LONDON Fashion Week has begun, one of the four largest fashion weeks in the whole world. Each yet more questions are raised about the use of skinny models and the encouragement of eating disorders, and this year is no different.

Making headlines this year is the 18-year-old American Molly Bair, whose look has been described as like an ‘alien’ or ‘praying mantis’. Her skinny 6-foot frame has meant photos of her have begun to appear on ‘thinspiration’ websites.

These blogs encourage weight loss and contribute to creating a common view of beauty as thinness, particularly among young people who may be at risk of eating disorders.

Last year, a study suggested one in five 10- to 13-year-old girls in Britain had significant worries about the way their bodies looked. This contributed to British children being ranked as amongst the unhappiest in the world.

In April, France banned modelling agencies from employing models with body mass indexes under 18, as well as prohibiting these “thinspiration” websites, and making magazines clearly state if photos had been altered to make the subject look thinner.

For a 5’10” model, this would mean they could not weigh less than 8 stone 13 lbs. Employing a model with such a low BMI could result in six months’ jail time and a 75,000 Euro fine.

This followed on from bans in Italy, Spain, and Israel. After deaths in 2006 of both a Uruguayan and a Brazilian model, these countries moved to ban unhealthily underweight models. A Brazilian fashion event also banned under-16 models the same year.

BMI is based on a person’s height and weight. Below 18.5 is seen as ‘underweight’. A BMI of below 17.5 is a common factor in receiving a diagnosis of anorexia.

Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image. She would like to see the Government look at the possibility of regulating the modelling industry to protect children from being forced to make dangerous decisions.

“I know of one young girl who had a promising career, however was told to diet as soon as she hit puberty,” she said.

“There is certainly a correlation between the high prevalence of people with eating disorders in the UK— currently estimated to be around 725,000—and the unrealistic portrayal of beauty by the fashion industry.”

Priory Healthcare consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrienne Key, who specialises in treating eating disorders, said: “Underweight models predominate on the catwalk and media in general.

“Research indicates that the viewing of such images, particularly in the adolescent population, reduces self-esteem and promotes extreme dieting, leading to an increase in eating disorder symptoms. Stopping underweight models would stop this.”

In Britain the fashion industry only follows a voluntary code of conduct on BMI and minimum age.

Jessica Makey, a Fashion Journalism student at Southampton Solent, said: “London Fashion Week is a chance for designers all over the world to showcase their talent and connect with their audiences.

“Unfortunately, in the world that we live in the appearance of the model who wears the clothes is becoming just as important [as the clothing] and not in a good way.”

The use of the 150-year old body mass measurement, however, is not without criticism. Since BMI relies on height and weight alone, it does not distinguish between muscle mass and fat.

It is often cited that many professional rugby players in their prime have a BMI that would class them as obese.

In a 2013 letter to The Economist, Professor of Numerical Analysis Nick Trefethen called the measure “bizarre. We live in a three-dimensional world, yet the BMI is defined as weight divided by height squared.

“As a consequence of this ill-founded definition, millions of short people think they are thinner than they are, and millions of tall people think they are fatter.”

Nokes acknowledges that BMI is imperfect, but “it is a good tool to identify those models who are severely underweight.

“This is important because identifying and providing support to underweight models will ensure the public at large begin will, in time, begin to see models of a healthy weight.”

Health professionals in France also reacted with scepticism to the change in the law, worrying that it will stigmatise those with anorexia and make the disease harder to diagnose.