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October 02, 2006

Emaciated fashion models and occupational health

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion in the feminist blogosphere about a new Spanish ban on emaciated models at the Cibeles fashion show:

In accordance with the new regulations for this year's Cibeles fashion show 30% of models who appeared on its catwalk last year have been excluded for being too thin.

The models have been rejected because they do not comply with new rules put into place by Madrid's Regional Government demanding that models present a healthy image with a [body mass index (BMI) of at least 18], i.e. they must weigh at least 56 kilos if their height is 1.75[m2]. These figures are approximately what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers to be the minimum healthy weight.

The designer Jesús del Pozo made the announcement in a press conference during which Concha Guerra, Madrid's Vice-Director of Economy and Innovative Technology laid out the new guidelines for the fashion show which starts on 18th September. She said they had taken this unprecedented step because they were aware of the influence the popular Cibeles catwalk had on young girls' perception of fashion and ideal bodies. She explained that the Madrid government were aiming for healthier-looking models and getting away from the wasting-away appearance of many models which was heavily criticised during the last Cibeles catwalk. [Euroresidente]


As a pro-labor feminist and a civil libertarian, I have mixed feelings about the Madrid rule.

The policy is clearly an infringement on the free speech of fashion designers. Design is a form of expression and a fashion show is an aesthetic undertaking. Designing clothes for aesthetic effect is a creative undertaking. If a designer envisions her creations being worn on a certain shape of body, that's her prerogative. Even if we think her aesthetics are indecent or her politics are blinkered and decadent, we should respect her right to realize her creative goal.

Putting on a fashion show is like staging a play or filming a movie. The whole production is engineered to create a particular aesthetic effect for the designer and the collection. A fashion show is also live action ad, which makes it commercial speech.

The Madrid Regional Government's rationale for the new law is very troubling. Their main argument is that fashion shows should be regulated because they present an unhealthy ideal of beauty to the public and therefore constitute a public health risk. I have no doubt this is true, but I don't want the government to suppress ideas just because the larger society considers those ideas to be destructive. I certainly wouldn't want the US government taking any greater liberties on the censorship front.

However, Amanda raises a compelling counterargument at Pandagon. As she notes, the industry standard in modeling is an occupational health risk. A designer's right to design clothes for emaciated models doesn't necessarily guarantee her right to hire actual people to wear these clothes under dangerous conditions.

The average fashion model has a BMI of 16, which well below what most medical experts consider a normal weight for a well-nourished adult. Only a fraction of post-pubescent women have a BMI below 18 for any reason (CDC).

Even for 15-year-old girls, a BMI of 16 is at the 3rd percentile. (That is, only 3% of American 15-year-olds are at or below the average weight of a fashion model.) If you look at the chart I've linked to, you'll see that it doesn't even bother to quantify exactly how rare BMIs of 16 are in women ages 15-20. Look at the curve and you'll see what I mean--we're talking below the first percentile.

Of course, models are hired precisely because they are physically atypical. Still, it's probably a myth that there are large numbers of people who are naturally thin enough to be catwalk models.

Of the women who currently have BMIs of 16 who are of modeling age, a large percentage are probably suffering from anorexia, substance abuse, and/or other health problems. It has been estimated that one percent of all American women suffer from full-blown anorexia nervosa. If less than one percent of 18-year-olds have a BMI of 16 for any reason, and 1% of 18-year-olds are anorexic. There must be considerable overlap because an extremely low weight is a necessary diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa. A person won't be diagnosed as anorexic unless they're lighter than the vast majority of people their height.

The fact that the current modeling industry standard is unhealthy for most aspiring models also contributes to an unhealthy professional culture in which even the thinnest models can become obsessive and paranoid about their weight. After all, one of the hallmarks of anorexia is the conviction that one is too fat despite being extremely thin.

