The Ban of Underweight Models


Anja Rubik for Quazi Fall 2010

Underweight models are declared banished from advertising and runway, but is the backlash against the uber-skinny trend fair or even realistic?

This year several factions of the fashion world took the step that no one thought they ever would — they declared that underweight models, i.e. those with a Body Mass Index under 18.5, will not be allowed to participate in advertising and runways. While some declared, “Finally!”, others claimed this move against skinnier models is discrimination against the naturally underweight, a small but real part of the female population.

Among the countries participating in the ban are Israel, Italy, and Spain, who was among the first to ban underweight models in 2006. The countries’ bans vary — some say no to underweight models in local advertising, while others like Spain ban models in fashion shows, whose popular Madrid Fashion Week 2006 refused one-third of past participants who were declared underweight. Most notably, however, is Vogue Magazine’s ban in the summer of 2012. The editors of the well-respected international fashion magazine, known for launching the career of many a model, signed an agreement not to use models who appear to have an eating disorder.

Those involved say they have many objectives with this ban of underweight models, including:

  • Ensuring the health of models — being extremely underweight causes health risks and past models have died from complications of low weight.
  • Promoting a healthy body image — those in the modeling world understand that many young girls and women look to their models as the height of beauty and strive to look like them. Having very skinny models presents an unhealthy and unrealistic body image for women.
  • Working against eating disorders — in their quest to become “model thin”, models, and even women who are not models, develop an unhealthy relationship with food. An estimated 20 to 40 percent of models are thought to have an eating disorder and women who read magazines and watch runway shows are more likely to develop an eating disorder.


Karlie Kloss in W Magazine

But the greatest question some have is whether the ban is realistic or will even be implemented outside of a few events. Anyone who follows the fashion world knows that the majority of models are underweight. Models have been getting thinner and thinner, and current supermodels are now very skinny. Anja Rubik, a well-known Polish model, is said to weigh 121 lbs/55 kg at 5’10” in./1.79 m, putting her squarely in the underweight category. While American supermodel Karlie Kloss weighs the same at an even greater height and is famous for her very tall and skinny physique. Will magazines and fashion shows actually exclude its most famous –and money-making– models or ask them to gain weight? Many say, “Never.”

But entrepreneur and world famous supermodel Tyra Banks applauds venues like Vogue for taking this step. Tyra, knows firsthand the pressure that models feel to be a certain size, some becoming underweight and developing eating disorders as a result. She appeared on “Good Morning America” and wrote an open letter for The Daily Beast to today’s models, assuring them that this ban is a great thing:

To models around the world, I want to celebrate Vogue’s recent groundbreaking announcement…This calls for a toast over some barbecue and burgers!

When I started modeling, I used to see models who seemed unhealthy backstage at fashion shows. They appeared to be abusing their bodies to maintain a certain weight. These girls were booked over and over again for countless fashion shows and photo shoots. I’m sure many of you today have witnessed this, or even live it.

People get upset with you if you’re a very thin model. What many don’t know is that a certain sample size has been set by the industry, and you’re doing everything in your power to keep working. At times, I feel there’s an unspoken rule that says, “there’s no such thing as being too thin, as long as you don’t pass out.”

Vogue has the power to make and break—whether it’s fashion trends, designers, models, and yes, even industry practices. Their bold stance means that others will follow.

Only time will tell if Tyra’s final words are truth, and if other models agree with this stance or not.

How about you — do you think underweight models should be allowed to take part in shows and ads or is this move a backwards act of discrimination?

16 thoughts on “The Ban of Underweight Models

  1. Here I am reading this post after weighting myself …

    Based on my understanding of the modeling industry, I’m not sure that this is discrimination. Sure, there are the naturally underweight, but it appears that the vast majority are starving themselves to work. So I suspect that this will result in healthier models all over. I also think that the naturally underweight have health issues like low blood pressure, anemia, and constantly being cold, so this might prompt them to figure out healthy ways to put mass on.

  2. Sherry,

    “Here I am reading this post after weighting myself …”

    Lol. Right on time then? Or not, depending on how you look at it.

    It’s okay, you don’t have to reveal what the scale told you. 🙂

    “Sure, there are the naturally underweight, but it appears that the vast majority are starving themselves to work.”

