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The plight of fashion models: example, Alexandra Michael
A video featuring ‘fat-legged’ Ali Michael on MSNBC and a discussion of her disordered eating behavior in the current edition of Teen Vogue is featured below.
Ali Michael’s problem was discussed before, namely that she was made to pack her bags because of “too fat” legs. Now that she has decided to give up, she can afford to publicly speak about being forced to diet in order to model and say that she is not alone. We know this very well.
In the video, Natalie Morales talks about a growing movement in the fashion world to ban ultra thin models following the deaths of some fashion models from malnutrition, but the banning was done by government agencies and there was nothing from within the fashion world except the expression of fake concern and useless guidelines.
It is also nice to hear the Editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, Amy Astley, lay the blame on fashion designers, but she had no explanation for why they have this preference. She invoked cyclic changes in preferences, but this is no explanation. Why a cyclic change and on whose part? The issue that went uncommented on is the masculinization of the models shown in the video, which was also generally true of the 1980s-1990s supermodels. How difficult is it to note “skinny look + masculinization + teenage girls ~ the looks of boys in their early adolescence” and connect it to the gay domination of the fashion business? But then, Amy Astley would be out of her job for stating this, but I bet she doesn’t have a clue.
On a related note, there was a recent editorial on the plight of fashion models in the British Journal of Psychiatry by Janet L. Treasure, Elizabeth R. Wack and Marion E. Roberts.(1, pdf) Whereas it is nice to read about this problem in a psychiatry journal, the editorial has numerous shortcomings.
The authors cited research on binge priming in rats. Basically, if they are on a calorically-restricted diet for a period and then given access to highly palatable food, then they significantly overeat, and the overeating tends to continue after they regain baseline body weight. They also show increased susceptibility to becoming dependent on drugs abused by some humans for recreational purposes. Binge priming has thus altered the reward circuitry of the animals.
The authors extrapolate this to humans, pointing out the risks of binge priming in adolescent girls, whose brains are not yet mature, and the observation that substance abuse is more prevalent among individuals with eating disorders. However, the simplistic model of binge priming in rats should not be extended to humans without reservations. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the patient goes through binge-purge cycles. But in many bulimics, the disorder starts with a food binge rather than a purge. There is also plenty of evidence of genetic susceptibility to disordered eating.
Nevertheless, bulimic behaviors in human are not helping develop a healthy reward circuitry, and the authors had this to say about fashion models:
Eating patterns that an individual may have found to be integral in the maintenance of a particular shape during her modelling career may lead to deleterious health consequences and maladaptive eating behaviours that affect her far beyond the typically rather short years of such a career. Furthermore, binge priming might also explain why models have such a high rate of substance misuse.8 In addition to the biological factors described above, social factors contribute to the unhealthy lifestyle common among those pursuing a modelling career. Constant exposure to media images depicting thin women reduces body-related self-esteem. A metaanalysis of data from 25 studies found that this effect was most pronounced in adolescents and in participants who valued thinness.9 Body-related self-esteem is particularly pertinent in young models as it relates to their career success. Criticism, teasing and bullying focused on food, weight and shape issues increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. Fashion models are frequently judged and evaluated on these domains and critical and hostile comments, under the guise of professional development, will increase the risk of developing eating disorders.
The current fashion for extreme thinness among models unnecessarily puts their physical and psychological health in jeopardy. Starvation disrupts growth and reproductive function and can have profound and persistent effects on brain development. These risks are particularly profound in young women who, in a binge-priming environment, may be more prone to develop other addictive behaviours. Along with an increased risk of substance and alcohol use and misuse, the risk of developing an eating disorder will also be increased. The longer-term health implications on models’ bone and reproductive health are unknown but evidence suggests the outcomes are not promising.
So a number of high-fashion models are in trouble, but what is the solution? The authors wrote:
As models are embedded within the fashion industry, which holds responsibility for the idealisation of emaciation, it is hoped that the drive for ever more extreme thinness could be stemmed at the source, resulting in benefits for all of society.
And how will the problem be stemmed at the source? They wrote:
The recent guidelines from the British Fashion Council, proposing not to include children under 16 years of age as models, is a welcome first step.
What is this? If age-related legislation is the solution, the proper legislation is the reverse, i.e., not to use girls older than 16. 14-year-old girls will generally be closer to the looks of boys in their early adolescence, which is what the homosexual fashion designers are looking for, than 17-year-old girls. Therefore, if the age range of high-fashion models is restricted to 12–16, then it would be easier to find girls who look like boys in their early adolescence without having to diet. Treasure, Wack and Roberts are unaware of the reason behind the preferred looks of high-fashion models and hence have endorsed a proposal that, if implemented, will cause the fashion industry to increasingly recruit 16-plus models from Eastern Europe because the [poorer] girls from this region are more likely to deprive themselves of food in order to model without complaining about being forced to diet.
The authors also added:
The fashion and beauty industry can play a key role in preventing the development of unhealthy lifestyles in young people. Indeed, Body Talk, a prevention programme focused on self-esteem developed by Dove in partnership with the UK eating disorder charity beat (http://www.b-eat.co.uk) takes steps to modify the unrealistic ‘ideal form’ both as displayed in the flesh by fashion models and through the use of digitally enhanced photography. More focus on these issues will decrease unhealthy forms of dieting, dysregulated eating behaviours and body dissatisfaction among young people. Although it may take time to change such an ideal we should not be faint hearted but remember what has similarly been achieved in relationship to cigarette smoking. People are now starting to listen to the abundance of scientific evidence concerning the harm that such images hold not only for those paid to portray it, but for those who pay to emulate it.
The fashion industry can play a key role in preventing the development of unhealthy lifestyles in young people, but it will not as long as it is dominated by male homosexuals. The Dove self-esteem work won’t do much. Showing how real bodies are transformed to make them look thinner or contrasting actual diversity of looks with the narrow range of fashion models’ looks does nothing to convince impressionable girls that thinness isn’t hot. What will convince impressionable girls is explaining who finds the look of thin high-fashion models hot and why rather than a lecture about negative health consequences of malnutrition. Just look at the issue of cigarette smoking; notwithstanding education about the negative consequences of smoking, printing the Surgeon General’s warning on each cigarette pack and fining the tobacco industry, a substantial minority of adults continue to smoke. Unlike smoking, there is no drug dependency issue involving the influence of very thin fashion models, and the problem can be largely tackled with the right kind of education, i.e., the influence of gay fashion designers, and legislation that forces the fashion industry to prove, at its expense, that its underweight models are naturally very thin and not being forced to diet.
- Treasure, J. L., Wack, E. R., and Roberts, M. E., Models as a high-risk group: the health implications of a size zero culture, Br J Psychiatry, 192, 243 (2008).