that the images of men and women they project, reduce human beings to clothes hangers. Will fashion houses and modelling agencies ever allow their models to look like real women and men? I somehow doubt it.

The whole purpose of a model is to show off the clothes, to be part of the background, to not draw attention away from the garment. Unless you are one of the top models of the day, no one will know your name or care if you fade away – like Isabelle Caro.

Read: Dangerously thin: how models torture themselves

The Isabelle Caro case was deeply shocking to anyone who cares about the health and well-being of women. She was a French model and actress who died of anorexia in November 2010 at the age of 28. Photos of her emaciated body were used to try and persuade the fashion industry to stop using ultra-thin models in the “No Anorexia” campaign.

A number of other models have died from anorexia, but nearly 5 years have gone by with no change in the appearance of the models used in France. Hence the renewed call for French legislation to set model weight standards for the fashion industry and ban “pro-anorexia” websites.


The National Union of Modelling Agencies in France has reacted to the proposed legislation by protesting that their members already voluntarily stick to a charter that “discourages the use of anorexic models”, approved by the government in 2008.

However, the fact that newspapers such as the New York Times were unable to get comments from any of the leading model agencies in France on this matter, seems to indicate that the agencies do not relish the latest proposed legislation.

Will it make a difference?

Some French psychiatrists have expressed doubt that making rules regarding the weight of models is not going to stop the wave of eating disorders, particularly anorexia, which is sweeping the Western world. According to Rubin’s report in the New York Times (March 18, 2015), Dr Marie Rose Moro, a French child psychiatrist, is of the opinion that legislating to have a few models weigh a bit more cannot stop what she calls “the transnational sort of tyranny of thinness”.

Read: Is pregnant glamour model Sarah Stage too thin?

With our current obsession with obesity and the imperative to lose weight in the Western world, there is the negative spin-off that having a rounded figure is regarded as self-indulgent, weak-willed and ugly.

Social media such as the internet and Twitter are fuelling the frenzy to become anorexic. Other manifestations of this lemming-like drive to starve oneself to death are the “pro-ana” bracelets worn by many young people to show that they are “proud to be anorexic”, “proud to have an eating disorder”, or “proud to stick to their diet”.

These are terrifying ideas which underline how severe the psychiatric symptoms are that form part of major eating disorders: self-destruct at any cost, even if means losing your life.

It would appear that the underlying drive to strip the body of its fat, flesh and persona is not well understood, but from one look at the current ideals of beauty that dominate in the media, it is evident that super-thin is the ideal – with concave stomachs and a gap between the legs (thigh gap) – which fashion houses in many countries, including South Africa, strive for.

Read: US girls obsessed with 'thigh gap'

Images that lie

“Seeing is believing” is no longer true! The presenter on Sky News pointed out how important it is to make young people realise to what extent photo manipulation/airbrushing/photo-shopping is used to enhance the images of famous people.

A clever media manipulator can literally turn an ugly duckling into a swan, a very slender swan! Reality does not live in these manipulated images, and there is no way that you, as an individual, can force your appearance to equal these manipulated images by starving or abusing your body. Why die trying to achieve something that is fake anyway?


Concerted efforts to curb the use of manipulated images in the media (newspapers, magazines, the Internet, TV and movies), together with a serious campaign to educate our youth about healthy eating, may go a long way towards changing perceptions of what is beautiful.

And perhaps one day robots will be able to take over on the catwalks, so that starving oneself for the ideal of beauty will become less attractive to our youth.

Read more:

Websites promote anorexia, bulimia

Dying to be thin

Stiff penalties for pro-ana sites


- CBS News (2015). France likely to ban super-skinny models. Published on 17 March 2015.

- Rubin AJ (2015). French Parliament debates weight standards for fashion models. Published on 18 March 2015.

Image: Anorexic teenage girl from Shutterstock

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Read more of her articles.


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