LET’S BULLY THE SKINNY GIRL

DOES FRANCE’S NEW ANTI-THIN MODEL LAW PROTECT THESE YOUNG WOMEN OR CREATE A NEW BULLYING CLASS?

By Debora Fougere


Let's BullyOn April 14th, the French Parliament’s upper house will vote on a new bill, already approved by the lower house, to ban models who are “too thin” from the runway. Women who want to walk the catwalk would have to maintain a Body Mass Index of 18, and be certified by a physician that they are healthy enough to walk the 90 or so feet to the photographers’ pit, then back again.

Let's BullyOn April 14th, the French Parliament’s upper house will vote on a new bill, already approved by the lower house, to ban models who are “too thin” from the runway. Women who want to walk the catwalk would have to maintain a Body Mass Index of 18, and be certified by a physician that they are healthy enough to walk the 90 or so feet to the photographers’ pit, then back again.

Israel, Spain and New York (apparently, finally, its own country) have, to a far lesser degree, enacted rules or laws designed to keep models out who are deemed too thin, but the French law would be far stricter, assign big fines and possibly jail time to agencies or designers who violate the new rules.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I am far from being in danger of falling below the 18.5 BMI deemed healthy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I have, for about as long as I can remember, been at war with my weight. I win some battles, I lose some battles, but I know the war will never end. So, I’m not a skinny chick saying, “stop picking on me”. What I am is a journalist-turned-fashion-writer who has covered enough Fashion Weeks to understand that, a) there’s a reason why designers want thin, young girls walking their runways and, b) there are some young women who are, just, naturally thin.

Let's BullyI have spent enough time backstage interviewing these young women to know that they are, overwhelmingly, healthy. They eat. I’ve seen them. And there’s no time to throw it all back up before the show. Have I seen some who looked a bit sickly? Yes, not many, but yes. And the best answer I have for that is, not everyone was born to model. If you’re not naturally thin, think of a new career. If you have to push yourself to be thin enough, consider another line of work, or, since so many are so young, tell your mom this isn’t for you, stay in school and find something else to do.

For me, this is part of a bigger conundrum. Health professionals bleat on and on about obesity, particularly childhood obesity, and the death grip it has on the U.S. You don’t need them to tell you that, just pop on Honey Boo Boo reruns or any number of “reality” shows, or, simply, take your eyes off your iPhone and look around as you walk the streets. Every day, it seems, I hear someone who has just given up saying they’re embracing their weight, they’re loving their “curves”, they’re proud of who they are. Never mind that extra weight can cause a plethora of illnesses, from diabetes and heart disease to strokes and joint pains. They battle to have thin models, actresses, whatever, taken out of the magazines and off the screen, not wanting their chubby children to feel somehow less than women and girls who watch their weight or were born thin. Rather than battling to be healthy, they want the women who remind them they are not to be removed from sight.

Let's BullyFor as long as I can remember, “fat” girls have been bullied, the butt of jokes of those not challenged by extra weight. There is no question that is wrong. But isn’t turning the tables and bullying women who carefully control their weight equally wrong?

There is something they can do that those of us who’d rather have a burger and fries than a kale salad can’t: they can walk the runway and grace the pages of fashion magazines. So why not just let them do it. If you’re overweight and happy, then stay that way. But shouting that the women who are thin and happy shouldn’t be allowed to do work they love and are qualified for because it makes the rest of us feel bad doesn’t benefit anyone.

Models are young, many very young. They have parents and friends who can keep an eye and let them know if they’re getting a bit too thin. If girls need to purge or shoot heroin to stay model-thin, someone should intervene. But saying girls who are thin and work to stay that way for their careers should be the new vilified class, bullied because they have the thin bodies and glamorous careers most of us wish we could have, just smacks of envy.

Remember, fashion is aspirational. Designers depend on our looking at their clothes presented in the most flattering way possible, and believing we can look that way with a purchase. As long as there is fashion, there will be models, thin models, to show them off. We don’t need to make them feel bad, to let the rest of us off the hook.

Photography: Anton Brookes

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