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An Unhealthy Image Essay

Over the years, models have become skinnier and skinnier, and now most models are just too thin. Being a fashion model went hand-in-hand with being slim, but now being a fashion model goes hand-in-hand with no body fat whatsoever. It took the death of a young adult at a fashion show taking place during Fashion Week for officials in Madrid to finally say ‘No more’ to overly underweight models, and others are being to follow suit. Luisel Ramos was one of Uruguay’s top fashion models at the age of only 22. In preparation for Uruguay’s Fashion Week, she stuck to a strict diet of only lettuce and Diet Coke for about three months leading up to the show. Shortly after exiting the runway during a fashion show, she collapsed backstage trying to fight through a heart attack, but because of the lack of nutrition was unable to win the battle (Phillips).

The strict dieting Ramos stuck to left her weighing only 98 pounds. This is the average weight of a 12 or 13 year old standing a little over 5 feet tall, but at a height of almost 5’10, this is alarming (Average Height to Weight Chart). That’s a body mass index, or BMI, of only 14.5! BMI is calculated using a person’s weight in conjunction to their height and is used to categorize a person’s weight to determine if they are underweight, average weight, or overweight. (Healthy Weight: Assessing Your Weight: Body Mass Index (BMI)). According to The World Health Organization, a BMI of 16 is already considered starving, so 14.5 is extremely underweight.

To add insult to injury, Lusiel’s 18-year-old sister died the following year for the same contributing reason, malnutrition (Phillips). Australia, along with some European countries, and a few case-by-case fashion shows in the United States have already started banning severely underweight models, but a majority of countries have yet to join the movement. There should be a weight minimum on models because without one the pressure to be thin forces unhealthy dieting and eating disorders, the fashion industry is promoting an unhealthy body image, and because we simply should not be encouraging a sickness.

There is definitely an undeniable pressure for models to be thin in the fashion industry. According to Martin J. Tovee, a professor at Newcastle University and one of the conductors of the study “Supermodels: Stick Insects or Hourglasses?”, “model cards provide accurate biometric data on the basis of which the models are hired” meaning to models and designers, numbers are everything (Tovee). Unfortunately, it is usually the lower the numbers, the greater the chance of being picked, putting a great amount of pressure on fashion models to be skinny. But there are a host of health problems that go hand-in-hand with being super skinny. One with an eating disorder will most likely suffer from an irregular heartbeat; sensitivity to cold temperatures; thinning of bones; lowered blood pressure but also a lowered pulse, lowered body temperature, and breathing rates. Lack of proper nutrition can even cause damage to vital organs like the heart, brain, or kidneys (“Eating Disorders: Complications”).

None of these health problems can and should be taken lightly. After reading a list like this, it’s not surprising that 1 out every 10 eating disorders leads to death (Weltzin). What is shocking, however, that it is said that one of the most common causes of death among those with an eating disorder is not directly related to a physical health problem, but instead the mental aspect of it. It appears that suicide among those with eating disorders is one of the most common causes of death and was confirmed in one of the many studies done titled, Suicide and attempted suicide in eating disorders, obesity and weight-image concern, which is a study completed by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rome.

They have determined that, “individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa commit suicide more often than their counterparts in the general population; also a few studies have suggested that suicide is the major cause of death among patients with anorexia nervosa, refuting the assumption that inanition generally threatens the life of these patients” (Pompili). Suicide is often a result of pressure or challenges becoming unbearable. These models are literally dying to be ‘beautiful’. Since 2010 alone, there have been seven reported cases of suicide among models as young as 16-years-old (Coles). With a minimum weight requirement put in place, some of the pressure put on by the fashion industry to be too skinny will be taken off of these young models.

The fashion industry is crawling with designers and the “beautiful” people they chose to represent them. Sadly, the fashion industry’s idea of “beautiful” is unhealthily underweight bodies attached to pretty faces. In many aspects, models are widely respected. They introduce the world to the up-and-coming trends; they show the world different ways to put together outfits; and they make up a small portion of the population who are portrayed as physically “perfect” and who doesn’t want to be what others think “perfect” is? For those who feel they are not already beautiful, they look to these models to try and discover how “beauty” can actually be defined. A few things might stick out to those who look to models for guidance. They might notice the pretty hair, or the seemingly flawless skin, and they may even notice the models’ above average height, but one thing that cannot be looked over: the model’s weight. Fashion models are all very petite and most are lacking the natural curves of a woman. But models and the fashion industry are promoting this body image as what ‘beauty’ can be defined as.

