France Bans Underweight Fashion Models, Requires Disclosure of Retouching

France Bans Underweight Fashion Models, Requires Disclosure of Retouching

In a move that places it in line with many other European countries, France has instituted a law that bans underweight fashion models. Those that violate the new law face strict penalties for doing so. 

As of January 1, 2017 (or sooner), any model applying for work in France must submit medical certificates ensuring that they are in proper health and have a body mass index (BMI) that is deemed appropriate (in general, a BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight). Any agency or fashion house that violates the new law is subject to a fine of 75,000 euros and six months imprisonment. 

In addition to the law regarding models, all commercial photographs featuring models whose bodies have been altered to be smaller or larger must have a caption that states "retouched photograph." Violations of this law will be subject to a fine of 37,500 euros. 

While 90 percent of the models who work in French fashion shows are foreign-based and thus, not subject to these new regulations, the law is a step in the right direction. Furthermore, as Israel, Italy, and Spain have all adopted similar laws, I hope that the whole of Europe (and the rest of the world) makes this standard practice. I find the new retouching law quite important as well, as it could substantially impact the social course of photography, advertising, and retail in France. 

Lead image by Flickr user Liton Ali, used under Creative Commons.

[via Women's Wear Daily and Fortune]

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Mitchell Sargent's picture

This is interesting. While I'm not condoning unhealthy lifestyle practices, I also am not a fan of the "average" model movement with "real" people (aka the people that eat pizza lol). If you go to a pro basketball game, you're going to see people that have committed and perfected their craft, not average people that can't dunk. The same should go for models that work hard to keep their bodies in shape (again, not promoting anything unhealthy). I just think there's something beautiful about a toned individual, and respect the steps they take to get there.

I do like the idea of disclosing retouching. I've always considered there to be a difference between a photograph and am image. To me, a photograph has always been the documentation of a moment in time with no post production (or minimal). An image is the product of manipulating a photograph in post, which has varying degrees.

David Hovie's picture

I think, those steps were primarily taken for the 'normal' people. There are a lot ot girls and young women who starve themselfs to death, just to look like those models in these fashion shows.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Darwin Awards winners? Why governments are so eager protecting stupid people?

Ralph Hightower's picture

Agree. Why don't governments get rid of seat belt laws and helmet requirements for motorcyclists?

David Hedges's picture

Agreed. I even am generally a fan of regulations that make it easier for people to assess the benefits/drawbacks of various options (e.g. standardized calorie and ingredient labeling in restaurants, energy use ratings on appliances, safety ratings on cars), but this seems like they're putting the cart before the horse. It's my understanding that while BMI is commonly a fair indicator of a healthy body composition/weight, it's really just a generalization and proxy for other factors that are *actually* important for evaluating an individual's health. The most common example I've heard is that many athletes have a BMI that would indicate they're unhealthily overweight or even obese, despite being in great physical condition; similarly, I've anecdotally heard stories from small-framed individuals--whose BMI would indicate they're underweight--report their doctors give them perfect clean bills of health even when directly asked about BMI.

I don't deny that it's sad, or unfair, or whatever you want to call it, that some people win the genetic lottery and are in perfect health, fit conventional standards of beauty, and eat whatever they want, while others starve themselves to severe medical and psychological detriment trying to achieve something unrealistic, if not impossible, for themselves. However, regulating something like who can work in a field on the basis of [largely] how they happen to have been born, seems to punish some people who have done nothing wrong, without clear evidence (that I'm aware of, anyway) of the greater good it seeks to achieve. I assume they're ostensibly trying to protect kids from believing it's acceptable/right/appropriate for them to be like what they see on TV/ads/etc, but this seems dangerously close to the historical positions of saying that women, or members of a certain race, couldn't hold certain positions (work, political, religious, etc).

I could probably support the requirement for a certificate that they're in proper medical health (with regard to weight-related conditions or potential side-effects), but requiring they ALSO meet this arbitrary BMI requirement seems ridiculous. Even if doctors say the individual is healthy, it wouldn't matter, because the government knows better than the doctors who actually see the patients and went to medical school, and an individual with BMI < 18.5 cannot be healthy?