The evidence is overwhelming that the current industry standards for fashion models are unhealthy for the vast majority of models. Professional pressure can contribute to the development of anorexia, the psychiatric condition with the highest mortality rate. Simply staying thin enough to be employable as a model can pose health risks, even in people who don't have anorexia. These include decreased bone density, infertility, slowed heartbeat, and in rare cases, death. I don't know if anyone has quantified the risks of long-term professional starvation and compared them to other occupational risks that we regulate. Aggressively dieting to stay 30 pounds underweight for a year probably is at least as unhealthy as working in a bar with second-hand smoke for the same period of time.

If the current industry standard is dangerous for a lot of the people who work in the industry, it makes sense to submit the industry to some kind of regulation. However, the Madrid model would not be appropriate for the United States.

Restricting the aesthetics of fashion shows is an infringement of First Amendment rights. Don't tell me that fashion show free speech is trivial. I won't argue too strenuously that fashion shows make an important contribution to public discourse, but censorship is censorship. The only question is whether the benefit to the workers is sufficient to offset this infringement.

It is also difficult to see how a BMI restriction could fit into the existing legal framework for occupational health and safety regulation. The BMI standard looks at worker's bodies, not at their working conditions. So, the law affects people even if they are not putting themselves at risk in order to achieve a particular look. The health risks of having a BMI=n aren't the same for everyone. Some people can achieve the magic number with zero health risk, or minimal risk, while others can't even get close with life-threatening measures.

The issue is not how many people there are who are naturally and safely thin enough to be fashion models today. The BMI standard is arbitrary and that arbitrariness is problematic. You can't just deprive people of their livelihood because you want to send a larger message to an industry.

Furthermore, if anorexia is a work-induced disease, it seems perverse (and possibly illegal) to make women who suffer from the disease unemployable. It would set a very bad precedent to start making people unemployable because of medical/psychiatric conditions that don't affect their ability to do their job.

The best argument for minimum BMI laws is to rid the modeling community of the ruinous pressure to be ultra-thin. It's not that everyone who is that thin is at risk, it's that the current industry standards require most would-be models to put themselves at risk in order to be competitive. A BMI of 18 is still very thin by "civilian" standards. (The difference between BMIs of 16 and 18 amounts to about 10lbs on a 5'9" model.) So, it's not as if the designers are being asked to sacrifice the slender aesthetic for the sake of public health.

The problem is that the current standards create a never-ending cycle of competition to be thinner. If we could somehow step back and say, okay, thin's fine but we shouldn't allow emaciated models to set the industry standard. All models would be better off if an outside force imposed a reasonable minimum weight for the whole profession. However, I don't see how such a rule could be legally imposed.

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Comments

I would argue that our society's obsession with thinness/fear of fat contributes to obesity. Yo-yo dieting is associated with weight gain over the long-term. People who diet to lose weight often end up gaining back the weight they lost, plus more.

I think it's misleading to say that the health of the models isn't paramount, and it strikes me as a bit of a dodge. I think the government is using that to get feminist praise and feminists are hyping it (problematically to say the least). But the incident that kicked this off was a model who was told to keep her job she must quit eating. Odds are it wasn't even implied, but expressed directly to her, from what we know of the industry.

I think designers like skinny models because of psychosocial reasons. They are like very expensive purebred dogs who have a multitude of health problems; the reason to have them is because no one else can afford them.

I completely agree, yo-yo 'diets' are BAD diets they do make things worse. 'Dieting' is bad, one should be focused on a long-term healthy diet, which gives you the nutrients you need. If you can't maintain it long term, its probably bad for you.

Emotions are a bad way to choose food.

As to pure bred models... we're all cattle in someone's herd.

I don't think this 'prevents people from earning a living' - a BMI can be changed after all.

If this is an infringement of liberty, then what about rules that prevent children from working, bar pregnant women from exposure to some types of radiation, etc., etc. etc. There are a thousand restrictions - on work hours, on overtime, exposure to toxic substances, on and on. Why is this different in quality from those?

The concern to protect the 'expression' of a woman having the right to work in unsafe conditions seems a bit contrived. Were it coming from anyone else, I'd wonder if it wasn't the company's 'right' to make as much money as possible that was the real motivation for the objection.

Of course, fashion isn't the only industry that uses thin female bodies for marketing purposes.

