Warning: A Career in Modelling Could Seriously Damage Your Health!
Initially set up as a response to the alarming articles on ultra-thin models and following the likes of Madrid Fashion Weeksâ€™ total ban on underweight models, the British Fashion Council established the independent Model Health Inquiry in March 2007 with Baroness Denise Kingsmill acting as Chair. The expert panel leading the investigation includes:
Sarah Doukas â€“ Founder of Storm Model Management
Betty Jackson â€“ British Fashion Designer
Giles Deacon â€“ British Fashion Designer
Charlotte Clark â€“ Co-Director of Inca Productions
Paula Reed â€“ Style Director of Grazia magazine
Erin Oâ€™Connor â€“ English top model
Prof Wendy Dagworthy â€“ Head of the School of Fashion & Textiles, Royal College of Art
Dr. Adrienne Key â€“ Clinical Director, Priory Hospital Eating Disorders Unit
While the media are hungry for clear-cut attention grabbing headlines it has emerged that there are no quick fix answers when it comes to the size debate. Forget size zero, itâ€™s a sizing reference that does not apply to the UK, nutritionists have stated that a woman with a Body Mass Index (BMI) below 18.5 is considered as underweight but there are always exceptions.
From my experience in the industry there were models that were naturally lean and those that had to constantly struggle to maintain a certain weight/size. It is clear that action needs to be enforced to not only protect the health of the models concerned but also those that view and idolize them as the aesthetic ideal. The question is how can the recommendations made by inquiry be enforced? Workshops, one-to-one guidance, regular medical check-ups? And who will implement these changes? As Baroness Denise Kingsmill said: â€œThere needs to be a body to implement and regulate these recommendations – or nothing will change.â€
Eating disorders and body issues aside, the inquiry has also opened up an entire range of topics concerning the working conditions of models today. It is amazing to think that the fashion industry, a major sector that contributes around Â£10 billion to the UK economy, has no rules and regulations in place for its models â€“ the glamorous apex of the industry. Typical stories include; long working hours with no extra pay, demoralizing requests such as stripping down to underwear in front of a panel along with drug taking and sexual exploitation. Further studies are needed into the working conditions of models and suggestions for a union have been put forward.
Recommendations suggested to give models better protection and advice:
- To initiate and develop a model health education and awareness programme in partnership with the industry, including;
- Holding workshops to teach industry partners (designers, agents) how to identify and advise models with eating disorders;
- Establishing a healthy backstage environment and providing good quality food;
- Recruiting experienced models to host peer workshops to provide practical advice to younger models;
- Developing an advice and support website for models, parents, agencies and casting directors, supplemented by a telephone helpline, setting out the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and where to go for expert help.
- Seeking opportunities for international collaboration in order to achieve best practice in a global industry.
To read the full Interim Report 11 â€“ July â€“ 2007 please visit the Model Health Inquiry website.
So what now? Views on the above proposals are welcomed from industry professionals and British Fashion Council sponsors and funders. The panel are also questioning if the British Fashion Council should be the organisation to take these proposals forward? If not, then what other organisation could take the lead?
The Final Report which will include firm recommendations will be published in September.
Note: Check out the fit and healthy models as seen at the Spring/Summer 08 Miami collections this weekâ€¦
Su Harris, a trend forecaster with clients in Australia, South Africa and the US, said:
I have in the past received the most awful pics of some of the ultra-slim models – below size zero (UK size 4), what beats me is the fact that the designers think their designs look good on such painfully thin skin and bones, I’m sure the buyers are looking at the bodies – not the garments.
Alex Charles, UK freelance journalist, said:
I have just got back from the couture shows and it was the same as always, lots of stick thin models, some shows were worse than others but I did notice a few girls that were painfully thin. After all the press coverage and announcements from Madrid and Milan Fashion Weeks it doesnâ€™t feel like the issue is being taken seriously by the big brand designers.
Anonymous quote from a working model, she said:
I have been working in the industry for almost ten years now. I am fortunate as I am naturally very slim and have a strong character to deal with any negatives that come my way. While I think a models union would be a great idea I do feel that exploitation will continue. Itâ€™s really competitive and models keep quiet for an easy life. If a photographer is a bit frisky or they know their agent is ripping them off they donâ€™t make a big deal out of it because at the end of the day they want the booking and they want their agency to push them.