Today France put a new law into action: models will be required to have a letter from their doctor stating that their BMI is healthy, before they are allowed on the catwalk. It was a bill that was passed in the country two years ago in 2015, behind Europe’s body positive champions; Italy and Spain, who also have similar legislation. The law is aimed at keeping control of the country’s growing problem with body negativity, challenging what has become the status quo around the world of slim, tall, blemish-free females as the top models in the media. With our neighbours making positive changes in their countries for the benefit of women – their mental health, self-confidence and self-esteem – we ought to be asking ourselves, should the UK be doing the same?
The current, widely-accepted standard for catwalk models in the UK is that they be 5ft 9inches with a dress size of between 6 and 8. This means that these ‘privileged’ few are likely to have a BMI below healthy. As the face of major campaigns for companies across the UK, promoting the sales of their products, these women are portraying a body standard which is not only unrealistic (since the average body size for British women is a 14-16), but also dangerous. Their slim figures promote a range of eating disorders from anorexia to bulimia, orthorexia to binge eating as either a method of attaining that body type or as a result of body dissatisfaction.
This tendency towards ‘slimming down’ is a dangerous trend that sees 80% of women in the UK describe themselves as having low self-esteem which makes the UK the second lowest of 13 countries surveyed by Dove for self-esteem. Having just 20% of women feel confident with their bodies in the UK is a stark contrast to the 64% of women in South Africa. More worrying is that an increasing number of teenagers aged 10-15 are unhappy with their physical appearance – a percentage that rose to 34% in 2013-14 from 30% in 2009-10.
We have the ability to change these statistics. Is it time that we did?
According to the Assistant Clinical Professor of Harvard Medical School, Dr Nancy Etcoff, the worrying statistics in the UK are actually “unsurprising”. She says that we must empower women by “advocating for change in how females and their appearance are […] portrayed in the media.”
But, what would be the benefit of changing our modelling standards to a policy similar to that of France? Without doubt, this move would allow a diverse and more realistic range of bodies to be portrayed in the media. This would completely restructure the view we have of the ‘perfect’ body and would teach our children from a young age about the beauty in difference and perhaps work towards a less discriminate world. In fact, the study conducted by Dove found that over 70% of women surveyed “want the media to portray a more diverse range of physical appearance, age, race, shape and size in advertising and marketing.”
The demand for change is there and with other countries around it changing their attitude towards body image, it is likely that the UK will want to follow suit. Always keen to lead the front on certain social, global issues, we can only hope that this is one problem that the government puts higher up on its list of priorities.