Of course. But we're not talking about women feeling depressed because they're not blond with flawless skin here. We're talking specifically about anorexia. Where you are most likely to see anorexic women displayed as standards of perfection are on the runway and in ballet, and I think the former has more influence. The difference is between willowy and emaciated -- perhaps not much when you're looking at it at the vantage point of a 150lb woman, but definitely a difference if you are looking at it as someone who is on the verge of anorexia.

I think it's misleading to say that the health of the models isn't paramount, and it strikes me as a bit of a dodge. I think the government is using that to get feminist praise and feminists are hyping it (problematically to say the least).

Of course I think the health of the actual models are important. But so are considering the knock-on effects, as well as how much the designers' visions are being compromised. For instance, I raised the example of ballet earlier. Even though the spectre of anorexia is probably just as, if not more serious in ballet, I don't think it should be regulated because (a)less people [although disturbingly some little girls] are influenced by ballet dancers than models and (b) the elongated, almost stylized body in ballet is considered such an important element in its artistry. I'm on the fence when it comes to the regulation of models, though as I've indicated I'm more swayed by the public health than the occupational hazard arguments.

For most people, being underweight is a health problem, but so is being overweight. Its really the same issue.

And so are heart attacks. And so is lung cancer. I'm not trying to dismiss the graveness of our obesity problem. Just that it is not really germane to the current discussion.

BP, if someone wants to replace the emaciated with the super-svelte in the name of public health, they've got to show that the proposed change would actually help. I'm not sure there's enough empirical evidence to justify the restriction on free speech, freedom to contract, bodily autonomy, etc.

Maybe women become anorexic because they specifically want to look like runway models, as opposed to movie stars, ballet dancers, figure skaters, porn stars, video game characters, booth babes, beach volleyball champions, or whatever.

On the other hand, maybe runway models are only one unattainable standard among many. Somehow, I bet runway models are only a small part of the problem. If eating disorders are caused wholly or partly by images in the media, it seems that catwalk models are only a small part of the problem.

Most women are heavier and/or less buff than any of the ideals of female beauty plastered over virtually every two-dimensional surface in our environment. Anorexia takes hold gradually, if only because it takes a certain amount of time to lose enough weight. Most anorexics don't start out by resolving to become as thin as the thinnest catwalk model. Based on the accounts that I've read, a lot of people with eating disorders initially resolved to lose a few pounds or to get into shape, only to have the disorder take on a life of its own over time.

Unless someone wants to advance a very specific and persuasive theory about how catwalk models are responsible for the lion's share of anorexia in our culture, I don't think it's acceptable to restrict the free speech of designers or the independence of models in the name of public health.

However, we know for a fact that the industry standard for working catwalk models is unhealthy for a large percentage of the workers in that industry. It may be directly unhealthy, insofar as maintaining such a low weight has health complications like bone loss, infertility, slowed heartbeat, etc. Or, it may be indirectly unhealthy because the cultural preoccupations in the modeling community favor disordered eating and drug abuse even in people who are slim and healthy. Demanding such a low standard stresses everyone, even the naturally slim--because even they are only a couple pounds away from unemployment.

It's not clear to me that the women in the industry would ideally choose to be exactly as thin as they are. The reality is that if they want to work, they have no choice but to maintain the industry standard. Their preference may be for employment, rather than for emaciation per se.

In practice, I don't know how you would go about imposing a standard on the US modeling industry without compromising free expression.

It's an industry, we compromise the "free" "expression" of industries all the time, precisely to prevent the sort of race-to-the-bottom that is happening here. ("That's not pollution, that's chemical art".) The designers all think they get some advantage by having their clothers shown on bone-skinny women, this regulation simply sets the rules to something where the limits are not imposed by the (non-) health of the models themselves and the statistical scarceness of a BMI of 16. It is entirely possible that such a rule could end up with the designers (perhaps different designers, perhaps not) making more money, since their designs would fit women of a slightly more normal build.

And a BMI of 16, holy crap. Last time I had a BMI of 24 (highest "normal") I Did Not Float. Full lungs, could sink to the bottom of the pool, and stay there for quite a while. I was taking WSI at the time, my teaching partner thought this was a great joke. A roommate in college had a BMI in the ballpark of 18 (6'4", 150 lbs), he looked like a stick.

