While I don’t follow the women’s fashion industry, there’s a serious issue with it that has bugged me for years. Much worse, it’s a deadly issue. According to Dr. Adrienne Key, a researcher and author of a recent study: 

“Models seem to be suffering the brunt of the fashion industry’s obsession with size zero, according to a new study carried out by the Model Health Inquiry. The study indicates that as many as 40% of models may currently be suffering from some kind of eating disorder.” 

It’s easy to see images of models on the covers of magazines in public places who appear to be just released from a refugee starvation camp and slathered in makeup for a photo shoot in clothing that we seldom if ever see worn by anyone in public. Whoever popularized the idea that seriously underweight women look attractive has done a huge disservice to women, their concept of body image, and their nutrition and overall health.

“Whoever” certainly includes clothing designers, fashionistas, advertisers, and Western culture in general. Somehow millions of women have come to believe they are overweight when they see themselves in a mirror, while they may be seriously underweight.

Here I am taking the liberty of adding a video link that reader Ilil Arbel included in the comments at the end of this story. The video can be difficult to watch. 

Models are infamous for having eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and this has much to do with what designers and advertisers promote through their work. A 2012 report by the London School of Economics and Political Science titled, “Anorexia study backs government ban on underweight models,” discusses many factors that influence this complex puzzle. Among them are an excessive preoccupation with body image, peer pressure, the fashion industry, and advertisers.

In 2006 the fashion industry was rocked by the deaths of two prominent models, Ana Carolina Reston of Brazil and Luisel Ramos of Uruguay, from complications with anorexia nervosa. A University of Michigan student blog post on political theory discusses their deaths in a December 2011 post titled, “The Skinny: A job that ultimately kills.”

Models Ana Carolina Reston and Luisel Ramos shown just months before their deaths from anorexia in 2006. (Source.)

Models Ana Carolina Reston and Luisel Ramos shown just months before their deaths from complications with anorexia in 2006. (Source.) 

While no government regulations of the fashion industry are in place in the United States, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) adopted “healthier” guidelines for models. Critics in the fashion industry argued that the guidelines discriminated against skinny models and interfered with the artistic freedom of designers.

See a major source of the problem here, a bit reminiscent of the master-and-slave culture of centuries past? It’s okay for designers to be free, but not their emaciated models?

Israel has banned ultra-thin models by prohibiting fashion media and advertisers from using Photoshop or models who fall below the World Health Organization’s standard for malnutrition. Madrid and Milan have imposed restrictions as well that influence major fashion shows there.

In the meantime, young women are still plagued by popular media’s emphasis on an ultra-thin look. How anyone can see such underweight models as “ideal” is a mystery to me. Not only are they not ideal in the minds in most of the general public, designers and advertisers keep reinforcing young women with destructive self-images.

Most people, women and men, outside the fashion and advertising industries, still seem to think that teenagers and women of all ages can be exceptionally beautiful or simply attractive when they have normal shapes and curves that match the genetic material they brought to the world at birth. This seems to me is the desired state and a healthy, common sense state.

But I know all of this is complicated and deeply ingrained, especially in young women. How can they learn to ease up on themselves? That is the life-and-death question.

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