How thin is too thin?
It’s a question that has been debated inside and outside the fashion industry for decades.
But in recent years, some governments, advertising regulators, and fashion show organizers have taken action to stop super skinny models from baring their bones on runways and in advertisements.
In the latest move, Britain’s independent advertising regulator has banned an Yves Saint Laurent ad featuring an emaciated-looking model lying on the floor, her ribs clearly visible in the black and white photo.
Here's the offending ad.
"YSL ad with 'unhealthily thin model banned in UK" http://t.co/vqizjzfHaE— OBJECT (@ObjectUpdate) June 3, 2015
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which had been alerted to the photo by a reader of Elle magazine, said the model looked “unhealthily underweight” and "her thighs and knees appeared a similar width, and which looked very thin." ASA regulators ruled the ad was "irresponsible."
And the ASA is not alone in challenging the fashion industry’s preference for waif-like models whose willowy frames are better for showing off clothes — or so they say.
French lawmakers made headlines in April after they backed proposed amendments to a health law that would make it illegal for underweight models to appear on the catwalk and for online sites to promote excessive skinniness.
The punishment is no slap on the wrist either. If the changes are passed by the Senate, as it's expected to later this year, anyone caught employing a model deemed too thin could be fined around $85,000 or face up to six months in jail.
“The law is to protect models who are getting so thin that they’re in danger,” Olivier Véran, a Socialist MP and doctor who had pushed for the amendments, told the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s also to protect adolescents. This image of so-called ideal beauty augments the risk of eating disorders.”
The high-profile deaths of several models in the past 10 years, including French model Isabelle Caro in 2010 and Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston in 2006, who both suffered anorexia, turned the spotlight on the issue of eating disorders in the fashion industry and on the unrealistic body images super-skinny models promote to impressionable children and teenagers — girls and boys.
Ana Carolina Reston est morte à 22 ans, mesurait 1m74 pour 40kg et ne mangeait plus que des pommes et des tomates pic.twitter.com/Ikbccjkvsb— haras (@lauvati) May 26, 2014
France has a lot of company.
Spain, Italy, Belgium and Chile have also introduced restrictions on the use of too-thin models, while Denmark recently strengthened the rules of the Danish Fashion Ethical Charter to include, among other things, annual health checks for models.
Israel passed a law in 2012 banning the use of models in fashion shows and advertising if they have a body mass index of less than 18.5. (The law also requires the labeling of images that have been photo-shopped to make the models look thinner than they actually are.)
Israel's law raises a complicated question: How do you measure what's skinny and what's unhealthily skinny?
A healthy BMI for an adult, which is based on a person’s weight and height, is between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But just because a model has a BMI below 18.5 — and according to Unleashed magazine there are models below the healthy threshold — does that mean they have an eating disorder?
Not necessarily, according to health experts.
"Just because someone is at a very low BMI doesn't mean that they have an eating disorder, and just because someone's in the normal range or even in the high range of BMI doesn't mean that they don't have an eating disorder either," Claire Mysko, Director of Programs for the US National Eating Disorders Association, told Voice of America.
It is an issue that has polarized the industry.
While some people in the fashion world are prepared to concede that eating disorders such as anorexia do exist in the highly competitive industry — and that the industry is at least partially to blame for such problems among girls and boys — others argue that some models are just naturally thin.
“We have to avoid muddling things. There is anorexia and there are girls who are very slim, by nature. You can make them eat all day and they will stay thin,” Gerald Marie, who runs Paris-based model management agency Oui Management, told The Times.