Does all this talk about anorexia make anyone hungry? I'm going to order an extra-large pizza with lots of meat and no fucking vegetables, because my BMI has dipped dangerously close to 400. I better get the buffalo wings too. And the breadsticks. And the brownies. And another pizza.

Lindsay, which "free expression" are you talking about when you talk about evidence - the free expression of billboards, or of catwalk fashion designers?

John, I actually ate about 1,000 calories today, give or take (mostly take).

I think that billboards and fashion shows are both examples of free expression.

Free speech is very important. It's not an absolute right, even here in the US. We accept that it's sometimes necessary to restrict free speech for the sake of public safety, national security, etc.

However, the government shouldn't just be able to shut you up because you're advocating a potentially destructive ideal of beauty. I don't like the fundamentalists who say that women should be modestly clad and fetchingly pregnant at all times. I think their rhetoric contributes to all kinds of ill-health starting with cervical cancer and unwanted pregnancy. However, I don't think that the government should be able to exercise prior restraint against the fundamentalists just because they shame women into ignoring their health.

Likewise, I don't think the government should be able to ban representations of unhealthy beauty ideals, especially if no real people were endangered in the course of making these statements.

Lindsay, how do you reconcile your idea of free speech with the fact that it requires other people to do destructive things to their health?

You're talking as if the only rights involved are those of the designers. Billboards can be photoshopped to achieve that ideal body shape, as can magazine ads. Runway shows can't.

However, you're just not putting forth much of an argument that the free-speech rights of designers must be considered paramount to the health and safety of the human clothes hangers who model their clothing. Runway shows involve real live human beings with a bundle of rights of their own, some of which may very well conflict with the rights of the designers to present their fashions on live models as opposed to in print ads or on mannequins or in some other way.

First Amendment rights have long been subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. So large demonstrations may not be given a permit to march when the permit giving them the right to assemble is sufficiently protective of their speech AND addresses public safety and security concerns. In a similar vein, designers are more than welcome to use photoshopped ads or mannequins to present their designs if they cannot abide using models whose body-fat percentages are high enough to prevent organ failure or death.

Lindsay,
Yep. Actresses and and beach volleyball champions are unreasonable standards too. But I maintain that, except for the odd calista flockhart, they dont' cross the line between extremely slim and emaciated. Actually Flockhart kind of prove the rule -- when an actress does start looking dangerously thin, people take notice. Yet for models, thinness to the point of gauntness is considered normal.

I am kind of skeptical that people who are aiming for "Scarlett Johanesson" arrive at jutting pelvic bones that can double as cupholders without going "whoa" and backing up at some point, unless they find other source of support for the idea that getting even thinner is a good thing. You talk about anorexia taking on "a life of its own", but ultimately it is not a virus or genetic wasting disease that takes an inevitable course once set in motion. Each sufferer is battling their own internal flawed perception that they can make themselves better by becoming thinner. I think our current runway culture fuels that unhealthy perception, not just in the extreme thiness of the models, but in the way that they are made up.

As for the occupational hazard argument, I think that can only ultimately come from the modelling community (or aspiring model community).

The thing is that anorexia is a progressive disease. People don't necessarily set out to imitate runway models. However, as dieting morphs into an eating disorder, they develop a distorted body image. One of the characteristic features of anorexia is a delusion about what one's body actually looks like, or what kind of eating habits will cause massive weight gain.

I think the argument about the health of the models that some in this thread have made is reasonable, but I'm so deeply suspicious that this is the case. As a liberal, I would look for policies that are rights-maximizing. Clearly, it would be a violation of the models' rights to require an unhealthy body as a precondition for employment, and laws should be drawn up to prevent this from being so. Is that the case at this point, for all the models? If it's not, this is quintessentially a speech regulation, characterizing what can and can not be presented to the public as beautiful/desirable. If we accept this logic, then similar laws for plastic surgery should follow, and Mattel should be legally barred from employing unrealistic proportions for Barbie dolls.

