Ultra-thin models: unhealthy, unfair, irresponsible, out-dated

Photograph: Rosie Nelson


Australian model Rosie Nelson’s Change.org petition, which has reached over 89,000 signatures and counting [when Palatinate went to print], has hit the media by storm. It demands that a law is created to protect models from becoming dangerously skinny under pressure from ruthless modelling agencies and pushy designers. Not only does the overwhelming presence of size 2 and size 0 models in advertising damage the self-esteem and mental health of millions of girls and women, it has also been fatal to models themselves on several accounts.

Nelson, 23 and a size 8, reports on Change.org, “When I walked into one of the UK’s biggest model agencies last year, they told me I ticked all the boxes except one – I needed to lose weight. So I did. Four months later, I lost nearly a stone, and two inches off my hips. When I returned to the same agency, they told me to lose more weight, they wanted me ‘down to the bone’.” Plus-size model, Crystal Renn, battled anorexia in the mainstream ‘straight model’ (skinny model, to you and me) industry, before deciding it was time for a drastic career – and life – change. Furthermore, between 2006 and 2007, models Luisel and Eliana Ramos, Ana Carolina Reston and Hila Elmalich all passed away after losing their battles with anorexia.

With tragic occurrences such as these, the heinous lack of welfare for models, and also instances of eating disorders on the increase amongst the public body, it is no wonder that MPs running the parliamentary group on body image, led by Caroline Nokes MP, are considering banning ultra-thin catwalk models. Perhaps this has come too little too late, considering the waves of psychological destruction the billion-pound fashion quirk continues to cause.

Spain has taken steps to improve conditions for models in the industry, having already disallowed models with a BMI below 18 from participating in Madrid fashion shows. France also passed a law in April banning the recruitment of models with a BMI lower than 18. While a BMI lower than 18 is classified as malnourished, it has long been contested as to whether the Body Mass Index is an accurate calculation of overall health, as it does not take into account several factors, such as muscle mass or bone density. In an interview for website Healthline.com, Sondra Kronberg, director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative and spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), said, “There are people who have a healthy BMI who are eating disordered, and there are people who have an unhealthy BMI who are not eating disordered. So it’s not the greatest measure of whether one has an eating disorder or not.” With specific regard to the health of models, Rosie Nelson feels that a “mandatory health check for models every three to six months” would be a better “incentive for agencies to take better care of the models they work with”.

Photograph: Rosie Nelson
Photograph: Rosie Nelson

Despite model Renn saying that she feels more like herself now that she is a size 14 and can finally enjoy the pleasures of food, the countless deaths that this industry has directly and indirectly caused, and a universal murmur from the public vocalizing the desire to see normal-sized women in the media, the fashion industry is dragging its stiletto heels when it comes to doing what is clearly the right thing. Caroline Nokes MP says this is largely down to “what designers are demanding. They are the ones making sample sizes that models can’t fit into.” Undoubtedly, where colossal paychecks are involved, things are slow to change. With one stylist quitting, according to The Guardian, when designer Mark Fast chose size 12 and 14 models to showcase his work in London Fashion Week, it is clear that the perspectives of some fashionistas are alarmingly skewed. Despite models standing up for themselves, the industry is evolving slowly and reluctantly.

Given that the modeling industry’s obsession with unhealthily skinny women is damaging mental health on a vast scale, it is high time that something is done to represent real, realistic and healthy female bodies to a public that so clearly wants to see them.

The Change.org petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/dcms-create-a-law-to-protect-models-from-getting-dangerously-skinny-lfw-modelslaw.

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