• Mercedes Benstock

The Fashion Industry and Eating Disorders

For once a paper I am writing about has to do with fashion. Usually I wouldn’t dare have the guts to post an essay as my post for the day (yawn!), but I found the topic quite controversial and relevant after my previous post “thigh gap”.Keep in mind this topic and view point was picked for me, so this is not necessarily my opinion-but definitely one that has sparked more interest in the connection.

On a day-to-day basis we are surrounded by fashion, surrounded by media, and surrounded by unattainable advertisements of what one may aspire for their body to look like. But how far is too far? And is the fashion industry to blame for the rise in eating disorders? It is no surprise that the fashion Industry has led both men and women to eating disorders. Leading them to believe that “skinny” will make them happier, having a gap between their thighs will make them desirable, and starving will lead them to having control. How the fashion industry impacts our society may best be examined by statistics, evidence, and insight from medical professionals.

Multiple articles circulate the Internet, on models dying from the pressure to be thin. It is a somber reality that needs to be addressed. Bethany Wallace was a nineteen year old model, who seemed to have the whole world ahead of her. While others viewed Bethany as a confident and stunning young woman, Bethany’s view on herself was contrary. Her Father Clive Wallace said that: she never knew how beautiful she was, having up and down days like “Jekyll and Hyde”. Doctors believe that after struggling with anorexia and bulimia for three years, her condition weakened her heart, leading to heart failure during her sleep.

Unfortunately this is not the first death caused by the pressure of the fashion industry. Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston who modeled for designers such as Giorgio Armani and Dior died at the young age of 22, also from anorexia. Psychiatrist Dr Marco Antonio De Tommaso, said that Restons experience is “Typical”. In a letter from 40 doctors at the Eating Disorders Service and Research Unit at King’s College In London to the British Fashion Council last October, Professor Janet Treasure wrote: “There is no doubt there is cause and effect here. The fashion industry showcases models with extreme body shapes, and this is undoubtedly one of the factors leading to young girls developing disorders.”

Reston was admitted to the hospital On October 25th, 2007 where she spent her last 21 days in the intensive care unit. Her demise was agonizing for family and friends to watch, as a plastic tube was inserted down her throat and she was unable to tell anyone how she felt. Patches of her long brown hair had fallen out, and her death certificate listed the cause of death as “multiple organ failure, septicemia, urinary infection” coldly it also added: “Leaves no children. Leaves no property. Leaves no will”.

Doctor’s fault designer’s stance over thin models. The fashion industry puts an abundance amount of pressure on their models, from having legs that are to wide, arms that are too short, or a stomach that is too “fat”. Two weeks before her admittance to hospital, Ana Reston weighing a mere 88 pounds was called “Fat” at a casting call. Students, parents, or critics are not the only ones arguing in favor that the fashion industry is to blame. Medical professionals prove the industry is to blame. “The BMI scale has been largely dismissed by designers and modeling agents since it was introduced in September as part of a government- supported ban on thin models in Madrid. Ms Diane Von Furstenberg and other designers have argued that the regulations are too restrictive and could not be enforced on a global scale”. Dr Van Furth claims, “We believe the fashion industry should rake responsibility for the health of its models. The way they are presenting their guidelines really shows they are not acknowledging the seriousness of the problem of eating disorders at all”.

Not only does the fashion industry affect the health of their feeble models, but it also encourages others to idolize them. “I am surprised every time that people say overly thin models do not cause eating disorders” said Lynn Grefe the chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association, a referral and prevention group based in Seattle. “Their response looks like a P.R cover on a real problem. It is like saying tobacco advertising does not cause lung cancer”.

Catwalks each season not only show us trends on what to wear, but they also show us the trends on what to weigh. In Sao Paulo, the center of “Brazils Booming” fashion industry, four women died in less than two months while suffering from anorexia. The four deaths included a model, a manicurist, a fashion student and an office worker. The deaths proved the effects of the fashion industry that send malnourished models strolling down the runway. It also proved that the effects go far beyond those just in the fashion industry. Model Gisele Bundchen commented on the arising issue saying: “Unfortunately, with the competition that exists in our milieu a lot of girls attach more importance to work and certain notions of beauty than to their health.” Arianna Huffington was one of the speakers at Harvard for the Harris Center at Massachusetts General Hospitals annual body image forum. This year the forum featured Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani, Ms Huffington, and model Doutzen Kroes. In prior years, the event has featured Anna Wintour, Michael Kors and many other fashion figures (Bowers, 2012). Arianna’s Huffington’s opinion was clear when she said: “some people in the eating disorder community say, ‘I will not buy your magazine’ Well, if the choice is to be alive or read Vogue, fine, hen be alive”.

Designers and media outlets are quick to deny that the fashion industry is fuel to eating disorders. However with “icons” like Karl Lagerfeld, the 78 year old “mastermind” behind Chanel and Fendi (Joanna Douglas, 2012) notoriously commenting on beauty and weight saying “No one wants to see curvy women. You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying thin models are ugly. Fashion is about dreams and illusions.” I believe its quite clear exactly what the fashion industry fuels.

The fashion Industry ubiquitously endorse malnourished models, who meet there size requirements. Whilst many designers and agencies, deny knowing about their models with eating disorders, or deny noticing when one passes away, they sure notice their body image when they say that they are “to fat” to cast.

A law was created in Israel, to prevent eating disorders and unrealistic measurements. “Beautiful is not underweight, beautiful should not be anorexic” said Dr Rachel Adato, who is one of the lawmakers who pushed the bill. The law enforces that models with a BMI lower than 18.5 will not be hired to model unless a doctor explicitly says that they are medically stable to do so. The law also prevents advertisers to photoshop models, without saying that they do so in there advertisement. I believe that if following countries acquire the same rules, It will help one from turning to an eating disorder, to loose weight quickly. It will help young girls identify that they don’t have to be underweight to look like a supermodel, and put an end to deaths from eating disorders, in the fashion industry.

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