As an aside, is anyone concerned (as a public policy rather than civil liberties issue) that banning the 'unrealistically thin' from working in a society with a growing weight problem feels like a way of avoiding responsibility for the problem? "I'm not fat, models are too skinny." As someone who's lost a lot of weight, I can remember thinking like this when I was genuinely obese; it is possible I am merely projecting it now, and the intent is genuinely to combat annorexia.

Jasper,

Obviously, there is no data on the health and safety of fashion models to justify a health and safety regulation for fashion models. It is very much unclear if a minimum BMI requirement would safe lives.

Obviously? Why did you restrict your search on fashion models? The BMI is meant to be used as a simple means of classifying physically inactive individuals with an average body composition. It has some serious drawbacks. Nonetheless, a BMI less than 18.5 is, according to the WHO classification, "Underweight" and that is connected to many serious health risks. For more information, please read the 1995 WHO Physical Status report, chapter 8 "Thin adults". Personally, it is beyond my comprehension that someone would want to show girls on the catwalk who have the BMI of a ten-year-old.

By the way, Luisel Ramos, a Uruguayan fashion model, died on August 2, 2006 of heart failure while participating in a fashion show during Fashion Week in Montevideo, Uruguay. The incident followed a conversation in which the model was told she could "make it big" if she dropped weight. For several months prior to the incident, Ramos subsisted on a diet of diet Coke and green leafy vegetables.

Anthony,

I agree with you in one important point. A voluntary self-restriction is always preferable to a juristical intervention. This happened in 2004. The International Ski Federation (FIS) introduced a bottom BMI limit (originally, a BMI of 18,5 was proposed but they changed to 20 with shoes, helmet and suit). But this was only possible because two national associations that were concerned by athletes with eating disorders heavily put pressure on the FIS. The situation isn't comparable.

If it's not, this is quintessentially a speech regulation, characterizing what can and can not be presented to the public as beautiful/desirable. If we accept this logic, then similar laws for plastic surgery should follow, and Mattel should be legally barred from employing unrealistic proportions for Barbie dolls.

I'm not so convinced because, in my eyes, it's another situation. It's not about subjective criteria like beautiful/desirable, it's about objective medical diagnoses like unhealthy/seriously ill. That's one reason why especially health agencies are adamant that legal steps must be taken to protect the health of the catwalk women. Personally, I'm not very interested in the initial motivation for the ban. There is a recommendation of the Spanish Parliament from 1999, Spanish consumer protection activists were asking for a ban since years, Madrid city council sponsored the fashion week, Cuca Solana, the organiser of the Pasarela Cibeles, was hauled before the country’s parliamentary commission for youth in April to defend the event against criticism that it pressures young women into losing weight. All that for nothing.

I'm not familiar with American law but in Germany, greater surgeries like breast enlargements are full age-restricted and it's not a service paid by sickness funds (we don' talk about plastic surgery as a result of accidents or amputations/cancer I assume). That is some kind of a natural barrier, especially for pree-teens and young adults. Eating disorders are much cheaper. And every woman makes a decision for her own in the first place. I've never heard of an employer who was allowed to ask his female employes for a breast enlargement (maybe big breasts are part of the preferences of porn directors. Sounds plausible for me, expecially for breast-fixed Americans...).

The same for Barbie dolls. It's a doll, not a real human person, and I think there is a juristical and understandable barrier above you can't claim for regulations anymore.

But your breach in a damm argument is intriguing because very often when I discuss with an American about political reforms, at the beginning, he or she is very enthusiastic but suddenly stopps and says something like "If we accept this logic, then similar laws for xyz should follow." Is this because the American law is much more based on precedent cases than European law? Personally, I don't see this danger at all.

Axel:

I'm not so convinced because, in my eyes, it's another situation. It's not about subjective criteria like beautiful/desirable, it's about objective medical diagnoses like unhealthy/seriously ill. That's one reason why especially health agencies are adamant that legal steps must be taken to protect the health of the catwalk women. Personally, I'm not very interested in the initial motivation for the ban.

