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Experts call for OSHA to regulate hiring of ‘Paris thin’ models

Runway model2

Photo: samaro/iStockphoto

Boston – Health experts are calling for OSHA to regulate the fashion industry to prevent the hiring of models who are “dangerously underweight.”

Forbidding “Paris thin” models from working in fashion shows and photo shoots would help prevent serious health issues and even death, authors from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote in an editorial published Dec. 21 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Pressure from the fashion industry leaves models vulnerable to eating disorders, the editorial states, noting that the average runway model’s body mass index is usually below the World Health Organization’s baseline of 16 for medically hazardous thinness in adults. The authors claim that OSHA has the authority to require modeling agents to ban models whose weight places them below a certain BMI, such as 18 for adults. For example, the average 5-foot, 9-inch model would have to weigh at least 122 pounds.

The authors acknowledge that such a ban faces obstacles – including the argument that models are independent contractors not protected by OSHA.

In addition, critics could claim BMI is an “arbitrary metric” that would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The authors argue that “BMI is a necessary indicator of being dangerously underweight” and would not violate ADA if intended to protect worker health.

In 2015, France banned the hiring of models with a BMI under 18.

“Paired with similar restrictions in France, OSHA regulations in the United States would shake the fashion industry, even if enforcement dollars were few and far between. Designers would be hard pressed to maintain a presence in the fashion industry without participating in the New York City and Paris Fashion Weeks. ‘Paris thin’ need not be deadly thin,” wrote authors Katherine L. Record of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission and S. Bryn Austin of Boston Children’s Hospital. Both Record and Austin are also with the Harvard School of Public Health.

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