A bill proposed on February 19th could make California the first state in the U.S. to require models to obtain a health certificate in order to work under an agency. AB 2539, proposed by state assemblyman Marc Levine, aims to combat eating disorders and malnourishment among models within the fashion industry.
Unfortunately, this topic is nothing new. For the last several decades, the modeling industry has been under fire for promoting unrealistic beauty standards and supposedly enforcing models to lose weight and maintain severely small measurements. With the fashion industry promoting extremely thin and emaciated models in magazines, throughout social media and on other platforms, the problem only continues to worsen.
Following the death of Isabelle Caro, a 28-year old French fashion model whose tragic demise was anorexia; France went on to ban "excessive thinness" among models. The country passed a law earlier last year requiring models to submit medical certificates to prove that they do not have critically low body mass indexes. California will now potentially follow suit by taking similar measures to ensure that fashion models maintain realistic and healthy measurements; although, it is currently unclear whether or not the California bill will include measuring BMI as a factor for the medical exams similar to France.
Although the bill has clearly been proposed with the best intent, some seem to think otherwise. There are many varying opinions on whether or not this bill will truly solve the industry dilemma once and for all. Several USC students weighed in to share their own personal opinions on the matter.
USC Freshman Prajwal Bharadwaj states, "You can't legislate a positive body image. Agencies have the right to hire who they wish and individuals have the right to choose whether or not they want to idealize a model's body as the perfect body type or not." He continued to discuss that he feels it is not the government's role to interfere with a problem that he thinks the industry and their agencies should be addressing amongst themselves.
USC Freshman Tyler Kim also expressed his concern stating, "I think the problem here is the demand with which severely thin body types are condoned by agencies, the fashion industry and the everyday consumer. If we could draft legislation to target the demand versus affect the supply; we could potentially see a more effective shift in eating disorders without affecting the California modeling industry as a whole." He also went on to suggest that with the passing of this bill, there is a possibility that models could retaliate and work around the law by simply relocating and moving out of California. "A change in the marketing of the industry is what is necessary," he stated.
In contrast to the opposing opinions; USC Freshman Winny Huang strongly supports the bill and noted that it should be necessary. She stated, "I applaud Marc Levine for tackling what I believe to be one of the largest problems in our generation today." However, she too had qualms in suggesting what she believes the bill might still be lacking. She said, "The models themselves may be healthy in real life, but will they appear healthy on the cover of Vogue and Sports Illustrated? This bill doesn't eliminate the ultimate issue at hand: Adobe Photoshop and other similar programs that morph presumably healthy models into figures that are literally unrealistic." This is an extremely valid point seeing as though many seem to forget that agencies promoting unhealthy standards are not the only culprits in this issue. The media's influence and manipulation through Photoshop are two factors equally at fault for advocating unrealistic expectations within the industry. In efforts to combat this, Huang suggest that "He [Levine] could definitely make a few changes to the bill so that it could create a bigger impact on the modeling industry and convey the bigger picture that beauty is not solely determined by one's size, shape or figure."
Several companies have already begun addressing the same issue of photo manipulation that Huang discussed, like the popular brand American Eagle's underwear line, Aerie. The company specifically targets high school and college-aged women, an age group whose body image is indefinitely most affected by media representations of the "ideal" body type. By vowing not to retouch or Photoshop any of their advertisements, Aerie's consumers are encouraged to stop comparing themselves to each other and in turn, realize that they too, are beautiful; stretch marks, scars, curves and all.
As a signed model myself, I have luckily never felt extremely pressured to lose weight or maintain a ridiculously small size because my agency, Ford/Robert Black in Arizona, has never forced me to take such drastic measures. While working abroad in Asia however, I noticed that there was more of an emphasis on maintaining these smaller measurements and during my time there, I definitely witnessed girls who were unhealthily thin or trying to lose weight for the sake of "getting more work." Personally, I believe it's never worth it to hurt oneself for the end goal of obtaining more modeling gigs. A person will be cast for the type of jobs that works best for them and their body type, not something that they are forcing, or trying to be.
What about models who are naturally thin? Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, which means that only a variety of women on all sides of the spectrum should be celebrated, naturally thin girls included. Levine also addressed these concerns, stating to LA Weekly that he's "Not saying we can't have skinny models at all. All we want to do is make sure models who are employed are healthy and are not put in positions that are unhealthy for their bodies."
Although the modeling industry is often looked down upon for promoting eating disorders and unrealistic body images, in my personal experience; I know plenty of models who are healthy, active, and are supportive of one another. Despite popular opinion; most of us models don't put ourselves in compromising situations or on restrictive diets. In fact, we usually talk about where we're going to go out to dinner after our shoots and runway shows. It may be hard at times to stop comparing myself to other models, but I've accepted that we all come in different shapes and sizes and that I should be comfortable in my own skin. I believe the passing of such bill will encourage models in California to do the same, and enjoy working without the added pressures of maintaining a certain size.
Assembly committees will hear the bill in March and will vote on it shortly thereafter. If it passes through assembly and senate, California state governor Jerry Brown will sign it into law by this fall, making it effective immediately on January 2017.
Reach Staff Reporter Shea Lenniger here.