Government bans on underweight models won’t be sufficient to tackle poor body image, according to a Body Image Law expert from the UWA Law School.
Dr Marilyn Bromberg says that although local governments in Spain and Italy and federal governments in Israel and France have banned models with low Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) from taking to the catwalk, these laws may not be effective.
“Developing effectual Body Image Law is essential if we are to address poor body image,” Dr Bromberg said.
“However, banning models with a BMI of less than 18 or 18.5, and even requiring photoshopped images in which the model was photoshopped to appear thinner to be labelled as such, is problematic.
“Firstly, there is a lack of adequate sanctions. For example, relying on civil law—as in Israel—means that a person would need to start a lawsuit against a media outlet or similar for either using a model who has a BMI under the one legislated by law or photoshopping the image of a model to make the model appear thinner without including a warning.
“It would be difficult for a person to commence such a lawsuit. It would also be difficult to prove that seeing the model or image caused someone to develop poor body image which led to an eating disorder, because there are many different variables that, combined, can cause someone to develop an eating disorder.
“Furthermore, it would be challenging for modelling companies to constantly check the BMIs of all of their models. Some models could engage in yo-yo dieting to increase their BMI whenever it will be measured and after being measured, diet extensively to return to a lower BMI.
“Secondly, using BMI as the sole indicator of whether a model can work or not is contentious. BMI doesn’t take into account age, gender, bone density, body frame, race or nationality. Other measures that might be useful to include with the BMI include body fat percentage, waist to hip and waist to height ratios, waist measurements, CT scans and MRIs.
“In addition, current Body Image Law fails to address issues such as fashion designers only supplying very small sample sizes, or the use of the term ‘plus size’ to refer to anything larger than an Australian size 12. This is particularly problematic when the average Australian woman is a size 16.”
Dr Bromberg said more research is necessary to determine the extent that the Australian government’s approach of a Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image is effective, although there are some findings to indicate that it has not been.
She also believes that if evidence indicates that the laws in this area overseas are successful, then the Australian government should consider implementing similar laws here. She states that teaching media literacy is an important part of improving the public’s body image.
“Poor body image contributes to physical and mental health problems, lowers self-confidence and increases healthcare costs. In Australia alone, nearly 1 million people suffer from an eating disorder each year,” Dr Bromberg said.
“My hope is that the debate and discussion stemming from government actions in this area will start the cultural change necessary to create effective Body Image Law worldwide, educate young people, and improve body image among the general public.”
‘All About That Bass’ and Photoshopping a Model’s Waist: Introducing Body Image Law’, by Marilyn Bromberg and Cindy Halliwell, was published in The University of Notre Dame Australia Law Review in March 2017.
Marilyn Bromberg (Law School) (+61 8) 6488 2947
Verity Chia (Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Education) (+61 8) 6488 1346