Fashion industry takes action to address skinny model debate

Industry: Self-regulation is the answer, not legislation

The Danish fashion magazine Cover came under fire last month for featuring a photo of an extraordinarily thin model on its cover, bringing into focus the criticism that the fashion industry promotes unhealthy body ideals. But the fashion industry is taking steps to address the issue with the Danish Fashion Ethical Charter.

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Unlike in France, where it has been reported that the problem may be tackled with legislation whereby models must prove that their body mass index (BMI) is 18 or over, the Danish approach is a form of self-regulation.

The Danish Fashion Ethical Charter has been around since 2007 but it was recently rewritten, with the help of a number of agencies, including an eating disorder support group, to include specific provisions about the health of models.

Some of the requirements are that models receive a health check with screening for eating disorders on an annual basis, models under the age of 16 may not be used and healthy food must be available at photo shoots. It is also suggested that models be taught about diet, nutrition and mental health.

The document prescribes penalties for not fulfilling the requirements. Signing the charter is a prerequisite for participating in Copenhagen Fashion Week and those who do not live up to it will be kicked out of the event. There is also provision for ‘naming and shaming’ of offenders on a blacklist.

Greater impact than fines?
Since the new charter was released on March 3, hundreds of companies have become signatories. Eva Kruse, the CEO of the Danish Fashion Institute, is pleased with the level of support. “We think that the fact that the industry is taking such an active part in the charter will have a much greater impact – also in the long run – than legislation issued by the authorities and fines, which have been discussed, for instance, in France,” she said.

Anne Minor, the chair of LMS, the Danish association against eating disorders and self-harm, is positive about the initiative. “We’re incredibly happy to see that the fashion industry is ready to get its fingers burnt to change conditions for models and to take responsibility for the body image it produces,” she said.

“We believe that the charter will make a difference via, for example, compulsory health checks for models, which we think is the right solution compared to BMI, which cannot of course be used as a measure of physical and mental health.”