The average American female weighs 140 pounds and is 5’ 4”; the average American female model weighs 117 pounds and is 5’ 7”, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. This disconnect, many believe, has led to an anorexia epidemic as young women attempt to match these unhealthy body standards.
California State Assembly member Marc Levine wants to address the growing issue of anorexia by passing state legislation to regulate the modeling industry. Levine explained in a press release that this legislation is aimed at “societal problems since unhealthy fashion models have become role models for young people.”
The bill, AB 2539, would require the modeling industry to adopt certain health standards in California such as: regular health check-ups, nutrition counseling and medical testing for models, when needed. In France, law-makers have already passed legislation that bans models who fail to meet a certain body mass index minimum. Israel, Italy and Spain have also adopted similar requirements.
Levine’s bill would look to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board and Department of Public Health to work in conjunction with medical experts to create health standards for models. The bill would also require that models obtain a physician’s certificate to ensure that they don’t have an eating disorder. Agencies would be obligated to keep the certificate on file, under penalty of a fine.
In effect, the legislation would crack down on anorexic models for the benefit of both the models suffering from crippling eating disorders as well as the consumers who take their cues as standards of beauty.
Today, American children and teens consume more media than ever, and this trend is having a powerful effect on their self-esteem and confidence. For example, a recentPeople Magazine poll found that 80 percent of female respondents said that images of women on television and in the movies made them feel insecure.
In a testament to the power of the media, many fifth graders told researchers, that after watching a Britney Spears music video and a clip from the T.V. show “Friends,” they felt unhappy with the way their own bodies looked. In a 2002 study about dieting, conducted through the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 40 percent of girls ages nine to ten years old have attempted to lose weight. Additionally, social media offers a platform for users to carry out an unspoken but very real competition to look the best, through constantly uploading photos of themselves. This sense of competition pushes children, at younger and younger ages, to conform to often dangerous social trends in an attempt to fit in and stay connected to friends.
Issues with self-image lead people, particularly teens, to eating disorders, fasting, smoking, laxatives, drug and alcohol use, cutting and bullying as ways of coping with the pressure of measuring up to unrealistic beauty standards.
The South Carolina Department of Mental Health believes that eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders; The National Eating Disorder Association believes there are more than 10 million. Around 55 percent of the adult population of America, 116 million people, are currently dieting. 35 percent of people who diet regularly will eventually turn to pathological dieting, and of those 35 percent, 20-25 percent will develop some kind of eating disorder. Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness plaguing adolescents, and according to Duke University, 40 percent of nine to ten year-old girls have dieted before. 10-15 percent of Americans have serious eating disorder and six percent of these people will die from their disorder when it eventually leads to organ failure, giving eating disorders the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yet, despite the severity of the disease, only one out of 10 people with an eating disorder obtain treatment.
While the bill has been warmly welcomed by many, including many former models, some still feel that the bill is unnecessary, or a classic example of government over-reach. Other critics support the idea behind the bill, but think it alone won’t be effective at dealing with what some now call an anorexia-epidemic.
Despite these critics, many models and researchers still believe this legislation can help to reverse this growing trend of anorexia, as it forces the modeling industry to showcase more types of beauty. A senior research fellow at the University of the West of England’s Centre for Appearance Research, told BBC news, that “the answer to body anxiety is to showcase a more diverse range of bodies in the media because there is not just one way to be healthy or one ideal look.” Olympia Francis Taylor ’18, also believes that more diversity of all types is key to promoting more self- esteem and stopping this anorexia epidemic, saying that “a lack of diversity anywhere is dangerous.” And when that lack is present in the modeling industry, thousands of lives can be at stake.