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December 16, 2007

Why Tennis' Sharapova is Banned from Madrid's Catwalks

One of the best women's' tennis matches in years was played three weeks ago in Madrid this November. World number one Justin Henin came from behind to survive a three-hour slugfest with Maria Sharapova to win the year-ending WTA Master's tournament.

SharapovaServe It was a tremendous display of athleticism with Henin's hand-eye coordination and tactics outlasting Sharpova's flat, penetrating forehands and 110 MPH first serves. That they played at that level with so few unforced errors for nearly three and a half hours was amazing.

But if Sharapova wanted to console herself by returning to Spain to practice her second career, modeling, at the annual Fashion Week in Madrid, she'd be in for a surprise.

It is illegal for Maria Sharapova to model clothes in Madrid.

Under laws in Madrid, and similar ones proposed in New York and London, it is against the law for any woman as thin as Sharapova to model clothes professionally.

These laws prohibit anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of under 18.5 from modeling. At 6 foot 2 inches tall and 130 pounds, Sharapova has a BMI of 16.7, far below the legal minimum. Therefore, according to the laws' proponents, someone like Sharapova "sets an example of poor health," is "a poor role model for young girls," and "is in poor health." (Continued below)


Caption: Sharapova may have muscles bulging as she strikes this backhand, but according to the law, she doesn't have enough fat; it's illegal for Sharapova to model in Spain, and under proposed laws in New York and London. Photo from JoPhLET on FLickr.

Lest you think they or I are singling out Sharapova these laws would prohibit many of the top female athletes in the world from modeling. While rising tennis star Nicole Vaidasova seems physically imposing on court, she barely squeaks by at 6 foot 130 pounds and a BMI of 18.8. But Daniel Hauntchova, the eighth-ranked player would, at 5 foot 11 inches,123 pounds, and a BMI of 17.2, would also be banned.

Nor is this restricted to tennis players: Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard at 5 foot 8 inches and 110 pounds would be banned with her BMI of 16.7. Similarly, her towering Olympic team mate, Cristina Teuscher is 6 feet even, and weighs 135 pounds for an "illegal" BMI of 18.3. Nor do you have to be in a sport that burns lots of calories to be thin: Teen golf sensation Michelle Wie is another number ten Ticonderoga at 6 ft 1 in and about 130 pounds.

If you don't believe me, you can use this calculator, or this one.

Interestingly, the top "super models" are comparable to the top athletes.  (I searched under Supermodel not being knowledgeable) In fact, many are actually "fatter" than some of these athletes: Brazilian Gisele Bundchen is 5 ft 10.5 inches and 128 for a BMI of 18.4; Heidi Klum is 5 ft 9 in and after losing weight gained from having her second baby (you can read everything online) is back down to 119 pounds and a BMI of 17.6; relative newcomer Marisa Miller is 5 ft 8 in, 110 pounds, which calculates as 16.7, identical to Sharapova.

This, of course, is foolish and I suspect the bureaucrats would find some way to let Sharapova, Beard and others in, ignoring the violation. But the contradiction points out the stupidity caused by the convergence of three, destructive mind sets: Government regulators that protect people from choosing lifestyles the regulators disapprove of, liberal sexism and -- my personal favorite -- real Bad Science.

Bureaucrats are on a roll banning baggy pants ( that one in Atlanta), T-shirts on airplanes, transfats, and pictures of dinosaurs at national parks.

If a tiny percentage of women might be led to misguided behavior by simply seeing thin women, then that must be prevented, they contend. Extend that logic: NASCAR races must be banned, because some fans will drive dangerously. Watching NFL players must contribute to obesity, so any football player over 180 pounds should be banned. (Imagine trying to get that law passed., although there are efforts to do so). No extreme sports, someone might hurt themselves skateboarding. Watching Jim Cramer rant leads some people to make bad investments ... (well, maybe that one makes sense).

Ah, but that is where the liberal sexism comes in. Young girls must be protected from making their own choices, while boys can be allowed to choose to overeat in the hopes of being successful.

Liberal sexists see a need to protect young women by preventing them from seeing successful women that are thin and attractive. They site rare, extremely absurd examples, such as a European woman that starved herself to 60 pounds and died in a supposed attempt to become a model. That is truly sad, but must everyone have their behavior regulated because of potentially aberrant behavior by a few?

Only 0.25 percent of the adult population faces eating disorders associated with the quest to be thin, while 39% of America's population is obese. The obesity epidemic is causing adult-onset diabetes in children, increases the risk of heart attack, sleep apnea, hip-and-knee disabilities, and more.

Twiggy's success modeling in the sixties, followed by the towering Varushka created a trend with, dare I say it, legs. Forty years later, thin is still in for models. But Twiggy at 66 is still alive and well, while Varushka at 68 just had a token role in Casino Royale. Meanwhile, overweight football players are dying of heart attacks. The Dallas Cowboys' offensive line averages 320 pounds, while former Pro Bowl defense tackle Ted Washington tops 400 pounds. According to an NFL union player representative, the average life span of an offensive lineman is 54.

Varushka from Antonini's  Blow-up

But, hey, they made their own choices, right?

Criticism of thinness is also Bad Science.

According to a columnist at Salon, thinness is unhealthy and a health risk to any young woman that sees it, as if thinness was a visually-transmitted virus.

"If a model has a BMI of below 18—the threshold used in Madrid—she is almost certainly practicing unhealthy habits, such as restricting food intake or over exercising. Someone who's 5-foot-11, like most female models, would have to weigh less than 130 pounds to fall short of the threshold. To get to that point, even a natural waif would likely have to skip meals, exercise too much, or use diet aids. ...

" Women with less than 12 percent body fat can be at risk for serious health problems or starvation,"  according to Salon. {Interestingly, the same group of liberal columnists find discrimination against obese women to be unfair, apparently without seeing any hypocrisy, health risk, or inconsistency.)

But that broad statement simply isn't conclusively true

imageWhile there is extensive debate about diet, there is consensus in the medical community that only one approach is proven to extend people's life spans -- reducing caloric intake. Although, many approaches from exercise, to herbal supplements, to veganism have their proponents, the only approach that is conclusively effective at extending life is reducing caloric intake. 

In fact, there is a growing school of thought in medical research that extreme calorie reduction, to 30 percent below the minimum recommended amount, is the key to extending human life to its maximum, natural potential of around 130 years. (Click on the ABC News graphic to see a video report on scientific research into extreme caloric reduction. Other research shows many factors help add years below 80-to-90.)

So, medical research shows that eating like a model can help you maximize your potential life span.

Banning women from employment because they are thin, is discriminatory, is medical nonsense, and I suspect is motivated by political-cultural motives not real concern for the models.

Reader Comments

I think the laws that prohibit anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of under 18.5 from modeling is ridiculous. The argument of "sets an example of poor health," is "a poor role model for young girls," and "is in poor health" is not relevant. Athletes posses good health and they are certainly healthier than average people regardless of the BMI.

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