Dying to Be Thin
We have all looked in the mirror before and told ourselves that we wished our hips weren’t so big or we didn’t have freckles. No one is in fact one hundred percent happy with their body, but not all of us have the extreme pressures to look a certain way. Weight and body image are among the top thoughts that cross through a models mind. In an industry completely based on looks, and where they are ultimately paid to look a certain way they face pressures far greater than the average person. The extremes that these women, and sometimes men, go through to have the ‘ideal’ body are very harmful. Some models develop eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, or purge diet and use laxatives. Certain members of the industry recognize these models getting thinner and thinner and think something should be done. Others feel that although these models are putting themselves through danger, this is what they signed up for. All of these factors lead to a burning question in the industry: Should professional models have a minimum weight requirement? Clearly if something is endangering the health of these women something should be done. No career should risk the health and in some cases the life of these women.
The average model is a size 0 or 2. It has been said that if the industry gets a model bigger than a size 4 she is not going to fit the clothes, because clothes look better on thin people (USA, 2006). Naturally, most people are not a size 0 or 2. Especially when their height is expected to be at least 5’9. Even models that are on the shorter side, say 5’9 are weighing around 100 pounds. The average woman who is 5’9 weighs between 150 and 170 pounds. Clearly these women are malnourished in order to maintain an extremely unrealistic weight and body. A lot of people take the BMI (body mass index) into consideration when determining what is an appropriate weight for their height. According to the World Health Organization, a BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight and unhealthy (TIME, 2006). Taking the previous example of an average 5’9 model who weights one hundred pounds, her BMI would be extremely below an 18.5. Doctors exclaim that an adult woman is at extreme risk to develop serious health issues if her BMI falls below 18 (International Debate, 2010). A few examples of health issues that may arise are osteoporosis and the loss of a menstrual cycle. This could eventually lead to the woman being unable to reproduce. If models were given a minimum weight requirement by the industry, they would be healthy and not have to worry about health disorders based on their weight. It would also project a realistic image to young girls who look up to these models.
Aside from the health issues that arise from being so underweight, the methods these models take to get there are extremely dangerous. Models often like to be showcased in shows for particular designers. Many of these designers will not even consider models unless they are extremely thin in order for the clothes to ‘hang’ properly. In order to reach these unrealistic weights, models develop disorders such as anorexia or seek the use of drugs such as laxatives. Studies show that at least 40 percent of models are currently suffering from some type of eating disorder (Eating, 2007). We associate anorexia as the main type of eating disorder that models may have, but it is actually not the most common. Dr. Adrienne Key, a licensed psychiatrist, states that bulimia is actually the most common eating disorder among fashion models (Eating, 2007). She also states that many models are purging or consuming extreme amounts of water to conceal their weight, which causes health issues such as depletion of potassium levels. Some models chew their food but then spit it into a cup instead of swallowing it so their bodies aren’t able to absorb any of the calories. These are just a few of the methods that these women partake in in order to show us what clothing looks like. It is ironic because the women that these clothes are being shown to are unable to even fit in the sizes offered by designers. The average American woman is 5’4 and weighs 140 pounds while the average American model is 5’11 and weights 117 pounds (USA).
Most models are aware that eating disorders and the other methods they use for weight loss are extremely harmful. But most do not realize they are so unhealthy that they are truly risking their lives. In recent years, death tolls of models due to eating disorders have increased dramatically. One particular incident stands out in the fashion industry when Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, who weight a mere 88 pounds, died in the middle of working a runway show (CBS, 2009). “The hospital said the infection that killed the 5-foot-8-inch model was caused by anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of becoming obese, an aversion to food and severe weight loss (CBS, 2009).” Reston suffered of heart failure during the show due to her anorexia (NYTIMES, 2006). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Reston had a BMI of 13.4 at her death in which she was 5’8 and weight 88 pounds (CBS,2009). Again, a BMI of 18 is considered unhealthy. Those who were familiar with Reston state that she only ever drank fruit juice and lived off apples and tomatoes (Guardian, 2007). Obviously Reston was malnourished all to achieve her life long dream of becoming a runway model. She may have reached her goal, but I guarantee it was not worth it. Reston is one of the many models whose lives were cut short all because of weight. If the industry would recognize what real, healthy women look like then these models would not have to face pressures to be so thin. They would maintain normal weights and project real images for young girls and other women to look up to. Being thing clearly does not mean being beautiful.
This topic is not only bothersome for the health of these models but also the health of young women. We are at a day and age where women are constantly critiqued based on looks and expected to look perfect. The ideal is for women to have a pretty face, large breasts, and a slender waist. We all know this is near impossible for most women. But because we are bombarded with hundreds of images in the media we have no choice but to have lower self-esteems when subjected to these unrealistic measures. Since we all want to be perceived as beautiful, and to look like these models, we too start making drastic changes to our diets. Studies show that girls even as young as 1st grade think that our society is pressuring them to take after celebrities or models who are svelte, beautiful, and sexy (USA, 2006). These studies show that also only 18% of young girls reject the pressure to conform to that look (USA, 2006). 18% is a very low number, especially at such a young age. Most young women thoroughly enjoy watching runway shoes or looking at fashion ads, and all they see are rail thin models. These young girls look up to these images and start taking drastic measures themselves. If these models don’t want to make changes for their own well-being, they should at least consider how much their actions affect the youth of today. The situation is much different when you see that you are potentially harming someone else or influencing them to make such a destructive decision. These same studies show that young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents (Wellness).
In a society where looks continue to become more and more important, its scary to think how much further people are willing to go to look a certain way. If the fashion industry required all models to have a minimum weight it would solve many of these issues. It would also be a smart idea for these models to be required to have regular tests or check ups performed by doctors so that the agencies are certain the models are healthy. This will prevent more cases like Ana Reston who died from heart complications on the runway due to her anorexia. Not only will this guarantee that models are healthy but they will project an achievable image. Self -esteem rates of women will sky rocket, and more importantly young girls won’t be dieting at such young ages. Models unknowingly play a huge role in these girls’ lives, so they should be projecting healthy lifestyles focusing on eating right and exercising to maintain a normal weight. Thankfully there has been some lead way, but there is still much more to be done with this issue. The CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) have created a health initiative to show people how much eating disorders have heightened in the fashion industry. This initiative argues that BMI is not an effective tool for measuring the health of these models. The program urges models to seek medical care or professional help if they suffer from a disorder. The program also asks designers to support this cause by not hiring those who are too thin, and also to protect the well being of younger models by not keeping them past a certain hour (CFDA). Diane von Furstenburg, the President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, has made a big dent in the debate by creating this program. She is very well respected in the industry and hopes that with the continued press of this initiative that more designers and fashion moguls will join forces with her to stop these models from making such destructive decisions. Although it is a good start, more people need to advocate for this cause because it is something that will not change over night. The industry, and country, need a makeover when it comes to its thoughts and beliefs on beauty. We need to focus on projecting a healthy and realistic image of women in all forms of media. Most importantly to protect the young girls who are already allowing these images to dictate their lives and self esteem, it is critical for the industry to make drastic changes.
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