Female Models Report Being Pressured Into Eating Disorders In Order To Get Jobs


Editor’s note: This post contains sensitive information
and photos related to eating disorders.

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2. On Jan.
31, the International Journal of Eating Disorders
published the largest
study to date on eating disorders among professional
models, which confirmed that models are often pressured to
lose weight and jeopardize their health in order to book
jobs.

On Jan. 31, the International Journal of Eating Disorders published the largest study to date on eating disorders among professional models, which confirmed that models are often pressured to lose weight and jeopardize their health in order to book jobs.

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The study was a joint effort between researchers at
Northeastern University, Harvard School of
Public Health, and The Model Alliance, a labor
advocacy group for models in the American fashion industry.
The landmark study aimed to “bridge a gap in data” on the
pressure to lose weight and the rates of unhealthy weight
control behaviors among models — and to use this evidence to
suggest policy changes in the industry.

“It’s also the first study to link disordered eating among
models with perceived pressure from agencies,”
Rachel Rodgers, PhD, principle investigator and professor
of applied psychology at Northeastern University, told
BuzzFeed Health.

Researchers sent out an anonymous survey to female models
over the age of 18 who participated in New York Fashion Week
(NYFW) in February 2016; 85 models completed the survey. IMG,
which produces New York Fashion Week, did not immediately
answer our request for the total number of women who
participated in NYFW last year. However, the study coauthor
estimates that about 450 female over 18 models will
participate at NYFW castings and runway shows. It’s also
noted in the study that the recruitment methods might have
led to a sample that was not representative of all
professional female models.

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3. Among
the sample of models, 81% had BMIs that were classified as
underweight.

Among the sample of models, 81% had BMIs that were classified as underweight.

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BMI,
or body mass index, is a number used to determine your body
mass based on your height and weight. It’s calculated by
taking a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square
of their height in meters. It’s often used as a screening
tool — mostly at the population level — for obesity or
metabolic disease, but it doesn’t directly measure body fat
or overall health in individuals. It also doesn’t take into
consideration things like nutrition, activity level, muscle
mass, or bone density.

A BMI under 18.5 is classified by the World
Health Organization as underweight. In this study, the
mean BMI of participants was 17.5, with the lowest being
14.5. The majority of models surveyed (81%) had a BMI under
18.5. As noted above, BMI is not a perfect measure of health
or body fatness, and some models did claim they were healthy
and naturally thin.

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4. The
study found a high prevalence of unhealthy weight control
behaviors such as skipping meals, fasts, detoxes, using diet
pills, vomiting, and abusing stimulants or cocaine.

The study found a high prevalence of unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasts, detoxes, using diet pills, vomiting, and abusing stimulants or cocaine.

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Participants reported “sometimes, often, or always” engaging
in the following: dieting (71%), skipping meals (56%),
fasts/detoxes (52%), using weight loss supplements and diet
pills (23%), self-induced vomiting (8%), using stimulants
such as Ritalin (16%) or cocaine (7%), or using intravenous
drips (2%) — an IV full of vitamins meant for undernourished
patients in hospitals.

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5. They
also found that 62% of models were asked to lose weight or
change their shape, 54% were told they wouldn’t book jobs
unless they lost weight, and 21% were told their agency would
stop representing them unless they lost weight.

Models reported a high prevalence of pressure from their
agencies to lose weight or change their appearances,
reporting that they “sometimes, often, or always” experienced
the following: were told they would be more successful if
they lost weight (63%), were given diet or exercise regimens
to lose weight (57%), were told they should get cosmetic
surgery (9.3%), and were given diet pills, weight loss
supplements, or other “substances” to lose weight (7.2%).

Kostsov / Getty Images

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6. Being
dangerously underweight is associated with hormone
irregularities, poor bone density, infertility, impaired
development, and other health problems.

Being dangerously underweight is associated with hormone irregularities, poor bone density, infertility, impaired development, and other health problems.

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“Most of these models are teens or young adults, so being
dangerously underweight and having an eating disorder can
have serious consequences on growth and development that
affect them for life,” Rodgers says.

