September 15, 2006

The nanny state in Europe taken to a new level

This is just plain weird. Madrid, in conjunction with the fashion shows, has taken it upon itself to ban models who have a body mass below 18. The Wall Street Journal notes that would mean that poor Kate Moss couldn't work these shows. The problem is that the State thinks that employing such models constitutes a terrible influence on women who then, after seeing the spindly legged creatures, develop horrible eating disorders.

Please. As if.

This is the nanny state reductio ad absurdum. The thought that the State is basing permission to work on a person's appearance, all for the greater good, strikes me as so ridiculous, so controlling, so totalitarian, that I could scream.

Madrid's regional government introduced the prohibition on the premise that the fashion industry has a responsibility to promote healthy body images. A Spanish organization that helps anorexics and bulimics had campaigned for the ban, based on the assumption that girls are inspired to starve themselves by what they see on the catwalk.

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The doctor-enforcers who will be on site next week to boot the underweight won't make fashion a kinder, gentler business. Organizers are rejecting models with a body mass index of less than 18, meaning that, for instance, über-waif Kate Moss would not be welcome.

Here's the link to the article, although you may not be able to bring it up.

Posted by Random Penseur at September 15, 2006 03:56 PM

On the one hand, I can understand your comments. But when I read the article myself (different source), I remember thinking that in some ways, it's a good initiative. I'm usually against additional government control but in this case I think there's no other real way to stop the models getting thinner and thinner and thus the fashion industry becoming more and more unhealthy. There have certainly been worse bans.

On the other hand, what do you do with the women who hoestly look like that? Make them eat more to be able to do their job? It annoys me as much as the fact that I'm not allowed to work at some places because at 5'0", I'm too short.

It goes both ways but I still think this weighs in as a generally positive initiative.

Posted by: Hannah at September 15, 2006 04:19 PM

So should we also ban plus-size models, who've become more popular modeling the sorts of clothes that real people wear? Seems like the same issue. If you don't see the larger ladies in the ads, maybe you'll turn down the next Big Mac. . .

Posted by: John Bruce at September 16, 2006 12:08 PM

Actually, the problem is that we don't ever see normal-sized women in ads or on catwalks. Whereas an adult woman may understand the difference between a normal female body and a walking clothes hanger, younger women/girls may not. I would love to see more normal-looking women showing fashion. One Norwegian woman's magazine (KK) does strive to avoid the ones where you see all their bones sticking out.

The fashion world will not run out of models; instead, all the girls who are not shaped like sticks will have a chance (and some will even get to eat normally to keep their figure).

Posted by: Keera at September 16, 2006 01:00 PM

I humbly think the term of nanny state is applied where intrusion by state destabilises the "state" of anything to ridiculous inefficiencies. Can it indeed be applied to Spain banning sick models? Mortality due to weight reasons is higher between underweight than in overweight people. In that sense, this looks similar to warnings on cigarette packs.

Other than that, I bet that plus-sized models are not overweight, yet they most likely are at the top rage of healthy BMI (just below 25). Which is considered the healthiest in some lately performed studies.

Why not to look at Greek ideal, both men and women? Proportional, muscular bodies? The saddest thing in fashion industry is probably the fact that most models do not even workout.

Posted by: Jurate at September 16, 2006 04:33 PM

The reason that those models emaciate themselves isn't because they think they look better that way, but because the designers want them to look that way. They want their clothes to look on a model the way they look on a hanger. That and the fact that many designers seem to have weird ideas about female beauty.

By banning frightfully underweight models from the runways, Madrid is really rescuing those models from the abuse of the fashion industry. Seems to me that it's not meant to deny a naturally skinny woman from earning a living, but to prevent healthy women from sacrificing their health in order to satisfy the potato sack cabal.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at September 16, 2006 06:55 PM

Interesting comments. I think, however, you may be missing my point. It isn't whether fashion models are ill, or whether unhealthy messages are being sent by the industry, it is entirely whether it is appropriate for a government to decide who gets to work based on their appearance. Can you imagine the outrage if the govt. said only people who have a particular appearance should be permitted to work at hotel reception desks? The govt. should not be in the habit or business of discriminating in the first place. This kind of interference is ridiculous and does start you down the garden path to destabliization, I think. Really, the Spaniards don't have anything more important to do with their govt.?

