Rail-thin women who look as though they barely have the energy to stomp down a catwalk have become the typical face of fashion the world over. In an attempt to change that, Israel recently passed a law banning underweight models from appearing in photo shoots or runway shows.
In theory, the law would work to change the face of the fashion industry from that of emaciated white teenagers to reflect the reality of variation in the human body from person to person, and inspire the fashion industry to rethink what message the image they’ve chosen to project sends to people who don’t look like the models they hire.
In reality, the law will change nothing but a few career paths in a tiny country not particularly known for its fashion scene in the first place.
The new law requires models to have a body-mass index (calculated using height and weight) of 18.5 or higher.
But using BMI alone to judge how healthy a person is, whether they’re considered overweight or underweight, is a controversial measure.
While we may be inclined to view her as a freak of nature, it’s certainly possible that a person like Kate Moss, at 5 feet 6 inches and 107 pounds, is perfectly healthy. Yet with a BMI of 17.3, she’ll never work in Israel again.
I’m not against this new law because I’m worried about the career of Kate Moss. In fact, there’s nothing I’m worried about less than the career of Kate Moss.
My biggest qualm about this law is no government, anywhere, should be in the business of telling women they should weigh a certain amount if they want a job in any sector.
This law would be considered abhorrent if women whose BMI categorized them as overweight were legally precluded from modeling. I don’t see how banning models whose BMI puts them in the underweight camp is any different.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average adult woman has a BMI of 26.5.
Requiring models to be only slightly larger than they were before the ban, and nowhere near representative of the average woman will do nothing to change the unattainable image of beauty and perfection we see every time we open a magazine or look at a billboard.
Real change must come not from a nearly meaningless law, but from inside the fashion industry itself, motivated by a desire to represent the endless diversity of beauty.