Thin Models: Fashion Forward

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In every magazine you open, you will see skeletal models sprawled on almost every page. Dangerously thin fashion models posing in advertisements for clothing brands. While some people might see these models and think nothing of them, other people could see them and think they are hazardous to young women’s self esteem. Not only do these fashion models promote the idea that a healthy or bigger body is not desirable, the health risks that come with trying to achieve that look are catastrophic.

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In today’s fashion field, the model’s being advertised are dangerously thin, and are being exploited by the companies they work for. Fashion models should be required to have a healthy BMI before they are able to gain modeling jobs in order to protect the health of both models and the young girls who admire them.

The history of fashion companies using thin models began around the 1960’s, but the obsession with exceedingly thin models did not become a major craze until the 1980’s. According to Jim Edwards’s (2012) article from Business Insider, “Kate Moss for Calvin Klein was the tipping point: her waif-like looks set a new weight standard for models well below that of the average adult woman.” The fashion company, Calvin Klein, was the first company to bring the thin model craze into the light. Not only with Kate Moss, but also, “Carre Otis, another Calvin Klein model from the 1980’s, was actually anorexic. She suffered heart damage because of it”. Ever since Calvin Klein released those advertisements with models who were pin-thin, the trend has skyrocketed.

Even though the trend for extremely thin models began in the 1980’s, it has spiraled out of control from there, and the methods models use to stay thin have become life threatening. According to Doree Lewak and Jane Ridley many models would eat cotton balls, “The drugstore staples expand the stomach, making you feel full. Eating them is just one of the over-the-top tactics models employ to keep thin”. Fashion companies need for thin models has caused extreme competition between models. All these models know that they need to be thinner than the other, in order to gain jobs. This competition has caused many young women to survive on little to no food. “When Pedersen first got to New York, she was so desperate to get cast, she subsisted on a daily diet of 20 cigarettes, a cup of coffee, and little else”. Pedersen was a model during the rise of the thin model craze and had first hand experience in the competition to gain jobs.

One of the most popular eating disorders among the fashion world is anorexia. According to National Eating Disorders, “Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children): difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature and in many individuals, distorted body image”. Many models in the industry develop anorexia in order to gain the body that modeling companies look for. They do this by restricting their calorie intake below what is needed to maintain their bodies. These methods have extreme consequences such as, muscles and organs breaking down to be used for fuel, irregular heartbeat or heart failure, stomach pain, nausea, difficulty concentrating, and when vomiting is used to control weight, it can cause both the stomach, or the esophagus to rupture. As referenced in Lewak and Ridley (2017), model Victoire Dauxerre states, “During one NYFW, fellow models called her “the catwalk Yeti,” a knock at the coating of downy hair that formed on her arms and legs, a telltale sign of anorexia”. Anorexia is one of the main causes for models losing their lives.

Many models would try to control the amount of food they ate by following their meals with laxatives. They believed that taking them after eating would cause the food they ate to be digested faster, which is not the correct way to use laxatives. According to National Eating Disorders, “The “weight-loss” caused by a laxative- induced bowel movement contains little actual food, fat or calories”. The abuse of laxatives causes severe side affects like, severe dehydration, kidney damage, weakness, fainting, and organ failure. Because they weren’t getting the correct nutrients and minerals required to sustain the body, their organs were shutting down. As referenced in Lewak and Ridley, model Sannie Pedersen recalls, “a roommate who popped so many laxatives she had to barricade herself in the bathroom for 12 hours, where she screamed in agony”.

While images of models might not always reveal how dangerously thin a model is; their BMI will. BMI or Body Mass Index is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. The BMI test can be used to determine whether a person is underweight, a healthy weight, or overweight. While some people can measure their BMI and be told that they are in a healthy range for their height, models receive a different story when they check their BMI. “Under World Health Organisation guidelines an adult with a BMI below 18.5 is underweight, and 17 is severely malnourished. The average model measuring 1.75m (5ft 9in) and weighing 56kg (7st 12lb) has a BMI of 16”. The average model, literally works while on the brink of starvation, and there are several models who have a much lower BMI, since the statistics given are based on an “average” model. According to Luxury Activist, many of the Victoria Secret models have a BMI of 16. Some examples include, Adriana Lima, Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss, and Miranda Kerr are all models who’s BMI’s fall at 17 or below.

What is most frightening about these young models is not what we see. The reality behind the advertisements is much more terrifying than image that appears in the magazine. The ways of photoshop have changed quite dramatically since models have become thinner. As referenced in Lo (2010), Leah Hardy, the former editor of British Cosmopolitan states, “Thanks to retouching, our readers- and those of Vogue, and Self, and Healthy magazine- never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. That these underweight girls didn’t look glamorous in the flesh. Their skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology, leaving only the allure of coltish limbs and bambi eyes” (Lo 2010). While most people believe photoshop is still used to make people look thinner; it is now being used to make models look healthier than they really are. Fashion companies are adding fat onto these images to hide the reality of models’ lives.

While it may seem like many models are in a strong competition to gain modeling jobs; many models have taken a stand against the ideas of using thin models. In an open letter that has been signed by over 40 fashion models, in regards to a study done by fellow model and harvard graduate Sara Ziff, referenced in Yotka. The letter states, “Concerns about the fashion industry’s promotion of extreme thinness are nothing new, but a recent research study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders confirms that unhealthy weight-control practices are a serious problem in the industry”. Most of the young models who were interviewed for Ziff’s study were already underweight but had been told by agencies that they needed to lose weight.

