Body Image: Model Health Inquiry Says Girls Under 16 ‘Should Not Model’

By Laura Brooks on 08/06/2007
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It has always been irksome (at the very least) how designers and modeling agencies try to pass off teenie boppers as adult women in advertisements and on the runway. Frankly, I don’t care what cosmetic product or outfit is being pushed, telling adult women that they could or should look as slim and young as 14 year old is insulting and potentially damaging to their body image.

Furthermore, it is disconcerting to see emaciated adolescents made up in tons of makeup and sexy adult outfits. Just look at this picture of Lily Cole, who was a runway model at the age of 14. A little creepy, no?

This past spring, in response to concerns about the age and health of models on the catwalks at London Fashion Week, The Model Health Inquiry was established by the British Fashion Council (BFC). The probe was launched after controversy over the number of models aspiring to the U.S. size zero — the equivalent of a UK size four. The trend appears to have begun with celebrities such as Nicole Richie dieting down to the super-thin size.

What are initial results of the inquiry? Among other recommendations, the panel experts have advised organizers of London Fashion Week that girls under 16 should be banned from the catwalks.

It was "profoundly inappropriate" that young girls should be portrayed as adult women, said Panel chairwoman Baroness Kingsmill. "The risk of sexualising these children was high and designers could risk charges of sexual exploitation."

The panel of experts also called for greater protection for 17 and 18-year olds and strongly suggests that a union in the profession be created to bring oversight to the industry.

"During our investigations," reported Baroness Kingsmill, "members of the panel became increasingly concerned as we heard more details about the working conditions faced by many models and the vulnerability of young women working in an unregulated and scarcely-monitored work environment."

Startling Medical Evidence

A rigorous scientific study into the prevalence of eating disorders among fashion models has also been recommended by the panel. They had heard evidence that around 40 percent of models could have anorexia, bulimia or other food-related problems.

Baroness Kingsmill, the panel chairwoman, said that the inquiry heard from many models who described the fear of not being selected for work because they were not thin enough.

“We have been given startling medical evidence about the prevalence and impact of eating disorders in certain high-risk industries," said Baroness Kingsmill.

However, it was determined that the weighing all models is not a viable control, because this method has been considered ineffective in other countries and may even be counter-productive. An alternate approach, which is still being looked into, is whether models’ Body Mass Index (BMI), or height/weight ratio, should be checked before they are employed. This approach has already been adopted by Madrid fashion week.

The members of the Model Health Inquiry panel include the fashion designers Betty Jackson and Giles Deacon, and Erin O’Connor, a model. Also on board are Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Model Management; Charlotte Clark, the co-director of INCA Productions; Paula Reed, the style director of Grazia magazine; Professor Wendy Dagworthy, the head of the School of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal College of Art; and Dr Adrienne Key, a consultant psychiatrist and eating disorders expert.

The British Fashion Council has indicated that it will accept the Inquiry’s final recommendations when they are published in September, in time for the next London Fashion Week which is held that month.

I wonder…What would the fashion industry look like if there was ‘truth in advertising’? Where models needed to prove they we over the age of consent, practiced healthy eating, were drug-free, and didn’t over exercise.  How many size zero models would be left? Food for thought.

by Laura Brooks

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3 Responses (Add Yours)

  • jane says:

    I’ve almost been giving up lately on my efforts to lose weight but I am getting there. I am determined to do it. I have been reading lots of blogs and people stories about weight loss. This is one of my favorites, along with this other site http://www.happyandhealthybody.com

    good on you!

  • Angela says:

    What a scary industry this can be!! Parents, keep your young teens OUT of it.

    Angela

  • Body Mass says:

    Body Mass

    Loss of body mass over time appears to be strongly linked to older adults’ risk of

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