When the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) released its health guidelines earlier this year, the body addressed the problems of anorexia and unhealthy body image head on. But the guidelines, including educating industry members on the signs of eating disorders and banning too-young models (i.e. those with underdeveloped bodies) from the runway, were mere suggestions.
A new study, presented by the Guardian, presents a tougher alternative: get the government involved. In "Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women," London School of Economics economist Joan Costa-Font and Professor Mireia Jofre-Bonet argue that government intervention in the use of overly skinny models is justified to curb the effects these models have on women's self-image.
"Self-image is correlated with body weight," the study asserts, and self-image is heavily influenced by the bodies we see around us. The conclusion of the study, then, is that "social pressure through peer-shape is determinant in explaining anorexia nervosa and distorted self-perception of one's own body" -- i.e. the size of the bodies around young women, in both real life and media images, influences the spread of eating disorders among them.
The study, the first of its kind, provides concrete data to support an already widely accepted reality. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 70 percent of girls in grades five through 12 said magazine images influence their ideals of a perfect body. As Dr. Allegra Broft, a psychiatrist in the Eating Disorders Program at Columbia Psychiatry, previously told The Huffington Post, "In general, when I'm working with patients, this concept of a 'thin ideal' does come up."
So what to do? "Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women" concludes with this statement:
In the light of this study, government intervention to adjust individual biases in self-image would be justified to curb or at least prevent the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders. The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance or the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health.
The study does not expand further, so we're only left to conjecture what "government intervention" might mean. Fashionista notes that the simple banning of thin models wouldn't necessarily get to the bottom of the issue: "As we know, not every underweight model is anorexic." But it's not unreasonable to imagine that the government, which already enforces a variety of labor laws, could enforce rules about models working the runways and magazine shoots.
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