AB 2539 (Levine) Requires Physician Certification that Professional Models are Healthy
Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) has introduced AB 2539 to require the adoption of modeling industry health standards that include periodic health check-ups, nutrition consultation, and appropriate medical testing as needed.
“The evidence of eating disorders in the modeling industry is alarming. AB 2539 will make sure that models are not enduring physical harm as a workplace prerequisite,” said Assemblymember Levine. “This is a societal problem as unhealthy models have become role models for young people. As California often leads the nation and the world, this bill will help assure that our children will see healthy images on magazines and fashion websites.”
“AB 2539 sends a powerful message that Californians are no longer willing to just sit on the sidelines as the health and safety of professional models – many of them still young girls – are jeopardized by the industry’s inhumane and dangerous standards of thinness,” said S. Bryn Austin, ScD, Professor at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital. “This bill not only marks a crucial, life-saving step forward to protect models but also will help to change the very image of fashion. Fashion media is saturated with images that send distorted and unhealthy messages about ideals of weight, shape, and beauty for women. AB 2539 will help change that and ultimately help us send a much healthier message about what our society values in girls and young women.” Dr. Austin is also Director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders at Harvard University.
Models have reported becoming sick and some have even died from complications due to anorexia. Models also sign exclusive contracts to their agencies, and are often required or encouraged to lose weight. ABC News reported in 2011 that New York female models are expected to be between 5’9” and 6’ tall and between 110 and 130 lbs. A 2012 report found that size 6 models are considered by the industry to be “plus size” models.
“As a former fashion model and an eating disorder survivor, I know that this legislation is critically needed and long over-due. Eating disorders run rampant in the fashion industry in great part because models do not have support, protection, and proper access to health care,” said Nikki DuBose, a former fashion model turned author, speaker and mental health advocate. “AB 2539 will help to change industry practices and ensure basic care and assistance for models in California. Hopefully this standard will catch on and spread nationwide and eventually worldwide.” Nikki DuBose is the Volunteer Director and Executive Board Member for the Southern California Chapter of Project HEAL. She is also the Volunteer Director and Executive Board Member for the Peaceful Hearts Foundation.
AB 2539 is part of a growing global movement to address models’ labor and related public health concerns. A new health-reform law was approved last year in France and calls for models who want to work in France to present a doctor’s note attesting to their overall health. Italy, Israel, and Spain have also passed similar legislation.
AB 2539 will provide for the following requirements in California law:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board and the State Department of Public Health must adopt health standards for models;
- Models are required to receive a physician’s certificate that the model meets the above health standards;
- Modeling agencies shall be licensed by the California Labor Commissioner;
- Models shall be the employees of the modeling agency; and
- Modeling agencies are required to keep records and may be fined if they hire models who do not have a current physician’s certificate.
“Eating disorders are an occupational hazard in the modeling industry,” said Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance. “How the industry treats models affects the images that are produced and disseminated, which, in turn, have a powerful, far-reaching effect on the greater public, particularly women and girls. AB 2539 will help improve the health and wellbeing of this mostly young, female workforce whose concerns are too often trivialized and dismissed.”
Recent studies indicate that as many as 40% of models may suffer from some kind of eating disorder. Many of these models are purging or consuming vast quantities of water to conceal their weight. They often develop unhealthy eating habits, such as:
- Eating too little.
- Repeatedly overeating in a very short period (Binge Eating Disorder).
- Trying desperately to get rid of the food consumed - this could include purging, overuse of laxatives or diuretics, exercising too much, or fasting (Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa).
“Eating disorders are widespread in the fashion industry--a high-pressure business that relies on the labor of young models,” said Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. “These are devastating illnesses that can lead to permanent organ damage, heart attack and death, but too often they are dismissed or overlooked. AB 2539 not only sets desperately-needed health standards for the modeling industry, it quite literally has the power to save lives.”
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports the following data on the effect of the media and model images on young people:
- 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
- 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
Assemblymember Marc Levine represents the 10th Assembly District which includes Marin and Sonoma Counties.