While America is still using photoshop to alter these thin models, the laws in several other countries have changed. Based on information from Vanessa Friedman, the law applies to all models working in the European Union and the European Economic Area. According to a new law, “any “commercial” image of a model whose bodily appearance has been digitally or otherwise altered will have to be labeled “photographie retouchée”, or retouched photograph. Those who do not disclose image retouching are subject to a fine of 37,500 euros or more than $41,000”. While this law does seem like it would be beneficial in stopping the use of photoshop, it only applies to certain images. “The retouching law applies only to advertising, not to editorial images in magazines and newspapers. And in the hierarchy of fashion, editorial is seen as much more desirable than commercial campaigns”.

The thin model craze not only has damaging effects on the models, but it effects the young women who glorify those models. “Girls already insecure about their weight can feel even worse when they compare themselves to the ultra-thin models”. The obsession over thin models has caused many young women to have a negative view on their bodies. Even if they’re completely healthy, these young women turn towards eating disorders to achieve the “perfect body”. According to Issues and Controversies, “Some observers complain that the current look glorifies eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, which causes people to obsess over their weight, deprive themselves of food, and become extremely underweight.” The physical effects from anorexia nervosa include, dry skin, fine hair on the body, and dizziness. According to Kirstie Clements’s article from The Guardian, “The ideal body shape used as a starting point for a collection should be a female on the brink of hospitalization from starvation is frightening”.

Not only does the fashion industry negatively impact the models they use, they also have a negative impact on the women viewing the advertisements. The fashion industry knows that if they appeal to what society views as beautiful, they will make a profit. According to Tabitha Farrar (2014), “There are certainly some direct messages associated with body weight and the media; celebrities, fashion models, and show hosts are often seen as role models, especially to teenagers. They appear to demonstrate what is to be successful and popular. Their body weight, appearance, and beauty are often associated with their popularity and wealth.” Today’s teenagers are caught in the ideas that being what is viewed as “pretty” in society, will make them more popular and successful. Teenagers think that skinny will lead to popularity; social media has enforced the idea through direct access to images of thin celebrities.

The constant flow of images of thin celebrities and fashion models found on social media can have a negative impact on a young teens self-esteem. “The term “thin-ideal media” refers to media images, shows and films that contain very thin female leads… Thin-ideal media highlights the idea that thinness is a good and desirable thing to be, even if it is to a level that is potentially damaging to a person’s health”. This “thin-ideal media” can wreak havoc on a young teens self-esteem and lead them towards eating disorders as a way to be able to fit into the molds of society. The illusion of thin being desirable causes young girls to disregard their health to feel included in the “thin-ideal media”.

Not only does the thinness of the model’s impact girls self-esteem, but the clothes they model also affect how young girls view themselves. In Kim Johnson (2015), she states, “Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins and Joanne Eicher (1992) noted that dress provides two basic functions for humans: a modifier of body processes and as a medium for communication”.We use the clothes we wear to communicate who we are, and how we feel. In today’s society, where girls who are ultra thin are glorified for their bodies, young girls feel pressured to fit that mold. Seeing how different clothes look on their bodies compared to how it appears on the model, it causes young girls to have poor body image and low self- esteem. Girls should not feel like they can’t wear the clothes they want because of the way it looks on them. “Two social psychologists, Bettina Hannover and Ulrich Kühnen (2002), studied whether what people wear influences how they think about themselves. They reasoned that clothing styles would influence self- descriptions because certain clothing styles might be related to specific trait categories”. If girls view themselves negatively for not looking like the model, it can destructively mpact the way they describe themselves to others.

The fashion industry has a bigger effect on the population of women than they realize. “Idealized and over-sexualized images of fashion models and celebrities strongly influence the way teens dress. Consequently, this can be a source of stress and anxiety for adolescents. The constant viewing of idealized models and celebrities can majorly effect the way young teens view themselves. “A 2015 report by Common Sense Media found that kids consumption of mainstream media puts them at risk of developing unhealthy approaches to their bodies”. The way media portrays thin celebrities as god-like people who are flawless and live luxurious lives cause young teens to believe that if they become that thin, they will live that life. They’re setting unachievable goals and finding disappointment when failing to reach them. “The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5 percent of the female population”. Instead of trying to change the beliefs that thin is beautiful, today’s society continues to glorify an unachievable image.

Another negative effect of using thin models is that the industry isn’t earning as much money by not including the sizes that fit the average American woman. “The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18…There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts”. The industry is missing the majority of women’s sizes in their clothing, and as a result aren’t earning as much money as they could be. Including a larger range of sizes would help fashion brands reach a bigger audience and earn more money.. Not only would this benefit the growth of different fashion brands, but it would help many women feel more accepted by the fashion industry.

The fashion industry needs to revise their ways to protect the health of both the models, and the young women who see them. By using models who have a healthier body, such as models Ashley Graham, and Iskra Lawrence. The fashion industry would not only help the declining health of other models, but it would open a door to expanding the size range of their clothes. “There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of the silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of the size or shape”. The fashion industry needs to adjust the way they look at different bodies and find a way to make their clothes look amazing on all the women who wear the clothes. By incorporating healthier models into their runway shows, this could help brands and designers discover how they can make clothes that fit larger women and look good.

The fashion industry has a huge impact on the way we live our lives. Whether it’s through the way we use clothes to describe ourselves, or through influencing young girls to believe that being ultra thin makes you pretty. The obsessive use of photoshop to hide people from the reality of what comes with having the “perfect body”. While some people look at models and think nothing of how they look, other people could obsess over the pin-thin body and do severe damage trying to achieve that look. By not incorporating more sizes into their range, different brands lose the business of the majority of today’s American women. The lack of different sized models on the runway also causes the clothing made by these brands to not fit and look correct on the average American woman. The fashion industry needs to end the exploitation of dangerously thin models to protect their health and the health of the young women who idolize them.

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Thin Models: Fashion Forward. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved from