Eating Disorders Rampant on the Runway

Woman in fashion show on runway

The average runway model is more than 5 inches taller and weighs up to 56 pounds less than the average woman in America [1, 2]. The discrepancy between these two groups of women is shocking.

Looking at this dynamic, it is important to consider that it also negatively affects models. Which begs the question: Does this setup work in anyone’s favor?

Research on Modeling and Eating Disorders

In a recent article, researchers delved into the impact this dynamic has on the average woman and the high-fashion model, in an attempt to understand how models themselves can be forces for change in the fashion industry [3].

As the study asserts, “The fashion industry plays a central role in creating and marketing representations of beauty and fashion models are important stakeholders.”

Indeed, the fashion industry creates a dynamic wherein the models often work from power-deprived positions. Who they are and how they feel is not important to companies and designers. What really matters are profits.

With so many women wanting fortune and fame, if one refuses to conform, another will simply take her place, creating a high-pressure environment. As such, this population of women is especially known to engage in disordered eating and exercising behaviors to remain employed.

Studies show that “up to 18% of professional models report restriction…and up to 60% report bulimic episodes in the previous 3 months [3].”

Refusing to Conform to Body Ideals

It is clear that the fashion and beauty industries place immense pressure on all women to conform to the “ideal.” Over time, the “ideal” female figure has become thinner, leading models to engage in unhealthy eating and exercising behaviors. The average woman is inundated with images of this ideal and told they can have it all – as long as they look the part.

Modeling on the runway

The models lose.

The average woman loses.

The fashion, beauty, and cosmetics industries gain.


Many have seen these injustices and decided to fight. Legislation is popping up around the globe requiring models be medically certified to work. There is a surge in companies whose products and advertisements are focused on body positivity and self-love.

Many in the public health field have begun emphasizing a “Health-At-Every-Size” approach that focuses on overall health as  opposed to size or weight. Models like Ashley Graham are fighting the “ideal” by confidently strutting into the industry and refusing to conform.

The average woman can make a difference, as well, by putting their money where their mental health is.

Don’t give business to companies and organizations that only cater to the “thin” ideal and refuse to pay the way for these companies to dictate what narrow-minded image women should conform to. If money is the only language those in the industry speak, use that to communicate with them.

In addition to letting your money do the talking, make sure you use your voice, too. If you hear someone discussing the weight or appearance of others or have a friend struggling with self-love, use those moments as an impetus for conversation.


Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth. As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Body Measurements (2017). Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults: United States, 2007-2010, tables 4, 6, 10, 12, 19, 20. Retrieved from
[2] Modeling and Talent (2017). Retrieved from The Better Business Bureau,
[3] Rodgers, R. F., Ziff, S., Lowy, A. S. (2017). Results of a strategic science study to inform policies targeting extreme thinness standards in the fashion industry. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50, 284-292.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published April 23, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
April 23, 2017.
Published on