Modeling & Weight Stigma Concerns

Woman in fashion show on runway

The fashion industry is notorious for the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards. Discussion of this often revolves around how these standards impact the average citizen. However, this weight stigma also impacts those employed by this industry, particularly the models that are expected to be the walking examples of these standards.

The Effect of Weight Stigma on Models

Horrific stories of weight stigma, extreme pressure to appear a certain way, and encouragement to engage in disordered eating and exercise behaviors are not uncommon in the fashion industry. In fact, just this past August, an extremely stigmatizing e-mail that was sent to models at One Management was shared.

The e-mail reminds models not to “eat themselves silly” over the holidays, specifies the hip measurement they need to maintain, uses offensive terms to describe weight gain, and informs them that they will be required to send “bikini digitals and walking video the 1st week of January” to ensure that the model’s bodies fit industry standards [1].

The women are reminded that they will be sent back home should they arrive in NYC and not meet these requirements. Imagine the fear, shame, and anxiety that would result if your boss not only specified what your body should look like but told you that you would lose your job should you not fulfill their requirements.

With messages like this casually being sent almost daily throughout the fashion industry, it is unsurprising that eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors abound in this career field.

It is estimated that up to 40% of models engage in disordered eating behaviors, with experts reporting that the actual percentage is likely far higher due to underreporting by the models themselves [2].

Are the Standards Even Realistic?

Young girl wanting to be a model not realizing of the weight stigma that comes with itThe standards required of these individuals are not only unrealistic, but they are also unnecessary. These models are pressured to engage in dangerous eating and exercise behaviors to appear unrealistically different from the average consumer.

One study considered how the average American woman’s body has changed over time and whether modeling standards requirements have changed similarly.

The study found that, although “the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size have increased over the past 21 years,” the standard for “Victoria’s Secret fashion models became more slender over time, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips, and dress size [3].”

It is difficult to fathom why fashion industry executives require their models to appear so drastically different from the average consumer. However, their choice to do so perpetuates the continued cultural standards of beauty that few fulfill. Models themselves are beginning to fight back against an industry that clearly does not have their best interest at heart.

The Model Alliance

Sarah Ziff, a former model, is the founder of The Model Alliance, an organization whose mission is to “promotes fair treatment, equal opportunity, and sustainable practices in the fashion industry [4].”

Ziff worked with four Harvard University researchers to conduct a study “seeking to gain insights about the prevalence of eating disorders in the modeling industry and what causes them [5].”

The study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that “over 62 percent [of models polled] reported being asked to have to lose weight or change their shape or size by their agency or someone else in the industry [5].”

Ziff detailed, “that’s from a sample of people who are [on average] already considered underweight by World Health Organization standards. We’re talking about people who have a BMI that already would put them in the unhealthy category, and they’re being told to lose more weight [5].”

Weight stigma harms both models in the fashion industry as well as consumers. Creating change in the fashion industry itself could revolutionize weight stigma in our society.


Resources:

[1] Tempesta, E. (2020). Model exposes horrific e-mail sent by an agent that warns girls not to ‘eat themselves silly’ over the holidays – saying measurements will be taken to ensure no one has ‘blown up like a tic.” Daily Mail UK, retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-8659887/Model-exposes-email-sent-agent-warns-girls-not-eat-silly-holidays.html.

[2] Nordqvist, C. (2008). Eating disorders among fashion models rising. Medical News Today, retrieved https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/76241#1.

[3] Maymone, M. Et al. (2020). Unattainable standards of beauty: temporal trends of Victoria’s Secret models from 1995 to 2018. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 40:2.

[4] Unknown (2020). Mission. The Model Alliance, retrieved from https://modelalliance.org/mission.

[5] York’s, S. (2017). How Sara Ziff and more than 40 other models are leading the charge against eating disorders. Vogue, retrieved from https://www.vogue.com/article/model-alliance-eating-disorder-study.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC 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 Hope 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.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a 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 November 30, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 30, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.