BMI Is Not an Accurate Way to Determine If Models Are Too Skinny, Says Plus-Size Model Iskra Lawrence

Lawrence says the real reason models feel the need to excessively lose weight is because sample sizes are too small

Photo: Courtesy Iskra Lawrence

For the first time this week, the models walking the runway in Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week must comply with the new French law that requires them to show medical documents proving that they have a body mass index (BMI) of over 18.

But BMIs are not an accurate way to determine if someone is healthy, plus-size or “curve” model Iskra Lawrence declared in a video posted to her site, Runway Riot on Tuesday.

“I had to get a BMI test for a client once, and I got 25, and I was actually smaller than I am now,” Lawrence tells PEOPLE. “But according to BMI standards, if you got over 25 you’re actually qualified as overweight.”

Body mass index is a convention for categorizing weight in adults based on weight and height. Even though it is widely used, the index is based on an idealized, European, male sample. BMI also does not take factors like gender or ancestry into account. The limitations of BMI stop it from being a reliable way to determine overall health.

“I was like, ‘I know I am very healthy, I workout,’ and then I kind of did my research and I found out that if you have muscle, muscle weighs more than fat," Lawrence says. "So actually if you were to do the BMI of a body builder, they would be morbidly obese. So it was really fascinating for me to learn firsthand that BMI wasn’t the best indicator of health.”

Lawrence, 25, thinks that while this could be a temporary solution, the bigger problem is the sample sizes that models are force to wear.

“Sample sizes are too small,” she says. “If we could just get a variety of sample sizes, then models will feel comfortable being their own healthy weight rather than that one size for everyone to squeeze into.”

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Plus, she says, this law actually hurts those that have a low BMI without dieting.

“Some models are naturally slim, and it’s a shame for them to miss out because of this law.”

However, she’s glad that France is taking steps to improve conditions for models.

“We really need to do something, and maybe this is the first step, maybe it will work,” Lawrence says. “It’s just difficult to decide who is healthy and who is not and what they’re putting into their bodies.”

“But at least France is showing that they realize there’s a problem, they’re doing something. It does seem like the most clear and simple way to legislate it right now.”

At the same time, while young girls may have looked up to runway models for inspiration in the past, Lawrence believes they have less of an impact, and these girls are more interested mirroring their lives based on social media these days.

“I think that runway models have less of an effect on women now. What is now more of an issue is social media. You get more varied bodyshapes, but they’re seeing it every day and it’s not really real, people are still using Photoshop.”

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