It’s been three years since France enacted its “model law,” requiring fashion models to provide a doctor’s note stating they are healthy enough to work (and not too thin). But while many people consider it to be a positive change—both for working models and for the women and girls consuming their images—there’s reason to believe it’s had little effect on the fashion industry.
To start with, it seems like the law is both difficult to enforce and easy to skirt. In theory, agents and fashion brands who flouted France’s policy could pay nearly $100,000 in fines and spend up to six months in jail. But when The Fashion Law asked one Parisian attorney about the regulation, she said she hadn’t encountered a single case related to the provision since it went into effect.
In Israel, which has similar legislation on the books, a report revealed that no one in Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry is actually responsible for enforcing the law. And Spain saw a crackdown in the immediate aftermath of the legislation’s passage—with one-third of models banned from walking in shows the first year after the law rolled out—but more recent reports suggest that agencies have found creative ways around the rule, like weighing models down with sandbags when it came time for them to step on the scale. Not to mention that the primary measure used to assess models’ health—body mass index (BMI)—can be an unreliable indicator in itself.
Other aspects of the fashion industry remain unchanged by the laws, like teeny-tiny sample sizes, for example. The Fashion Law cited a viral Instagram post from stylist Francesca Burns, who was outraged when Celine sent her a pair of pants that weren’t big enough to fit the very thin model who tried them on.
These laws were all passed within about a decade of each other, amid growing outcry about the health hazards associated with pressuring models to be excessively thin. But by focusing on regulating models’ bodies, the legislation has turned a systemic problem into an individual one. It may keep some models off the runway (if that), but it fails to question the vast culture obsessed with thinness in which they—and we all!—reside.