Stretched Too Thin

In the fashion industry, it seems like the issue of models and their weight is always a popular conversation topic. Whether it’s praise for how thin a model looked in the latest fashion show or concern for how thin that same model looked, you can guarantee the topic will come with controversy.

Concerns about the fashion industry’s promotion of extreme thinness is nothing new. Too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment. Unfortunately, it’s an industry where initially you are not always chosen for your experience, intelligence or personality, but by how many inches the measuring tape shows. As a working model, if you’re asked what your current bust, hip, & waist measurements are, chances are you are able to answer with your exact measurements on any given day of the week. The fashion industry being one where it's employees are chosen entirely based on looks, it’s obvious it is an easy target when it comes to body image issues.

While not every aspect about the modeling industry is bad (some of the best moments of my life have been while modeling), it is a poorly regulated industry. When an entire industry is poorly regulated, it leaves room for a very unsafe work environment. With the expectations of models to fit into unrealistic sample sizes, it's no wonder eating disorders are considered normal.

Due to genetics and youth (most models get into the industry around 13-14 years of age), many models are naturally thin. Despite already being thin, restricted diets and bizarre weight-loss tactics among models are common. I myself have dealt with unhealthy thoughts about my weight and changed my eating habits to fit the strict industry standards. Even though I am naturally a size 2/4, throughout my career I have heard countless times that I am too fat to be booked for a client. Often, for fashion shoots or runway shows (high-fashion in particular), a solid size 0-2 is preferred or required. In a meeting with my very first modeling agent, he told me I needed to do whatever it took- smoking, starvation, cocaine, or all three- to get three inches off my already 35” hip and keep it off, or I would be dropped from the agency.

Although now I’m healthy & fit and have much better agents, what he said still nags the back of my mind. To this day I dread going to fittings and having to squeeze my 30-year-old ass into the same sized pants the 16-year-old standing next to me is also putting on. If a model shows up to a fitting or a job and can’t fit into the clothes, it’s considered disgraceful and they should be embarrassed. There were times I felt like a complete failure because I couldn’t get the zipper up the back of a dress or get a skirt up over my hips. Handing the clothing back to the design team telling them it didn’t fit was humiliating and only added fuel to the thoughts of not being thin enough. What I can clearly see now is that it’s not my body that was the problem, it was the way the industry viewed (and still views) models.

So, where does the idea that models have to be tall & thin come from? It really boils down to designers and fashion houses and how that side of the industry works. Thin models are easier to dress because their bodies have less body shape variance than curvy models. Super thin models are all relatively straight shaped, while curvy models often have curves of various sizes in different places on their bodies. Less variance in body shape means design work is minimized since you only have to accommodate one general shape, which in turn lessens the production turn-around time of samples, and saved time & material = saved money and more designs.

Samples are usually only one or two of a kind and made in one size (0-2) because when a designer makes a garment, there’s no telling if that design will make the final cut for production or how many orders they may receive for that style. Because of this, they don’t want to make the same garment in several different sizes until they see what the demand will be for that particular piece. If the garment makes the cut and is put into production, that can take quite a bit of turnaround time. While that garment is being mass produced, the samples often travel all over the world to be used on runways, in trunk shows, and in photoshoots to promote it. The dress you see on a New York runway is very likely the exact dress you see in a magazine editorial. If only one sample is made but needs to be worn by many different models for different occasions- a number of different models must fit one garment. Cue the thin model requirements and the extreme actions models take to remain thin.

Although the reasons for developing an eating disorder are different for each person, for models, a common factor is the constant degradation of their bodies and needing to be thin to make a living in their career field. When you’re told daily that you need to lose weight and then get praised for looking so thin after you’ve taken unhealthy measures to get to that point, it can cause major damage to your mentality.

Most treat extreme thinness in models as a social issue, but what many don't realize is it's actually a labor issue. I mean think about it, what other occupation would we allow employers to encourage their employees to starve themselves or do illegal drugs in order to keep their jobs? With "cancel culture" being at an all-time high, why is the modeling industry an exception? Modeling isn’t just a hobby- it’s a real job for real people who are trying to make a living. Models’ rights are human rights, but because of the glamour that surrounds the fashion industry and stigma that surrounds mental health (especially eating disorders), the world has long turned a blind eye.

But that’s slowly changing.

In many European cities, models are required to provide a certificate of health from a doctor before the are allowed to walk the runway. Vogue Magazine even launched ‘The Health Initiative’– a pact between the 19 international magazine editors to encourage a healthier approach to body image within the industry.

Here in the US, former model Sara Ziff founded a nonprofit in 2012 called the Model Alliance, which advocates for fair labor standards and safer work environments for models. Since its founding, the alliance has pushed lawmakers in New York and California to protect underage models, partnered with researchers to study human trafficking and other issues, and launched a high-profile campaign to get Victoria’s Secret to commit to taking steps to safeguard its models from sexual misconduct.

Agencies are also stepping up. Though some agents are better than others (this I can personally attest to), they hold substantial control over models’ working lives and can directly affect a model's working conditions. If they continue to be proactive in providing health assistance to models, it could have a huge impact on the industry as a whole. Without workplace health and safety standards, models will continue to be forced to sacrifice their health for their careers. It's time to make that change.


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