Posted by: rp at September 17, 2006 06:25 AM

But it isn't about appearance, but weight. Big difference.

Posted by: Keera at September 17, 2006 12:11 PM

London and Italy are considering implementing the guidelines too. The fashion world has caved in with barely a whimper.

Oh and RP, I know I'm late acknowledging your late anniversary wishes so we're even, but thank you so much. *G*

Posted by: Jocelyn at September 17, 2006 01:07 PM

I don't know if you can draw a clear distinction between the "appearance" issue and the "weight-health" issue. I've seen several discussions of the medical history on how good-bad it is to be of a certain size relative to height or whatever it is, and the medical opinion tracks quite closely to the fashion trends of the period. (For that matter, I've known people who explained that "my doctor told me" I needed to have my chin shortened, or my nose straightened, or my cheekbones raised.) These things aren't that simple.

It's a little like the McMansion question. Would you rather have tacky overbuilt houses all over your neighborhood, or would you rather have some Board of Good Taste rule on the house you want to build? I'd rather have McMansions, but it's a close call. I'd rather not have the state meddling in whether the media enables certain eating disorders, but it's a close call.

Posted by: John Bruce at September 17, 2006 06:19 PM

I take your point, and I agree with you, but as a clothes lover, well, I applaud ANYTHING that forces designers to work with womens' bodies as they are, rather than as they would wish them to be. I don't know where I read this, but the average American woman wears a size fourteen and is 5'3". The average model is, at minimum, 5'9" and wears a size zero. Designers create clothes for their models---not for the people who buy them, and if one wanted to look at it through the lens of capitalism, well, how much money are they losing out on because they're alienating a potential market? If this gets designers to open their eyes and to use their talents to create clothes for regular women, well, that's a good thing, because I have to tell you, this skinny pant craze is driving me, of the childbirthin' hips, INSANE! Too many designers treat fashion as a way to dress Barbie dolls for a living and it's very frustrating when you don't have Barbie's proportions. And even Barbie has bigger breasts than some designers think she does!

I wouldn't feel too sorry for the models, though. Once upon a time, in a parallel universe, I was a model. They told me flat out that I couldn't do any runway shows (not like there are a lot of them in Omaha, but there were a few ;))because at 5'6" I was too short. (They kept hoping I would grow and were mightily disappointed when I didn't.) Also, I was told that I should lose some weight---and I was 110lbs at that point in time! These models know what they're getting into. The talk about your body in that business is impersonal, at best, and downright cruel at worst, and models know this. It's a cutthroat business to be in and they're well aware of it. If this brings about a trend in the way designers work, there will be a whole new slew of models who get work.

Posted by: Kathy at September 18, 2006 01:10 PM

While I think it's the government's role to look out for the public health, I don't think this issue qualifies as such. How many runway models are there who would be affected by this ban? 50? I have no idea, but I don't see how it will be a significant enough number to warrant the government's intrusion into the work place in this manner.

Posted by: grammarqueen at September 19, 2006 12:19 PM

Devil's advocate:

If it is considered a matter of health and safety, why can't the government regulate the issue? How is this different than having a height/weight requirement for a firefighter? They need to be at least 150 lbs. to the job - and models need a BMI of at least 18 to do their job. No problem!

Posted by: Monica C. at September 19, 2006 01:12 PM

My modest proposal:
Treat models like thoroughbred race horses and jockeys and implement a handicap weight. Set a race-weight minimum for each runway event, say 120lbs. If a model comes in at 105 - strap 15lb belts around their ankles. Heck, if if they want to get 'fancy' make them strap molded weights to their busts or behinds. Pretty soon you will see Dolce & Grabana molded butt weights on sale at Macy*s.

Makes about as much sense as regulating the weight of a model in the first place. :-)

Posted by: Ivan at September 21, 2006 08:48 AM

The whole industry is absurd. Once upon a time, I, too, was a model.

I am 5'7" and, at the time, I was 135 pounds.

I was a "plus size" model.

I agree with you in that I feel it's a silly, slippery slope.

But c'mon. The whole industry needs to get real.

Posted by: Margi at September 22, 2006 12:31 AM