I think intent is actually pretty meaningful. If it's to protect the models from undue corporate pressure, then its intent is rights-maximizing. If it's not about the health of the models, then it's restricting their rights to the bodies they want, the designrers and corporations' rights to the image they want, for some nominal public good. I wonder if it might represent an interesting distinction between libertarian (no, under any circumstances), liberal (yes, iff it is for the benefit of the models) and socialist (yes, for public good) outlooks on public policy?



Eating disorders are much cheaper. And every woman makes a decision for her own in the first place. I've never heard of an employer who was allowed to ask his female employes for a breast enlargement (maybe big breasts are part of the preferences of porn directors. Sounds plausible for me, expecially for breast-fixed Americans...).

You may not be allowed to ask-- indeed, regulating that might be appropriate; however, I think it's naieve to believe no actress has ever gotten a part because of her chest size, surgically augmented or otherwise ("Baywatch" acting as exhibit A). I suspect that to largely be the case here-- it's not necisarilly that designers are forcing the models to be thin, it's that being a walking coat-rack provides them a competitive advantage.

The same for Barbie dolls. It's a doll, not a real human person, and I think there is a juristical and understandable barrier above you can't claim for regulations anymore.

What is the barrier? We've established that we're not talking about the health of the models, but the health of other women who might be unduely influenced by the models' bad example. The public interest would seem to be identical, and the scope of government intervention no greater.

But your breach in a damm argument is intriguing because very often when I discuss with an American about political reforms, at the beginning, he or she is very enthusiastic but suddenly stopps and says something like "If we accept this logic, then similar laws for xyz should follow." Is this because the American law is much more based on precedent cases than European law? Personally, I don't see this danger at all.

Axel: I suspect it is that we, as Americans, we are taught to believe in limited government with finite powers circumscribed by our rights as citizens. Granting the government the power to do THIS, would implicitly grant it the power to do THAT and THE OTHER THING-- even if one might be good public policy and another bad public policy, they both derive from the same doctrine and set of powers. While this may not be bad public policy per se, it represents the exercise of powers we do not wish the government to possess.

Axel:


I'm not so convinced because, in my eyes, it's another situation. It's not about subjective criteria like beautiful/desirable, it's about objective medical diagnoses like unhealthy/seriously ill. That's one reason why especially health agencies are adamant that legal steps must be taken to protect the health of the catwalk women. Personally, I'm not very interested in the initial motivation for the ban.

I think intent is actually pretty meaningful. If it's to protect the models from undue corporate pressure, then its intent is rights-maximizing, weighing one set of rights (not to be pressured into unhealty behavior out of economic necessity) versus another (the right to the body one wants, the right to employ whom one chooses). If it's not about the health of the models, then it's restricting their rights to the bodies they want, the designrers and corporations' rights to the image they want, for some nominal public good. I wonder if it might represent an interesting distinction between libertarian (no, under any circumstances), liberal (yes, iff it is for the benefit of the models) and socialist (yes, in the interest of the larger public good) outlooks on public policy?



Eating disorders are much cheaper. And every woman makes a decision for her own in the first place. I've never heard of an employer who was allowed to ask his female employes for a breast enlargement (maybe big breasts are part of the preferences of porn directors. Sounds plausible for me, expecially for breast-fixed Americans...).

Regulating employer requirements might be entirely appropriate and distinct from this prohibition-- I don't think it's a good idea for an employer to mandate an unhealthy lifestyle as a precondition of employment; however, I don't think the distinction between this and plastic surgery is at all clear. It would be naieve to believe no actress has ever gotten a part because of her chest size, surgically augmented or otherwise ("Baywatch" acting as exhibit A). I suspect that to largely be the case here-- it's not necisarilly that designers are forcing the models to be thin, it's that being a walking coat-rack provides them a competitive advantage.

The same for Barbie dolls. It's a doll, not a real human person, and I think there is a juristical and understandable barrier above you can't claim for regulations anymore.

What is the barrier? We've established that we're not talking about the health of the models, but the health of other women who might be unduely influenced by the models' bad example. The public interest would seem to be identical, and the scope of government intervention no greater.

