By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A California bill aimed at reducing eating disorders among models cleared its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, following efforts in several countries to fight extreme thinness in an industry that pressures models to lose weight.
The measure would require the state to develop health standards for models and regard them as employees of the brands they represent.
"The goal of the bill is not only to protect the health of the workers themselves, but also to help young people who emulate models," said the bill's author, state Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat who represents the Marin County suburbs of San Francisco.
Last year, France banned excessive thinness in models, partly in response to the death in 2010 of Isabelle Caro, a 28-year-old former French fashion model. She died from anorexia after posing for a photographic campaign to raise awareness about the illness.
Israel enacted a similar measure in 2013, while Italy and Spain rely on voluntary codes of conduct to protect models.
The California bill passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on Wednesday. It must be approved by additional committees and the full legislature before it can go to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has not said if he would sign it.
At Wednesday's committee hearing activist Sara Ziff, a former fashion model, wept as she recounted abuses she endured as a teenage model, including pressure to strip for photographers.
"I felt like I was being treated more like an escort than a model," said Ziff, 32, who founded the group Model Alliance.
By requiring that models be considered employees, she said, the state would protect them from sexual abuse and exploitation, and the risks of developing an eating disorder.
The Association of Talent Agents has called the bill unworkable. A licensing requirement for modeling agencies is redundant because California talent agencies are already licensed, association President Karen Stuart said.
"This does nothing to reduce the problems that you heard about today," Stuart said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Richard Chang)