Fashion Week

Models Open Up About The Scary Reality of Eating Disorders

The #DearNYFW campaign exposes the dark side of fashion month.

In countries like France, Italy, Spain and Israel, models are required by law to meet certain body mass index (BMI) requirements to prove that they aren’t dangerously thin. In France, agencies who use models with a BMI of under 18 could even face jail time.

But in the US, there isn’t similar regulation for the modeling industry — it's all left up to models to advocate for their own health. Instead of a law, the Council of Fashion Designers of America formed its Health Initiative in 2007, which tries to implore the fashion industry to look out for models with signs of eating disorders.

“Models who are identified as having an eating disorder should be required to seek professional help, and models who are receiving professional help for an eating disorder should not continue modeling without that professional’s approval,” the initiative reads. “The CFDA Health Initiative is about awareness and education, not policing. Therefore, the committee does not recommend that models get a doctor’s physical examination to assess their health or body-mass index to be permitted to work. Eating disorders are emotional disorders that have psychological, behavioral, social, and physical manifestations, of which body weight is only one.”

The CFDA also recommends that designers provide models with water and healthy snacks, along with regular breaks. Designers are encouraged not to hire models under age 16 and not to allow models under age 18 to work past midnight at fitting or shoots.

These guidelines and suggestions were just sent out again last month, WWD reports, with an email blast from CFDA's Steven Kolb and Diane von Furstenberg, who also asked for diversity in casting.

But there’s a contingent of models advocating for more overt action. Vogue notes that a new study by the International Journal of Eating Disorders showed that 62% of the 85 models polled were asked to lose weight by their agency or someone in the industry. Among the sample of models, 81 percent had BMIs that were classified as underweight. 21 percent said that their agency threatened to drop them unless they lost weight.

In response to the study, 40 models wrote an open letter to the American Fashion industry on January 31 advocating for a greater emphasis on health and diversity on the runway. The letter reads: “Too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment… No one likes the hassle or expense of increased regulations and paperwork. However, data shows that the American fashion industry has yet to prove that it is capable of following healthy practices on its own.”

The letter is just the beginning: models are posting on Instagram with the hashtag #DearNYFW, sharing harrowing stories about being asked to change their bodies in order to work in the fashion industry. Here are some of their posts:

#DearNYFW Pictured on the left is an unhealthy and unhappy young girl doing everything she could to meet the unreachable body expectations of the fashion industry. I will never forget signing my first agency contract at 16 years old and preparing for Fashion Week in NYC. It was a dream come true. I have always had a bum, 🍑but I have always been naturally thin (in my little Indiana hometown I was even bullied for being "too skinny”). But as I embarked on my dream career in NYC, the reality hit that I could never be skinny "enough." My agency continuously asked me to lose weight even with my bones protruding against my skin. At 16, I was 5'10 and 119 pounds (32b-24-35), my agency put me on the Atkins diet. I was “encouraged” to run 5-9 miles a day and at my worst, I was on a liquid diet or only ate once a day...sugar-free Jello and canned tuna fish. I will never forget one of my agents screaming and cussing at me saying, "Your ass is too fat to ever make it as a model." I will never forget my agency putting me under complete humiliation by having me urinate on ketosis sticks to PROVE to them that I was not eating any carbohydrates and was doing everything that I could to lose the mandated weight. The request was so senseless, that it actually hurt to lay on my side because I could feel the bones in my ribs rub together. Now the girl pictured on the right is a happy, healthy, and STRONG woman that is determined to change the standards of modeling! ✊🏼 . ✨#DearNYFW it is part of the modeling/fashion industries RESPONSIBILITY to promote and encourage HEALTHY bodies, diversity, AND age appropriate models. Society is forever influenced by your magazines and photos. Therefore, you have an obligation to redefine these unrealistic standards. I am asking you to protect future young people from enduring what what we have. Please step up to the plate this season. What you do has an effect on us all, SO PLEASE BEGIN REPRESENTING US ALL @modelallianceny @nedastaff ❤❤❤ . . . #HEALTH #healthymodels #modeling #nyfw #model #fashion #modelagency #brittanymason #fitness #fit #happy #modelalliance #strong #confidentlybeautiful #fashionweek

A photo posted by FASHION | TRAVEL | YOGA (@brittanymasonofficial) on

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