Former Victoria Secret model, Frederique van der Wal, was in awe at the sight of how skinny the models were who strutted down the runway during New York’s Fashion Week in 2006. She commented on the sight by stating, “This unnatural thinness is a terrible message to send out. The people watching the fashion shows are young, impressionable women” (Hellmich). It can be agreed that the situation is bad when one of their own comments on it. But there is plenty of truth to stand behind what the model is saying. In fact, a professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago and the vice president of the American Psychiatric Association, Nada Stotland agrees, arguing that “We know seeing super-thin models can play a role in causing anorexia… because many models and actresses are so thin, it makes anorexics think their emaciated bodies are normal” (Hellmich). With this definition of beauty, young people who aspire to be models are doomed.

Whether they like it or not, many models and actresses are seen as role models, and many young girls growing up look to models and actresses as such. When females look to some of the models as role models, and see all the glam, glory, and attention that these models are receiving, it only encourages the disorder. Role models should be that: role models. They should be promoting a positive image, both mentally and also physically. However, overly thin models display the exact opposite. They are mentally unhealthy, and it shows physically. What these young people may not know about wanting to be a dangerously underweight model are the health problems that being dangerously underweight are linked to. In fact, the models that are participating in being dangerously underweight may not know the health problems they may be bringing upon themselves either.

However, this is not a suggestion that thin models cause eating disorder in those who look up to them. One of the misconceptions and arguments against applying a weight minimum to modeling is that thin models do not cause eating disorders, it has yet to be proven so this is a valid argument, but on the other hand, it cannot be denied that it could be an attributing factor in some cases. Another argument against weight restrictions, is that if models are seen as role models to others and are being held accountable, then others in the limelight need to be held accountable, also. The flaw in this argument is that ‘others’ are actually being held accountable. Some may considered musical artists a role model. With this said, newly signed rapper, Wiz Khalifa is known for his reference to marijuana in his songs, but is still adored by the younger generation. However, this caught up with him last year when he was arrested for drug position (Miller).

Without this minimum weight requirement, these severely underweight models are only being encouraged. The thinner the model, the more work and opportunities that are available to them. Hiring the thinnest models is justified by saying that designers need models that will fit sample clothes. There has been discussion by The Council of Fashion Designers of America about increasing sample clothing sizes but only few have taken the initiative to increase the sample clothing size. Sample clothing is prototype of clothing designers create for a model to wear down the runway, before mass producing. Sample clothing sizes usually range from a size zero to a size two. A former runway model, Valentine Fillol Cordier, explains, “The measurements have changed – I’d say the perfect hip size now is 10cm less that it was in the 90’s. All the girls have lost on the hips” (Fisher). She then goes on to explain that since she was unable to keep up with changing measurements, “[she] can’t work anymore” (Fisher).

The editor of respected fashion magazine, _Vogue_, Alexandra Shulman, sent a letter to major international fashion houses complaining that “sample sizes sent by designers are now so ‘minuscule’ they force fashion editors to use models with ‘jutting bones’ and ‘no breasts or hips'” (Fisher). As sample sizes get smaller and smaller, the healthier models find themselves out of work while the unhealthy models get all the glory. By the unhealthier models getting all the glory, it is only reassuring the models that being severely underweight is a good thing, and encouraging other models to get skinnier when in fact is it absurd. The world might wince at the sight of skin and bones walking around, but as long as these models are being used to showcase designers’ apparel and still getting paid, who is going to stop them?

Some have finally said enough is enough to severely underweight models. The first ban on overly underweight models took place in 2006 in Madrid. In order to determine what a healthy weight is for a model, fashion shows taking place in Madrid evaluate the Body Mass Index, or BMI, which compares the models’ height to their weight. Any models falling below the “healthy” weight limit being turned away. The mayor of Milan in Italy, has decided to do the same. She says that the only way that this policy will be overturned is if there is another to keep the models from looking “sick” (“Skinny Models Banned from Catwalk”). More recently, Victoria Beckham banned 12 models from her New York fashion show last year. Even though she is quite thin herself, she did not want to keep the trend going by supporting underweight models.

Placing a weight minimum on models would not be put in place to discriminate against models and designers, but instead for the welfare of models and the people who look up to them. Without the weight minimum, the fashion industry is promoting an unhealthy body image. They are sending the message to consumers and the people who look towards the models as role models that it is okay to be severely underweight. Not only is the fashion industry negatively impacting others, but it is also negatively impacting the models, themselves. They are killing themselves to be this idea of “beautiful” that the fashion industry has defined. Just as important, without this minimum weight requirement, this unhealthy lifestyle, this sickness, is being glorified and encouraged, wherein it should not be. Eating disorders are exactly that, illness, and no one should be cheered on for it.


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