Should eating disorders be treated as an occupational health hazard for fashion models? One California lawmaker thinks so.
State Assemblyman Marc Levine, who represents Marin County and parts of Sonoma County, has introduced a bill, AB 2539, that would create health standards for models.
“Society has these outrageous expectations for what women are supposed to look like, and for most women, it’s impossible to look that way,” Levine says. “With my bill, we can protect the health and safety of fashion models, but we can have a societal impact to make sure that women and girls have a healthy body image.”
Levine is eager to stress that he is not out to ban skinny models, as some headlines have suggested.
“I’m not saying we can’t have skinny models at all,” he says. “All we want to do is make sure models who are employed are healthy and are not put in positions that are unhealthy for their bodies.”
If passed, the law would require all models to obtain a certificate from a doctor verifying that they've met certain heath standards, to be determined by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. The bill also would require all modeling agencies to be licensed and all models to belong to a licensed agency.
Now, one might say – jeez, there California goes again, creating yet another regulation. Now modeling agencies will need licenses, just like barber shops and interior designers and pretty much everything else.
There are, however, a couple of former models supporting Levine's bill, and they make a pretty strong case.
“If you don’t fit the clothes, you’re not gonna get the job,” says Sara Ziff, a former model who's now a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “And the clothes are usually a size zero or size two. Modeling agencies often advise these girls who are young and impressionable and maybe don’t feel they have much power to talk back. They tell them to lose weight, or 'tone up.' We’ve seen agency contracts that stipulate a model can’t gain two centimeters on her hips.”
Similar laws have passed in Italy, Spain, Israel and France, which in December passed a law designed to prevent the use of “excessively skinny” models. According to the Fashion Law Blog:
The bill stipulates that models must obtain a medical certificate stating that their health, “assessed in particular in terms of body mass index, is compatible with the practice of the (modeling) profession.” A previous version of the bill had suggested a minimum Body Mass Index for models, prompting protests from modeling agencies in France, but the final draft approved on Thursday allows doctors to decide whether a model is too thin by taking into account their weight, age and body shape.
The California law would be the first of its kind in the country.
Nikki DuBose started modeling, on and off, when she was 15. Before she left the industry in 2012, she achieved a fair amount of success, appearing in Maxim, Elle and Vanity Fair. She also developed a serious eating disorder.
“It’s a very psychologically damaging industry,” she says. “It's like the ballet or the military. Agents and clients have this way of being nice to you one minute and putting you down the next. It’s very blunt. They don’t care. All they care about is making money. And there’s another guy or girl walking in the door any second.”
She adds: “You need safe working conditions and a safe environment. This is no different than coal miners.”