    Well, excessively dieting and/or working out too. It’s interesting that people forget you can be naturally thin but also diet on top of that to be even thinner. This is what I highly suspect happened with Karlie Kloss because she used to be a little thicker. Still on the very thin side, but not as she is now (And people still say she is naturally that thin…okay!).

    I’d bet a lot of models are the same and would be “normal” thin women if they weren’t in the careers they were, but since they are, they try to become even thinner.

    A few, like Anja Rubik, openly talk about how little they eat. They’re the only ones who get criticism and are called anorexic, etc, but I think they are just being honest vs. models who are all, “I eat cake and pasta for dinner the night before a shoot! Yayyy!”

    “I also think that the naturally underweight have health issues like low blood pressure, anemia, and constantly being cold”

    I was underweight for most of my younger life, and yes, I was always cold. I was told to gain weight (and gain I did), yet I’m still cold a lot of the time. :/ I’m sure though that has something to do with the air conditioner always being on in every building around these parts…

    But I agree that the naturally underweight also have health issues. People think that if a very low weight is natural for a woman then it is healthy, unlike dieting and overexercising to be thin. But that’s not necessarily the case.

  3. Hey Miss A,

    I’ll tell the horrifying number – 182! I’m 5′ 7″ and this is no bueno.

    When I was younger, if I got up to 160 I was horrified and then would cut my eating way back and exercise like mad. Now if I were 160 I’d be strutting around like I was cute. My how times have changed …

  4. You didn’t have to tell the number — that’s between you and the scale! Anyway, you can weigh a bit more if you’re older; you don’t have to be a skinny minnie. Being slightly overweight isn’t going to give you any real health problems, the only consequences are the social ones…

    But if you (or anyone) want tips on losing weight, just comment me in the Clouds or send me an email. I really don’t talk about my personal life on here anymore, but I’ve lost weight and it wasn’t a small amount either, so I give my tips out a lot to anyone who asks how I did it. Not eating is no bueno, but you don’t have to starve to lose weight, I promise. 🙂

  5. I see nothing wrong in banning underweight models: it’s not like you can’t gain a bit of weight to satisfy the minimum. Even thin people can gain a bit of weight and it’s not like you can be that underweight naturally: you either starve yourself or you have a disease. Same goes for obesity: there’s always either heavy eating and no exercise or a medical condition. In either case, it should be checked and not glorified.

    But I don’t think this would change anything in the modeling industry. It’s all pro forma sort of stuff, to make them appear caring and progressive. Like you said, most of the highest models and agencies won’t change anything. Plus, it’s not like being anorexic is the only bad thing in the modeling industry. What about the narrow standards of physical appearance these women have to have (and it’s not just about the weight)? What about the fact that the most models (especially the most famous ones) are white women? Etc.

  6. Mira,

    “I see nothing wrong in banning underweight models: it’s not like you can’t gain a bit of weight to satisfy the minimum.”

    I’ll say that, for some, gaining weight is harder than for others. They can eat and eat, but their body won’t store the excess. However, this is a very small portion of the population –the human body loves to store fat for the future– and I doubt most or even half of all models are like this.

    “Even thin people can gain a bit of weight and it’s not like you can be that underweight naturally: you either starve yourself or you have a disease.”

    What do you mean by “that underweight”? Under 18.5 BMI?

    There are people who are that thin naturally; by naturally I mean they haven’t dieted/exercised to be there and don’t have anything unusual about them metabolically. A little less than 18.5 really isn’t that low.

    “…it’s not like being anorexic is the only bad thing in the modeling industry.”

    In the same pact that Vogue made to ban underweight models, they also came to an agreement to no longer hire models under the age of 16. So they’re tackling other things, but yes, the fashion world is riddled with issues. The weight one is only something very visible and something that affects everyone so it’s been dealt with the most.

    As far as race goes, the most famous [insert your public profession] tends to be white, whether it be male or female. Unless we’re talking about sports or R&B music, lol. We could talk about that all day, but the modeling world is hardly alone in that.

    But I agree: it’s quite peculiar that Victoria’s Secret for example, went all the way to South Africa and Brazil to pull out mainly women they could have found in the Netherlands or Germany. Let’s all pretend we don’t notice that they’re one of the few companies that hasn’t gotten more diverse over the years, but less.

  7. Hmmm… I guess you’re right. I’m not really familiar with the BMI scale. Apparently, I was at one point around 18.5 BMI and trust me, I was as chubby as always.

