By Margretta Sowah

Anorexia in America. Sounds like a Sundance documentary. The word anorexic is powerful. To purposefully not eat due to ‘an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight’ is no small – no pun intended – journey.

Early this year, Statesman Marc Levine (a representative of Marin County and parts of Sonoman County) introduced bill AB 2536. The bill’s purpose is to create health standards for professional models. The law would require all models to obtain a doctors certificate verifying certain health standards are met, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. Modeling agencies would have to be licensed and therefore the models are also under the legal umbrella – protecting them from possible legal issues regarding their contracts and their bodies.

“Society has these outrageous expectations for what women are supposed to look like, and for most women, it’s impossible to look that way,” Marc told reporters. “With my bill, we can protect the health and safety of fashion models, but we can have a societal impact to make sure that women and girls have a healthy body image… I’m not saying we can’t have skinny models at all […] we want to do is make sure models who are employed are healthy and are not put in positions that are unhealthy for their bodies.”

Headlines such as this are nothing new. Not in America anyway. The issue is not the fact that this is happening, believe it or not. Brands and companies that generate huge income and ROI are known for unrealistic demands and expectations – think of the oil/fuel/diamond/gold/stocks and bonds industry. The real issue is that society has yet to keep a firm hold of accountability for these industries. I’m not saying we should boycott agencies because a girl’s gotta eat (no pun intended). What we need is more pressure on companies and countries as a whole. We hear people bash Americans for being an obese country but we fail to dig deeper into the other side of the spectrum. It is easy to blame the Fashion System for this problem but they are not the main or sole perpetrator in this fight.

I have read articles that claim some models have been told to eat only one rice cake per day to avoid gaining weight. Or swallow orange juice soaked Kleenex tissues… not exactly fine dining. Some models have confessed to using laxatives and diuretics (water pills) to curb cravings. Is the story more important than the message? Is the fashion story (whatever particular brand/product/lifestyle) take precedence over the message (the ‘take out point’ of the campaign – which usually is to love yourself or value yourself or be yourself). Is it counter-intuitive or are Democrats like Marc Levine, fighting an uphill battle?

“We want to make sure we are able to protect people in the workplace and make sure, quite frankly, that the images that young people see are healthy images,” said Levine.

Just when you think humanity is taking a step forward, we are reminded of bureaucracy. Levine’s bill has received opposition by unnamed modeling agencies and the Association of Talent Agents. These groups believe that the bill ‘creates major disruption and legal confusion for state licensed talent agencies, doesn’t resolve the real issue, and is unworkable.’ I’m not sure about toy but I don’t see how health regulations are ‘unworkable’. Perhaps ‘unprofitable’ but definitely not unworkable.

An online survey showed 31 per cent of 85 professional fashion models (directed by the Model Alliance) have eating disorders and 64 per cent have had suggestions from agencies to lose weight. Say what now? Yes. You heard me right.

The modeling industry has come a long way from the 1960’s glorification of the uber thin woman. The media is no different; constantly aiding in this emotional battle of wits and width. Who suffers the most? Young girls and boys – but mostly young girls. Levine, who has a 10 year old son and 7 year old daughter, explained shocking statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. The statistics show 47 percent of American girls in 5th through 12th grade wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures. 42 percent of 1st to 3rd grade girls wanted to be thinner.

Is this the kind of society we want our loved ones to be brought up in? Let’s pass this bill and make positive changes in America. We want to make America great? We need to start with our children