Health Crisis in the Fashion Industry
Updated: Jan 7, 2021
While modeling is commonly associated with a luxurious lifestyle, working in the industry has notable impacts on mental health. Many studies have shown that models run a higher risk of developing “psychological disorders and report lower life satisfaction compared to other occupations” (Muller, 2018). The Model Alliance, a nonprofit organization promoting fair treatment, equal opportunities, and sustainable practices in the fashion industry, reports that sixty-eight percent of models surveyed suffer from anorexia, depression, or a combination of both.
An appearance-centric industry, models have repeatedly documented the psychological and physiological impacts about how the fashion industry promotes thinness. Yotka’s 2017 Vogue Runway article explains how “over 62 percent [of models polled] reported being asked to have to lose weight or change their shape or size by their agency or someone else in the industry.” Furthermore, 54% of models who were told to lose weight felt their “livelihood depended on it,” and expressed how “ they wouldn’t be able to find more jobs if they didn’t” change their bodies (Yotka, 2017).
The International Journal of Eating Disorders confirms that many unhealthy weight-control behaviors (UWCB) are a serious problem in the fashion industry, and “too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment” (Yotka, 2017). “Twenty-one percent were told by their agency that they would stop representing them unless they lost weight” and over 9 percent of models were recommended plastic surgery (Yotka, 2017). A study by Rodgers and researchers found that due to high levels of pressure to lose weight, models reported higher odds of engaging in UWCB (2017). Of all the interventions studied to address the policy interventions to target the extreme thinness standards in the fashion industry, Rodgers found that increasing worker protections and requiring “employers to provide food and a 30-min break for jobs longer than 6 h was rated as both impactful and feasible” (2017). Surprisingly, imposing restrictions on minimum BMI was rated as least impactful, and approaches providing “employment protections and healthier working conditions are most supported by professional models” (Rodgers, 2017).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 81% of fashion models are classified as unweight, and while a proportion of models posses the genetic ability to achieve the extreme body weight required by their agencies, many turn to “eating disorders, unhealthy dieting habits, or substance use to lose weight, all of which have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental health” (Rodgers, 2017).
The internalization of this “thin ideal,” or the external pressures placed on fashion models to maintain an incredibly thin physique, manifests itself through a variety of outcomes (Meyers, 2018). Studies have shown that three-quarters of female smokers are “unwilling to put on more than five pounds as a result of quitting smoking, while almost half would not accept any weight increase (Meyers, 2018). According to a study by The Model Alliance, in order to maintain a thin physique, 56% of models skip meals, 71% diet, 52% fast, 23% use weight-loss supplements or diet pills, 8% engage in self-induced vomiting, and 16% use stimulants such as Ritalin, 7% use cocaine, or 2% use intravenous drips (Meyers, 2018). From a policy perspective, this study found a high correlation between those subjects being asked to lose weight by an agency and engaging in weight-or shape-controlling behaviors (Meyers, 2018).
The effects of the thin ideal are not limited to models, and the secondary impact of this ideal manifests itself through the general public’s internalization of these beauty standards (Meyers, 2018). Researchers have repeatedly shown the causal link between thin-obsessed culture and disordered health outcomes and have illustrated how the internalization of the thin ideal acts as a predictor of eating disorders and UWCB’s generally (Meyers, 2018).
Kee, C. (2017). Female Models Report Being Pressured Into Eating Disorders In Order To Get Jobs. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/carolinekee/new-study-finds-eating-disorders-are-serious-pro blem-among-m?utm_term=.bs3vxZY2y#.sqRnwxelX
Rodgers, R. F., Ziff, S., Lowy, A. S., Yu, K., & Austin, S. B. (2017). Results of a strategic science study to inform policies targeting extreme thinness standards in the fashion industry. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50(3), 284-292. doi:10.1002/eat.22682
Meyers, E. E. (2018). Fashioning worker protections to combat the thin ideal's cost on fashion models and public health. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, 20(4), 1219-1258.
Muller, R. T. (2018, January 25). Models Face Routine Exploitation, Mental Health Problems. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201801/models-face-routine-exploitation-mental-health-problems
Yotka, S. (2017, February 2). How Sara Ziff and More Than 40 Other Models Are Leading the Charge Against Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.vogue.com/article/model-alliance-eating-disorder-study