France recently became the fourth nation to ban ultrathin models from its fashion runways. Models exhibiting a body mass index (BMI) of 18 or lower would be prohibited from the industry for which France is famous.

Fashion designers or agencies which feature models under the minimum build could be fined up to 75,000 euros, or about $81,200, as well as spend as long as six months in jail. A BMI of 18 equates to a model with a height of 5 feet and 5 inches weighing 108 pounds.

French models will be required to obtain a health certificate affirming a healthy BMI.

"The activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor," the new measure reads.

Anorexia nervousa is a common condition in which victims are under the belief they are fat, even if they are far too thin to be healthy.

Isabelle Caro, a French model, passed away from anorexia in 2007, at the age of 28. Before her passing, Caro posed for a campaign designed to warn the public about the dangers of the disorder.

Earlier measures in Spain, Italy, and Israel prohibit ultrathin models from displaying clothes to the public. Models who are far below normal weights for their heights are banned in Israel, while Spain and Italy depend on voluntary reporting to encourage a healthy body image.

The new law joins companion legislation that bans websites promoting anorexia in what is known as "thinspiration." Photographers and companies which publish re-touched photographs must declare on the image that the picture has been altered.

Not everyone in France agrees with the new measures, saying health problems including anorexia are far more complex than can be determined solely by BMI.

"When you look at the criteria behind anorexia, you can't look only at the body mass index when other criteria are also involved: psychological, a history of hair loss, dental problems. It's important that the models are healthy, but it's a little simplistic to think there won't be any more anorexics if we get rid of very thin models," said Isabelle Saint-Felix, head of the National Union of Modelling Agencies in France.

French health officials estimate that somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 people, most of them young, suffer from anorexia.

"Sometimes a person with anorexia can accept that he/she is very thin but cannot accept how dangerous the situation really is. It is difficult for him/her to understand that a very low weight and dangerous dieting  habits can actually be fatal. The death rate for anorexia is higher than for any other psychiatric illness," the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports.

Regulations would apply solely to commercial images, and would not affect works of art.

Photo: Hawken King | Flickr

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