California legislators are weighing a new law that would create health standards and workplace protections for professional models. State Assemblyman Marc Levine introduced the bill, known as the “Promoting Healthy Images” legislation, after reading an opinion piece in the American Journal of Public Health authored by S. Bryn Austin, director of the Harvard Chan School’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) and professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
In that piece Austin, and Katherine Record, also with STRIPED and director of Behavioral Health Integration & Accountable Care at the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, called for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set regulations that would curtail pressures to maintain extreme thinness and reduce the risk of eating disorders. Austin and Record say models face dangerous pressure to keep their weight so low that it jeopardizes their health, writing that “models have died of starvation-related complications, sometimes just after stepping off the runway.” France has already passed a law that would impose steep fines and potentially jail time on agencies that pressure models to be excessively thin as a condition of employment.
If passed, the legislation in California would seek to protect models by requiring that all modeling agencies be licensed by the state Labor Commission and by requiring that the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopt standards for models that address issues like workplace safety, eating disorders, and sexual exploitation. The bill also clarifies that models must be treated as employees, not independent contractors, so they can benefit from all the workplace protections already on the books for employees in California.
Austin says legislation like this will also go a long way towards helping young girls and women who are bombarded with images of underweight models. “We know the fashion industry promulgates ideals about female standards of beauty that are unachievable for most women, and we know these images that saturate our mass media are dangerous,” Austin told the San Jose Mercury News in an April 6 article.
In introducing the legislation, Levine cited data from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders showing that 47 percent of American girls in fifth through 12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures, and 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner.
Photo: The office of Assemblymember Marc Levine