The debate over how much models should weigh rages on, but this week at least one country codified its position: Israel now has a law setting minimum model body mass index for advertisements and requiring that fashion magazines disclose Photoshopping that cuts pounds off of models in editorial spreads. Whether body mass index is actually a useful measurement of physical health remains an open question, and whether Israel’s law will promote healthy body image is another—disclaimers don’t speak as loudly as the pictures themselves. But what about the fashion spreads themselves: Will these regulations produce more interesting and varied editorials in fashion magazines?
It’s not going to make fashion more interesting and creative if magazines respond by working only and consistently with models whose weight puts them just over the legal threshold, rather than with models of varying body types. And even if editors want to include models of different body types, how can they if fashion labels persist in only providing clothes in one or two very small sizes—something Alexandra Shulman, the British Vogue editor, has pointed out as an issue in the past? (This is, of course, a chicken-or-egg question: Do magazines favor certain body types to fit the clothes, or do the designers size their clothes to fit the image that magazines, which promote the clothes, want?)
Ultimately the goal for fashion magazines, and the wider fashion industry, shouldn’t be so low as to simply insure that models don’t look ill. It should be to show all of their readers, at all sizes, how they can express themselves through fashion. Because it’s not only women who fit into sizes zero through four who purchase and wear clothes, or who care about design or have an eye (and a wallet) for style. It’s a mystery why, for so long, so many labels and magazines have ignored so many potential customers.