So, to close with a bit of demonstrative hyperbole, if they're going to ban people with < 18.5 BMI from working in this position of high public profile, shouldn't they also ban people with BMI > 25 (and < 18.5) from modeling, athletics, acting, and public office? Otherwise kids may get the impression that it's fine to be overweight!

Prefers Film's picture

I would suggest you look up the index before condemning this. A 5'10" model would have to weigh at least 132 pounds. That's not much. As far as being lean, if you have two models of the same height, with the same measurements, but one is fat, and the other fit, who will have the higher BMI?

Marco Wagner's picture

All models in violation will be sent to McDonalds and forced to eat double cheese burgers until they are in compliance.

Eric Knorpp's picture

Or like a UFC fight where they have the weigh ins but the opposite will occur, they can stuff themselves the day before a shoot, check in , and then fast and throw up all night before the shoot.

Christian Madsen's picture

Hrmmmm... Wouldn't it be easier to assume that all images are retouched unless specifically stated otherwise!

Yves-Alexandre d&#039;Ouradou's picture

Mmmmh... except that working in China, I work everyday with super thin models who would be consider completely underweight in Europe and US but who are eating without any restriction. They are super thin just because that's the way they are. Usually when we have shooting, they take Mc Donalds breakfast, at noon we all take a KFC and we finish dinner with chinese hot pot. That would mean that those models, who are actually very good, can't work anymore in France because of the now being fat is consider more healthy than being thin, great mentality. And please don't reply to me being fat and being normal are different things and the girls who are too thin are bad example. The bad example is not the thin girls, it's the bad behaviour, the excess of drugs in the fashion industry etc... All the chinese models im talking about here are very healthy, are doing sport, never do drugs and they got kicked out of the business, it's stupid. But well, Im working in fashion for many years already, I should be protected against hypocrites already. Im simply feeling sorry for my friends who worked hard to get to work in europe and see their career going international, and now it's all f****d up because of stupid law. As usual in France, people make law without knowing anything

Prefers Film's picture

Did you read the whole article?

"While 90 percent of the models who work in French fashion shows are foreign-based and thus, not subject to these new regulations"...

Yves-Alexandre d&#039;Ouradou's picture

Chinese models needs to sign in foreign agency to work there. It's very complicated for those models to get out of their country for work. That's the reason why a lot of chinese model have an american mother agency even tho they started in China. And yes, I'm only talking about high fashion, and it only touch a bunch of models who are doing top brand shows and magazines. But I suppose that this law only target those models, cause they are the one that appears in Ads and that people see on the TV etc... so it's a very targeted law, that touch me personally because this is what I do in a daily basis. And maybe I take it personally cause my gf is directly touch by this, she's 178 for 47kg. It sounds scary but she workout, she does karate, she love meat and spicy things, pizza etc... she eat chips/cake etc all the time, I have no idea where it goes but that's just how it is. Last Tuesday she had a casting for an Italian agency to go to Milan, she doesn't have the "result" of the casting yet, the agents will go back to Italy and chose later, but she heard that they say she's underweight. Maybe she should get feed like we feed ducks for foie gras... But she's not they only one. If you look at my portfolio, there's some Chinese twins, they were doing Milan fashion week for already four seasons, they are pretty famous in China and they are 182 for 49Kg, which is even more thin. They are good models, and they are not sick or anything It's 4 years I often work with them, I know them very well. Next year they are not going to Milan, is the reason is underweight? I don't know, casting people don't give explanations, but the fact is that they are stuck and it narrow their opportunities in the future.

Ricky Perrone's picture

I feel like this is probably a joke, right? I mean seriously telling people what their body mass index needs to be in order to get a job? Seems like France might have things that should take priority over enacting such asinine laws.

Ricky Perrone's picture

I'm ok with free will. The ability to choose what I do with my life and the same for everyone else. Self accountability, its an interesting concept all together going by the wayside in your world.


