Fashion Models and the Law

It is commonly known that the fashion industry requires models to look a certain way. After all, they are “modelling” a certain look or a certain
product being sold by the specific fashion or beauty company.
A large element of qualifying for “fashion industry standards” is weight. Fashion and beauty models weight is one of the most hotly debated topics in the industry.
Designers and those in the fashion industry have several arguments for using skinny models. Remarks such as lithe figures might make a fashion designers clothes stand out; the camera puts weight on figures; a slim silhouette is something to which ordinary women – buyers and followers of fashion designs- aspire.
However, the world of fashion is under the microscope as a result of deaths of models whose BMI (Body Mass Index)  are under recommended figures and therefore considered as “malnourished” .The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 18.1 BMI.
All over the world there are several attempts at regulations, legislation and self-regulation. For example, in 2012 Israel passed legislation barring the use of underweight models in local advertisements and publications.
In Italy, Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana which organises the Fashion Weeks in Milan and Rome, agreed to a self regulation manifesto with the Italian Government. Those signing the Manifesto agreed not to use models younger than 16 years old and to require the models to provide medical certificates attesting that they are healthy.
The organisers of Madrids Pasarela Cibeles reached a voluntary agreement with the cities regional government to turn away models with a BMI below 18. Doctors attended the events to check models. According to the Association of fashion designers of Spain, 30% of the models who had previously appeared on the Madrid Fashion Week catwalks were ineligible under the new ruling.
As for the United States, the Council of Fashion Designs of America (CFDA) has undertaken a self – regulated health initiative, which establishes guidelines for a campaign of awareness and assistance to keep models healthy. Designers share the responsibility to protect women and very young girls, within the fashion business and proclaim that beauty is to stay healthy.
In 2014 the tabloids ran a story claiming that Victoria Secrets failed to ask Cara Delevingne to model in its latest show because she was “bloated” but the model quickly refuted the claims by posting a letter written by Victoria Secret’s executive producer Edward Razek.

Cara Delevingne at Victoria Secrets 2014.
Cara Delevingne at Victoria Secrets.

Another area that has received attention is retouching fashion images in advertisements – to sometimes unattainable and impossible proportions.
This has contributed to very real problems of depression, anorexia, bulimia and other serious health issues.
The Czech Republic Marie Claire magazine cover in June 2010 showed 45- year-old Sarah Jessica Parker’s photo shot with new born arms and no trace of veins or wrinkles.

Sarah Jessica Parker photoshopped.
Sarah Jessica Parker photoshopped.





Ms Knightley's fuller pair.
Ms Knightley’s fuller pair.


Jessica Alba is shown post pregnancy with slimmed waistline, enhanced breasts and defined collarbones.
Keira Knightley was shown with breast enhancements.
In 2009 59-year-old Twiggy was made spokesperson of Oil of Olay’s Regenerists Definity Eye illuminator showing no signs of under eye bags or crows feet.

Twiggy at 59.
Twiggy at 59.

Acknowledging the issue, some governments have attempted to crack down. Startling, statistics regarding female eating disorders, lured with the growing use of photo shopping in advertisements has led to groundbreaking legislation in England and France.

Australia recently released voluntary guidelines for fashion and publishing industry. In other countries private retailers have started “no retouching”
Some countries have warning labels on the image. In Brazil, the registered label would read “attention: images retouched to alter the physical appearance of the person portrayed”.
England has proposed labelling or altered images in advertisements aimed at children under the legal age of 16, but also proposed a rating system depending on the degree or level of retouching that is used.
In the US, images were assessed under the Central Hudson test which primarily looks at whether advertisements are deceptive and whether governments have a legitimate interest in regulating fashion advertisements.
Look out for my next blog, which is part two of this feature, where modelling and law intersect in the use of children as models.
“ …my mother taught me that there are more valuable ways to achieve beauty than just through your external features…” -Lupita Nyong’O.
“ Beauty is essentially meaningless and it is always transitory”.- Halle Berry.

6 thoughts on “Fashion Models and the Law

  1. I have noticed a sight more fashion models that are bigger …. hallelujah! But, due you think legislation is really working in this domain? 9or do you think it’s yet another ‘fashion fad’????

    1. Yes, one wonders whether it is a fashion fad, because the average model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman. Beauty should be seen as coming in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. Although some high fashion modelling agencies are taking more notice of the full figured woman, the few bookings for such women are blamed by the modelling agencies on to the designers who argue that their clothes look far better shot on a slimmer model.

  2. The average cloths size for the American woman is 14 who are often described as the full figured woman. I wonder if the fashion industry is more focused on fantasy versus reality. Can there ever be a fashion movement “back to reality.” Or is the industry only interested in fantasy?

    1. An interesting point. It is my belief that the fashion industry is like most industries, to ramp up profits and capitalism. Therefore, to invoke in the consumer a feeling of excitement, adrenaline, emotion and magic, by praying upon the “want it now” instinct. The fashion industry lends itself to strategically plan to invoke a romantic fantasy and addiction, so that the consumer cannot say ‘no’ and will feel compelled to buy into its ‘wonderment’. But as consumers buy into the dream let’s hope that the consumers best interest is not forgotten. Thanks Donna.

  3. This remains a contentious issue in fashion. According to the model’s impossible size standard, all women are virtually overweight. Given that the vast majority of the buying audience is size 14 and above, isn’t it time the model agencies and designers revisit their model selection criteria?

    1. Indeed Paul. There has been research in midwest USA that shows the participants exposure to plus size and thin models had no affect on the perceived likeability of the models outfit and subsequently desire to purchase the models outfit. A combination of body types in fashion advertisements may be the most effective marketing strategy of all.

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