Copyright: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Don’t Ban Us From Work; Label Our Images Instead!

Copyright photo: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

The fashion industry requires from us models that we have a low BMI score (Body Mass Index), but at the same time, with good intentions, banishes us from the catwalk  with the same score; the so-called ‘skinny model ban ‘. It’s an attempt to get a grip on eating disorders among models as well as the public.

The use of a BMI threshold is, if you would ask me, ineffective and towards models even unfair. This, however, while there are more effective and fairer ways to get a grip on eating disorders among models. Moreover, scientific research suggests that there is a more effective and fairer method to influence the development of eating disorders among the public.

Purpose of the BMI threshold

The BMI threshold is meant to lower the number of eating disorders among models and to create a ‘healthier’ media image to reduce the negative effects of the appearance of ‘thin’ models in the media on women. A well-intentioned initiative: it is true that girls and women who work in an industry where weight and appearance play an important role are at increased risk of developing an eating disorder.

In addition, a higher percentage of models than non-models have ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Moreover, images of ‘thin’ models in the media have negative effects on women and adolescent girls: these images are associated with extreme dieting behavior and the development of eating disorder symptoms, which may develop into an eating disorder. It is clear that something must be done. This is fortunately realized by the fashion industry. But does it work out well?

BMI threshold through the years

The Madrid Fashion Week organization took the lead in taking responsibility by introducing the BMI threshold. This happened in 2006, a month after the death of the 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, who died from the effects of anorexia nervosa. Models with a BMI score of less than 18 were screwed: the Madrid catwalk was off limits to them. Italy followed the Madrid policy and banned the ‘size zero’ from its catwalks during Fashion Week that year. Six years later, Israel took legislation that prohibits models with a BMI score below 18.5 to carry out their work. Finally, as an ultra-lightweight, you’d better forget about ever appearing in Vogue magazine.

Shortcomings of BMI threshold and a ban on  “thin” models

Although I am convinced of the good intentions of the BMI threshold, in my view, it has a number of shortcomings. For example, the BMI score only states a persons number of kilograms per square meter and is an eating disorder a mental disorder, of which a low BMI score is only a possible consequence. Having a low BMI score does not automatically mean someone suffers from an eating disorder. Furthermore, many models are in their puberty, a period in which being underweight is not unusual or automatically unhealthy and most models are naturally thin.

In fact: I know models that would gladly gain weight, but simply don’t succeed. A model with a BMI score below 19 is therefore not necessarily unhealthy; a model with a BMI score of 16 might be in greater health than a model with a BMI score of 19 and vice versa. BMI score can therefore not be used by itself to decide whether a model suffers from an eating disorder. Therefore, a BMI threshold that determines whether a model may or may not carry out her work seems unfair towards models and ineffective when it comes to the lowering the number of models that suffer from an eating disorder. 

Furthermore, the construction of the body determines a person’s BMI score, making it possible that two models with a similar BMI score may look completely different from each other. Handling a BMI threshold to create a ‘healthier’ media image therefore also seems ineffective. I therefore plead to search for an effective, “model friendly” solution, to bring down the number of models that suffer from an eating disorders and to reduce the negative effects of images of ‘thin’ models in the media on the public.

A “model-friendly” solution

Scientific studies indicate the effectiveness of labels on these images to reduce these negative effects. Therefore, my suggestion is to follow the example of Israel’s current legislation, in which it forces the media to add an information label to images when the model is digitally altered to make the model look skinnier.

Furthermore, use observations to indicate eating disorders among models, don’t assess whether a model suffers from an eating disorder solely by criticizing physical appearance and using a quantitative measurement. This is a much fairer solution towards models, an effective method to bring down the number of eating disorders among models and an effective way to influence the development of eating disorders among than (solely) making use of a BMI threshold.

If you want to find out more about the effectiveness of labels on images of ‘thin’ models, you can find further information and research about this topic here (written in Dutch).

About Angela

Hey! I'm Angela; a 30-something mommy and a now REAL #fitchick, digi nerd, photo & film shooter hobbyist, MSc specialized in Health Education, marketingspecialist and an international fashion model for 20 years. I've worked for eg. Viktor & Rolf, Nivea, Escada, Elle, Vogue and Glamour. I write about everything that I find worth sharing. Go ahead an take a look around. Don't hesitate to share your thought sor opinions. Enjoy!


  1. Although it is true that BMI is not the best measure you have to be careful with your statement that people with a BMI of 16 can be healthier than a person with a BMI of 19. There are plenty of people with a BMI of 16 who are not healthy (and also with a BMI of 19). If they read this, they may think that they are not too skinny and give this a reason that they ARE healthy (while they are not). Same for fat persons, they use all kind of crap arguments as an ‘excuse’ that they are too fat.
    BMI indeed does consider your body composition however muscles have a higher weight compared to fat. Most likely you will have a higher BMI instead of a lower BMI (for example weight lifters, but this is an extreme). Besides you need an amount of fat to be ‘healthy’ (for a lot of reasons like immune system, hormones,..) so it would be best to do a fat measure instead of BMI (for example skin fold measurement or DEXA scans). You can better promote a new measurement than claiming that BMI is not a good measure because fighting for an alternative is always better than only saying that a certain method is not valid.
    Besdes this, I like your website!

    • Angela

      Hi Anne!

      Thank you for your comment, glad you like my website! In the article I indeed said that people with a BMI of 16 can be healthier than people with a BMI of 19. This doesn’t mean that (my opinion is that) the opposite is untrue and as such, I don’t expect people will take this as proof that they are healthy when they are not. I also think people will understand that they are reading an article that reflects my opinion about the BMI threshold instead of a scientific paper.

      You state that there are plenty of people with a BMI of 16 that are not healthy and that it is better to do a skin fold measure. I totally agree with both, so we’re on the same line.

      Still, I do not agree with a skin fold measurement that excludes models from the runway. I prefer a good mix of all kinds of BMI’s/body types/ages/races/genders/etc. on the catwalk.

      I hope that makes sense 🙂


      What you’re saying is that

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