Eric Knorpp's picture

Wouldn't it make sense if they would have ban immigrants and possible terrorist in the recent invasion before worrying about skinny models. Plus there are a ton of models that are skinny due to genetics and has nothing to do with not eating well. In the 30 years I have been shooting models, I have only once worked with one that might have had a weight issue and was "too" skinny. All the others are thin bc they eat right and are genetically skinny like my self. This topic is stupid!
Retouching is another subject.Where I live there are already 2 major magazines that do not except any retouching at all. Just color adjustments. I have worked with them several times and NO retouching was done. I kind of like that idea bc light becomes the main factor as well as makeup etc. Kind of eliminates all the rookie "I will fix it in post" photographers from the scene. I come from a film background and we had polaroids only to check the light and 1 roll per outfit to get the shot. I was shooting 6x7 pentax which meant 10-15 shots to get it! And then had to wait and hope the lab got their end right. Made it much more exciting than todays work flow of shooting 100's of images and fixing it in photoshop. With film even 1/3 of stop on chrome would make a break a shot..

Emmanuel Vivier's picture

Why not asking for the retoucher credit near the disclosure mention ;)

T Dillon's picture

There is a dichotomy here for me. I have had several friends suffer from eating disorders. Most acknowledge it. Those who do, have been candid about the pressures felt and the sources... friends, magazines, and celebrities seems to be the common theme. If laws like this can curb unhealthy and even dangerous behaviors, I support it. I suppose that for photographers, the challenge becomes not just shooting with less slender models, but to want to shoot models with more traditional physiques (think of images and sculptures from ancient Greece through the Renaissance and even until the 1970's).

But it does make things more challenging. We may be on the verge of a new creative awakening.

Anonymous's picture

BMI is an absolute joke. If you look at a BMI chart there is only 1 point difference to being healthy and obese. BMI exaggerates thinness in short people and fatness in tall people. BMI = weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Height2/Weight. Squared???? Nothing about humans is squared. That 'squared' was used just to make the equation look like it works. Wrestler Steve Austin, at the height of his career weighed 114kg (252lbs). He was 6ft 2ins tall. His BMI at 32.4 would class him as obese, he was a wall of muscle.

The BMI height2/weight term divides the weight by too much in short people and too little in tall individuals. This results in tall people believing they are fatter than they really are. Models are tall and will be told their BMI, they will think they are fat and try to get thin. Using BMI will only add to the problem of overly thin models.

alberto cabrera's picture

Requiring to label a image "retouched photo"... that's special. All photos for commercial use is retouched. I wonder if artist and illustrators such as comic artists have to do the same. Person is not drawn in realistic proportions. That why art is art, fashion is fashion and life style is life style. Each has their own style of photography.

What scares me that this can be taken over board. It starts with fashion, then it continues into other categories.

alberto cabrera's picture

I get what you are saying, but what does that have to do with my comment or the article about labeling disclaimers on photos?

Chris Adval's picture

I agree with this change and law a lot, but something not mentioned here but I wanted to point out, at least Peta Pixel mentioned it but who knows if they misquoted or throwing in misinformation - "What’s more, advertising photos that have been digitally manipulated must now include disclosures stating that editing was done. If the words “retouched photograph” or “photograph edited” aren’t found with digital editing that makes models smaller or larger, then the creator faces a fine of €37,500 (~$41,000) or 30% of the expenses that went into creating the ad."

The key issue here of what is mentioned by Peta Pixel is "then the creator faces a fine"... not sure about anyone but in commercial photography you give said photo to a client either they buy the rights or license the rights and you give them whatever terms restrictions, if they do not follow this, and you image is used without following said laws, YOU can be into legal trouble because a client screwed up unintentionally or intentionally. Even if you sold the rights, you are the said creator for life to that image. If this language is true, then its a much more negative tone being set to anyone providing commercial/fashion images in France, either trying to stop retouching entirely or who knows the language was not appropriately used and meant to say copyright holder or advertiser (person who placed the ad. design).

Alex Cooke's picture

That's a very good point, Chris. Let's hope the law is nuanced enough to account for that.

Ville Kotimäki's picture

"As of January 1, 2017 (or sooner), any model applying for work in France must submit medical certificates ensuring that they are in proper health and have a body mass index (BMI) that is deemed appropriate (in general, a BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight)."

I find this thing a bit hard to regulate. What is the definition of model? What are the jobs that you are not allowed to take if your BMI is too low? How is the commercial work defined? I'm sure the intention is good but to me it seems like there are going to be a lot of discriminating problems ahead.

It's probably a good thing to mention if the photograph is retouched. This means that every photograph will have this text, but there are many people who actually don't understand this if the text is not there.