The more dangerous weight loss practices, such as drug abuse
and vomiting, can result in more immediate health problems.
“Self-induced vomiting can cause severe bodily dysfunctions,
heart strain, electrolyte imbalances, drops in blood
pressure, and fainting,” Rodgers says. According to the NIH,
anorexia nervosa is the
most fatal mental disorder, with a mortality rate of
about 10%.

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7. The
study was published just as the modeling and fashion
industries gear up for their biggest event of the year: New
York Fashion Week, which takes place February 9-17.

“The purpose of publishing this study before one of the
biggest fashion industry events in the world was to call
attention to the models under the clothes and recognize them
as laborers, Ziff says, who deserve health and safety
protections just like any other laborer.

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8. In an
open
letter to New York Fashion Week, current models and the
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) cited the
study as proof that the industry needs to change to promote
health and diversity.

In an open letter to New York Fashion Week, current models and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) cited the study as proof that the industry needs to change to promote health and diversity.

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Members of the modeling community, The Model Alliance, and
NEDA challenged designers, agents, and everyone involved in
NYFW to the following:

Make a serious commitment to promote health and diversity
in terms of race, size, and gender.

Uphold the idea that models under 16 do not belong on the
runway, as their prepubescent bodies make them unsuitable to
market clothing to adults.

Observe child labor laws in New York State, which require
that models under 18 have proper documents and schedules.

Review the latest research on eating disorders and
unhealthy weight control practices in the fashion industry
and commit to working collaboratively with medical experts
and industry stakeholders.

“We now have a study which provided solid scientific proof
that eating disorders are a serious health problem in the
modeling industry, and that makes it more difficult for
designers to ignore,” Ziff said.

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9. “I was
booked the most when I was at the height of my eating
disorder, a size zero at 5’9”. Now I’m still very thin but a
size four and I don’t get hired for any of the same jobs,”
model Renee Peters told BuzzFeed Health.

"I was booked the most when I was at the height of my eating disorder, a size zero at 5'9". Now I'm still very thin but a size four and I don't get hired for any of the same jobs," model Renee Peters told BuzzFeed Health.

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Peters, a 28-year-old model and blogger living in New York
City, is one of the models in support of the open letter.
She’s pictured above in an Instagram with the caption:
“Embracing my body as a size 4 after years of under eating.
Self love is worth more than any client or casting directors’
opinion could ever be…”

She said that the pressure to be thin from agencies and
designers led her to develop an eating disorder for several
years. Peters is now recovered and said her current agency
doesn’t pressure her to lose weight, but she said the
industry still gives the most jobs to models who are severely
underweight.

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10. “The
agencies know how to get away with it — they’ll ask you to
lose inches instead of pounds and say it’s possible with
exercise and green tea, but that’s not how you drop 20 pounds
when you’re already too thin,” model Miranda Frum told
BuzzFeed Health.

"The agencies know how to get away with it — they'll ask you to lose inches instead of pounds and say it's possible with exercise and green tea, but that's not how you drop 20 pounds when you're already too thin," model Miranda Frum told BuzzFeed Health.

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Frum, a 25-year-old model living in Los Angeles who also
supports the letter, said she was set to walk in a show at
NYFW a few years ago but was cut because she couldn’t fit in
the runway size. That year, she said “it was normal to see
models with shoulder blades and knees popping out.”

The disordered eating practices also took a toll on her
immune system. “When I was 22 and modeling in Paris, I got
really sick from having no nutrition and the night before a
big shoot I had acute bronchitis and a fever but I couldn’t
cancel. When I got there, they told me I looked old and
haggard and I was cut from my agency,” Frum said.

Frum said she believes the industry has normalized the
pressure to lose weight through unhealthy or obsessive
practices. “The demented part is you don’t even see your body
as other people see it, as extremely thin, after so many
years of bad and unhealthy advice from agents about how
you’re supposed to look compared to other models,”
said Frum.

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11. Even
when models recognize unhealthy and unsafe practices in the
industry, Frum said many fail to speak up in fear that it
will hurt or end their career.

Even when models recognize unhealthy and unsafe practices in the industry, Frum said many fail to speak up in fear that it will hurt or end their career.

