Models on the runway at Alice + Olivia.


In response to a new study about the prevalence of eating disorders among models, 35 models — including Emme, Elettra Wiedemann, Ashley Chew, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Missy Rayder and Carré Otis — have written an open letter asking the fashion industry to emphasize the health of the models they hire and to represent greater diversity in race, age and size on the runways. Their efforts are meant to drum up support for a public petition as a pathway to sharing concerns via social media and urging consumers to make their voices heard by buying brands that reflect these values.

Published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the study, “Results of a Strategic Science Study to Inform Policies Targeting Extreme Thinness Standards in the Fashion Industry,” recommends not imposing limitations on a model’s minimum body mass index, offering a wider range of sample sizes for working models, not being paid in trade and increasing employment security through benefits.

Researched with Northeastern University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Model Alliance, the study was intentionally released as the fashion industry gears up for New York Fashion Week from Feb. 9 to 17. The timing is also in advance of the National Eating Disorders Association’s 30th annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs Feb. 26 through March 4 and is called “It’s Time to Talk About It.”

While Sara Ziff, founder of the advocacy group The Model Alliance and coauthor of the study, acknowledged that the problem of models “being pressured or feeling pressured by their agencies and other industry professionals to lose weight in order to work” is widely known, she said the point of difference is that until now, “There has never been any research to confirm that suspicion. I think it’s important to use an evidence-based approach. When we look into the impact on the environment, we take science into account, right? The fashion industry has not done that to date. We need to use research like this to inform any policy proposals or solutions that might be implemented.”

“I definitely think this research should be a bit of a wake-up call because unless things change dramatically at fashion week, and of course, I would love to see that happen, I don’t think the approach has changed for a long time. Of course, it’s important to promote health and diversity [as the CFDA does every season], and we are echoing their message and trying to underscore that. But without seeing that actually happen across the board — there have been a few designers who really have embraced diversity of size in particular, which is relevant to this study. We’ve been very slow to evolve and this is an opportunity for the industry to really step up and take these concerns seriously.…Now that we have research that shows the problem hasn’t been fixed despite these continued efforts, maybe we need a new approach. We’re not imposing our ideas or [proposed solutions.] We’re actually being very diligent about interviewing all different stakeholders from models through designers, presidents of modeling agencies and so forth,” said Ziff, noting the second half of the study is expected to be released in the next 12 months.

Less than a week ago, the Council of Fashion Designers of America reminded the fashion community to help keep models healthy and to represent diversity on the runways. And Ziff said she has approached the CFDA about working together.

Of the 85 models surveyed, 62.4 percent said they have been asked to change their body shape or size by their modeling agency, casting agent, designer or another modeling industry person in the last year. Fifty-four percent who were told they needed to change their shape have been told they need to lose weight and they would not be able to find more jobs if they didn’t. Twenty-one percent had been told their agency would stop representing them unless they lost weight, and more than 9 percent had been recommended plastic surgery.

More than half the respondents — 56 percent — said they sometimes/often/always skip meals, and 52 percent of those who did subscribed to fasts, cleanses and detoxes. Twenty-four percent did so using weight-loss supplements or diet pills, and 8 percent sometimes/often/always made themselves throw up.

Referencing the fact that 69 percent of American elementary school girls who read magazines say the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape, NEDA chief executive officer Claire Mysko said “the hope is that health on the runway will translate to health in the home.”

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