But your breach in a damm argument is intriguing because very often when I discuss with an American about political reforms, at the beginning, he or she is very enthusiastic but suddenly stopps and says something like "If we accept this logic, then similar laws for xyz should follow." Is this because the American law is much more based on precedent cases than European law? Personally, I don't see this danger at all.

I suspect it is that we, as Americans, we are taught to believe in limited government with finite powers circumscribed by our rights as citizens. Granting the government the power to do THIS, would implicitly grant it the power to do THAT and THE OTHER THING-- even if one might be good public policy and another bad public policy, they both derive from the same doctrine and set of powers. While this may not be bad public policy per se, it represents the exercise of powers we do not wish the government to possess.

When my wife suffered from a hyperactive thyroid, she was skin and bones with a BMI of 17.2. It's amazing to think the average BMI of models is 16. Of course, they don't look attractive, at all.

The BMI is problematic because it doesn't take muscle mass into account. So, if you're an athletic fellow of normal (5' 10") height and 178 pounds, that's overweight with a BMI of 25.5. And yet, body-fat might only be 12%.

If you found a man and woman at the same height and weight, the man will probably have more muscle and less fat. I think the standards should be different. They would still be a guess anyway, because body fat has to be taken into account.

Zuzu, I think that it might be acceptable to limit the free speech of fashion show producers and designers in the name of occupational health. A catwalk isn't just a piece of art, it's also a real workplace populated by real people.

However, I don't like the idea of banning the expression of dangerous ideas. As far as the general population is concerned, fashion shows are just ideas. I don't think the government should be able to prevent people from articulating destructive viewpoints simply because we'd all be better off without them.

Axel, I think Anthony's about right about American attitudes. You don't see the same slippery slope thinking in Canada and Britain, which use the same common law system as the US.

Anthony and Alon,

thanks for your replies. I just forgot that the common law system is an Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, so it's also in the United Kingdom or Ireland in practise -- instead of civil law like in Spain, France or Germany.

I think intent is actually pretty meaningful. If it's to protect the models from undue corporate pressure, then its intent is rights-maximizing, weighing one set of rights (not to be pressured into unhealty behavior out of economic necessity) versus another (the right to the body one wants, the right to employ whom one chooses). If it's not about the health of the models, then it's restricting their rights to the bodies they want, the designrers and corporations' rights to the image they want, for some nominal public good.

That's an interesting argument and because I'm not a legal expert and only slightly familiar with German law I'm slippering on very thin ice...

I think there are already a lot of legal restrictions in pactise that conflict with the proposed or factual self-interest of people, the compulsory seat belt use or legal protection for children and young persons for instance. Most of the models are not allowed to drink a whisky in the US but it's OK for them to have the skinny BMI of a ten-year-old.

But my main argument is that in a highly competitive market like a beauty contest or a fashion show there is no "free" decision the girls and women are confronted with. They have no choice and you can't create an artificial world with normal BMIs for models but the same career opportunities, the same money to earn, the same possibilities to win great fame, for comparison reasons.

And -- perhaps this is too European -- there is a conflict between the individual interest of the designers and the public interest in healthy idols for their children. It's something old-fashioned like public responsibility. I agree that this is a very fuzzy concept because you won't find an ultimate and scientific strong media effect, blaming skinny models alone and undisputably for teenage eating disorders. That's not possible but there are a lot of legal restrictions in the US because of something like "the public concern". Europeans typically can't follow and this is, in their eyes, a striking example of censorship. Think of the ban of naked breasts on American TV -- Janet Jacksons "Nipplegate". Really no one can understand this absurd prudery here.

What is the barrier? We've established that we're not talking about the health of the models, but the health of other women who might be unduely influenced by the models' bad example. The public interest would seem to be identical, and the scope of government intervention no greater.

Dolls are no humans. I'm thinking of violence in the media and children. Tom & Jerry contains very violent scenes but it's only a cartoon and so for children. The same scenes in reality with real actors clearly wouldn't be suitable for pree-teens.