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“There’s a stigma in the industry that if you’re a model who
speaks out, it means you just weren’t that good or you’re
bitter,” Frum said. Even though many models want to speak up,
they often fear that they will get dropped from their agency
or become an outcast and never find modeling work again.

It’s also worrying, said Frum, that some young women begin
modeling in the US as a lucrative way to support themselves
or their families, and may feel “stuck” doing whatever is
necessary to keep their job. (Among the models in the study,
59% were U.S. citizens, 7% were legal residents, and 34% were
visitors or other nonresidents.)

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12. Sara
Ziff, study co-author and founder of Model Alliance, told
BuzzFeed Health she blames “exclusive contracts,” which
prohibit models from finding jobs without their agents, as a
major reason agencies can have so much control over models’
weights.

Sara Ziff, study co-author and founder of Model Alliance, told BuzzFeed Health she blames "exclusive contracts," which prohibit models from finding jobs without their agents, as a major reason agencies can have so much control over models' weights.

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“The way the industry is structured, a model can’t book jobs
independent of her agent so they are her only access to
employment — if the agent refuses to book her unless she
loses weight, this creates an extremely coercive and
dangerous work environment,” Ziff, a former model herself,
said.

Because there are no policies which protect the health and
safety of models as laborers, agencies who ask models to lose
weight are technically not breaking any laws.

Eating disorders are an occupational hazard in the
modeling industry, Ziff said, and the study shows that
there’s an urgent need for interventions to combat the
control agencies exert over models’ lives.

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13. Another
issue? The sample size for women’s clothing is a 0–2, a size
that’s often difficult for adult models to fit into, which
can lead agencies to book young girls instead.

Another issue? The sample size for women's clothing is a 0–2, a size that's often difficult for adult models to fit into, which can lead agencies to book young girls instead.

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“Designers end up hiring girls who are only 14, 15, 16
because they’re the only models agencies send who can fit in
these small sizes, and it puts immense pressure on models as
they get older and fill out, as all women do,” Ziff said. And
now, there’s data to back up this claim: Among this sample,
the mean age participants began modeling was 16.8 years old.

The industry either needs to make the sample size larger so
it’s appropriate for adult women, Ziff said, or introduce
several sample sizes to fit a larger range of bodies.
Essentially, it should be more difficult for agencies to hire
prepubescent girls to model women’s clothing, Ziff said,
because it sets a very unhealthy body image standard for both
models and consumers.

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15. When
asked to evaluate policy proposals, models thought the least
impactful approach was to set a minimum BMI limit, which is
the current policy used in Europe.

When asked to evaluate policy proposals, models thought the least impactful approach was to set a minimum BMI limit, which is the current policy used in Europe.

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The purpose of the study was also to create policies to
combat this issue, as there are currently no policies or laws
in the US to protect models other than voluntary efforts
among designers.

One proposed solution was imposing a minimum BMI threshold,
which would require agencies to only hire models with a BMI
of 17 or above. According to the study, models believed that
this would limit models who are naturally thin, and they
argued that BMI isn’t a complete indicator of health. Another
major loophole was that models can attempt drastic, rapid
weight loss in the time between their BMI check-in and a
fashion show.

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17. “No
matter what the industry says, the body type on the runway
isn’t changing — and we have scientific proof now that it’s a
public health and labor protection problem which requires
urgent policy,” said Ziff.

"No matter what the industry says, the body type on the runway isn't changing — and we have scientific proof now that it's a public health and labor protection problem which requires urgent policy," said Ziff.

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“The study makes clear that while some models are naturally
very thin, a lot of models are willing to go to extremes and
compromise their health to achieve the ‘ideal body’ according
to the industry’s standards,” Ziff said.

The study researchers hope these findings will help promote a
healthy and safe working environment for models, decrease the
“glorification of extreme thinness in the media,” and engage
models and other fashion industry professionals as key
stakeholders to continue research and develop policies that
help prevent the risk of eating disorders.

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If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating
disorder or engaging in unhealthy weight control practices,
visit the NEDA
website for support or call their confidential, toll-free
hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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