    In any case, I don’t think this measure really means anything. It smells like one of those pro forma things companies do to appear better or more caring or conscious but it won’t change anything. I do think that real change comes with some sort of pressure, or a movement or a revolution – ok, perhaps that’s extreme, but I don’t think agencies and companies will change these things unless they’re forced to. And as far as I can tell, nobody’s forcing them. (Perhaps when it comes to the age of models? Not sure. I know 13-15 year models are still insanely popular in my part of the world).

  8. Mira,

    “Apparently, I was at one point around 18.5 BMI and trust me, I was as chubby as always.”

    Lol, I doubt you were: 18.5 isn’t extremely low but it isn’t high and definitely isn’t chubby, it’s only a few missed meals away from underweight. But you’re probably going by the EE idea of chubby.

    Another thought is that if you have a high body fat percentage you will look bigger/flabbier than you are (and vice versa — if you’re lean, you’ll look thinner), so that’s when working out helps.

    “I don’t think agencies and companies will change these things unless they’re forced to. And as far as I can tell, nobody’s forcing them.”

    The rumblings of this actually started in 2006 when two models died of complications of anorexia in that same year. One of them, Luisel Ramos, literally walked straight off the runway to her death. These cases made headlines, so there was a lot of pressure on agencies and designers to do something about these scary skinny, anorexic models. That’s when Spain stepped in and banned underweight models, starting with Madrid Fashion Week.

    Then in 2011 Vogue got whiplash about a shoot featuring Karlie Kloss (Warning: partial nudity) where she wasn’t wearing much and she looked basically emaciated. Pro-anorexia sites were using the photos as “thinspiration” and people were shutting down websites with all the comments they were sending in…Some people were saying they Photoshopped her to look thinner/bonier, but it’s the opposite — they actually didn’t Photoshop the pictures, and that was the problem! Usually they’ll Photoshop models to make them fuller because a lot of them are completely skin and bones in reality. Karlie is that ridic. skinny, for sure, I can even see it when she is wearing more clothes.

  9. I don’t know; I was about 19 BMI, and it’s not that far from 18.5. In EE, chubby can mean both your weight and your body shape. If you have a certain body shape you can never be thin, even if you’re underweight.

    Oh yes, I’ve heard about thinspiration blogs but I don’t know much about it. The funny thing is that most people here think they’re sick and horrible. I have no idea how it goes with the overall thin beauty standard in EE.

  10. I’ve heard that sort of thinking, but it’s not really accurate…You can be a thin pear (relatively bigger hips) or thin apple (relatively bigger middle). They’re all thin, plus once you start getting to 17ish BMI and lower, it becomes really hard to tell the shapes because they all start looking straight/less curvy.

  11. Omerta,

    Once heroin chic arrived, it never went away. 😉

    “Me, I like a woman to have some curves. Just not TOO many.”

    Lol, I was wondering if I should do a post on that topic of men liking “curves”. I think some men might need to figure out what they mean by curvy and/or be more realistic about it.

  12. Please, do! I don’t know any single heterosexual man who doesn’t like curves – they all claim that they do. Then they go nuts over Gisele Bundchen.

    I mean, WTF?

  13. Mira,

    Gisele is curvy, didn’t you know? 😀

    She’s actually considered one of the curvy models. I don’t know why, because she’s about the same size as most runway models outside of high fashion. I guess they photoshop her to have boobs and bum, but she has a very straight body type in reality. Even if she gained weight, she would not be curvy.

    (Now Lara Stone I could consider a curvy model, even though she is still thin in real terms, at 5’10″/1.79 m and US size 4, she has more “body” than your average runway model and does have curves.)

    But with guys, hmmm, I don’t think curvaceousness matters as much as weight. Being curvy helps, but not being curvy won’t hurt you if you’re thin. I have some studies that I’ll reflect on for this, in the future post. 🙂

  14. I am naturally underweight and I too am always cold lol. I eat like crap and would love to put on 10 pounds but I can’t. Especially if I’m stressed, my appetite plummets and I drop weight quickly.
    I personally think it’s a step in the right direction, but I agree it’s impact will be limited since most major agencies won’t ahere to it.

  15. Hi beth,

    Eating crap isn’t the best way to gain weight. You could gain weight that way (I did, ha), but a better way is to eat high protein and nutrition packed foods such as veggies, while keeping your calories up. You could also add weight training to build muscle weight. Complex carbs like oatmeal will also help you pack on the pounds.

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