I think, here we disagree, perhaps because of different law systems. I see absolutely no danger of an automatism that irresistibly reduces the rights of the designers, of Doll manufacturers or someone else. In some situations the public interest outweights individual interests, in other situations it's the individual interest that is worth to be protected. Every case is different and everytime, it's a trade-off or a weighting between conflicting interests. I don't know if the Spanish ban is consistent with Spanish law, I don't know if it's consistent with French or German or Italian law and I don't know how a court will judge in ten years.

That's the reason why I'm not very interested in defending the rights of designers. They have already enough influence and legal possibilities. In the past, every political or public effort to stop the BMI madness was unsuccessful and I don't think that the Spanish ban will be very effective. Designers simply will wag their fingers and threaten to move to Asia or East Europe.

It's typical in civil law systems (only? I don't know) that new societal developments, a greater sexual permissivenes for instance, induce revisions of older judgements. For a long time, prostitution in Germany was legally seen as "immoral", so the prostitutes had no legal right to demand money from their clients and they had no health insurance. Now, prostitution has another legal status with a lot of rights because it is commonly social accepted. The barrier is always relocatable.

Lindsay:

There is no evidence that the workplace pressures on models causes anorexia. It may cause undereating, but that is not what the disease anorexia is. And there is no evidence that the fashion industry is responsible for anorexia.

I think it no more likely that you catch anorexia seeing a fashion model than you catch being gay from a gay teacher. If someone has data showing otherwise, please point me to it.

And obesity causes FAR more deaths than anorexia in this country. The logical conclusion is that fashion shows with obese women should be banned too.

Of course I decry the fashion industry's obsession with thin. Just not appealing to me, not to mention perverse in its seeming worship of adolescent sexuality.

I'm taking a stand: I refuse to have sex with anyone with a BMI less than 20. OK, OK, I'm refusing to have sex with anyone who is not Val, and I think she hovers just above a 20 BMI. I've said too much.

E, I disagree. Anorexia is a psychiatric disorder, but dieting itself is thought to be a causative agent in the development of the disease. Severe food restriction itself can induce hyperactivity, depression, compulsive behaviors in both lab animals and non-dieting humans. If you put restricting person in a cultural context where everyone around them is preoccupied with food and weight, you've set the stage for an eating disorder.

Consider the very high rates of disordered eating among female gymnasts, figure skaters, and ballet dancers. There's the normal pressure to keep one's weight down for work, but there's also a culture of disordered eating in these sports. Anorexia but bulimia and other eating disorders flourish in these environments. Girls teach each other how to binge and purge and how to abuse diet pills and other drugs to control their weight. It's not uncommon for these women to support each other in their extreme diet and exercise regimens. Models teach each other similar bad habits.

As I said Lindsay, show me some evidence. I am very suspicious of arguments about behavioral inputs regarding weight since the track record in the real world is very poor for interventions being effective. For obesity or anorexia.

And if media messages were effective, then how do you explain the increasing obesity problem in America in the face of such messages? Do you think that the ideal of skinny has induced young women to either lapse into the illness anorexia, or ignore it and become obese?

As I said above, since obesity causes many magnitudes of order greater morbidity and mortality in this country than anorexia ever will, if the messages to get thin had any effect at all, we would celebrate. You seem to be arguing that such messages cause some women to lapse into illness, yet have no effect on the rest of the population. I doubt it.

Certainly we can agree that the evidence for benefit to those with anorexia is not worth the drastic measure of censorship.

I don't believe that fashion models cause anorexia in the general population, but I'm convinced that a modeling career causes and/or enables anorexia in many models.

Anorexia is a psychiatric condition. As you said, e, severe self-imposed food restrictions aren't necessarily evidence of the disorder known as anorexia nervosa.

If someone starves themselves in order to keep their job, that's not necessarily evidence of any psychiatric problem. If most workers in an industry have to endure starvation in order to work, that's a problem with the workplace and not the worker.

However, I know from personal experience that cultural milieu makes a huge difference to eating habits, especially to the individual's ability to resist disordered eating. If you are a young women surrounded by other young women who are paranoid about food and weight, it's very difficult to keep any sense of perspective, especially if your employer berates you for the same "imperfections."

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