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.
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?