An anorexic fashion industry

Alaa Elshahawi/Staff

Magazines. Television shows. Movies. Runway shows. What do these four forms of social media and entertainment have in common? The answer, unshockingly, is that they are all absorbed by little girls, who hope to one day look like those women modeling the newest clothing line or walking the runway. And if those women are underweight or photoshopped, what kind of message does that send to a great portion of the population? An unhealthy one, to say the least.

Although the United States has yet to regulate the fashion industry, France passed new laws in April declaring that models must have a medical certificate saying they are of healthy weight before walking down the runway and that all commercial photographs must be labeled if photoshopped. If agents break the law and hire models with a Body Mass Index of less than 18, they risk going to jail and receiving $82,000 in fines. Israel set the same restrictions in 2006 after two of its models passed away because of anorexia — and when a 28-year-old French model died of the same disease in 2010, France decided to make the same serious decision.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more deaths are caused by anorexia nervosa than any other mental illnesses. There are various manners in which the images of these models take a toll on people’s personal representations of themselves, producing lower confidence and self-esteem.

The manner in which models present themselves not only affects the fashion industry but also influences the youth. Young girls grow up living to an idea of perfectionism that is nonexistent, thus affecting their performance at school and in the workplace.

Touching on those values while considering her own modeling career, veteran American model Carre Otis confessed in an interview, “But in reality, my big diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee per day, avoiding even a splash of skim milk since I was terrified of extra calories. And to stave off hunger, I went through a few packs of cigarettes daily. Cigarettes with coffee gave me an energy boost. And all energy boosts were welcome because my body was perpetually fatigued from little to no sleep, overexercised muscles, starvation and the relentless stream of criticisms inside my own head.”

That is not to say that many models do maintain healthy lifestyles and habits. But an overwhelming majority, such as Otis herself, starve themselves to the point of exhaustion. Those myths that we hear about models at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show surviving on liquids or eating cotton balls are simply horrifying.

Although this is an issue circulating the world, the matter hits close to home at UC Berkeley. Bare Magazine, the school’s fashion magazine, deviates from the norms of modeling today by creating their own sense of talent in the arts. “Our approach to model casting is very different from the mainstream fashion industry,” said editors in chief Cecily Manson and Alexandra Pink in an email correspondence. “Our goal is to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the Cal student body. We treat our models as collaborators in our creative endeavor, and look more for vivacity and engagement in the artistic process than any specific physical appearance. Our hope is that this same commitment to artistry and exuberance will be realized in the mainstream fashion industry.”

Yet, as more and more models work through unhealthy habits, we must repeatedly ask ourselves the same question: What will it take for the United States to impose changes in the way the industry is run? The issue has been circulating the country for years, but the implementation of laws to better the matter — like those France and Israel— is not occurring. We watch runways and wonder if it will ever happen.

As we compare our country to France, we persistently wonder what our own legislation should look like. Is altering the acceptable BMIs for models sufficient, or do we have to extend our laws to a dominant force in society today — social media? Do tags need to be put on all things photoshopped? No matter what, the underlying answer is simple: There needs to be a change. In the midst of renewing society’s train of thought regarding beauty and feminism, the only way to achieve this goal is by passing legislation.

Of course, imposing healthier laws on the fashion industry will not be easy. It will take time, small steps, patience and the determination in fighting for something bigger than ourselves. Yet in the greater scope of providing for the well being of a majority of our population, it is a must.


Contact Mana Anvar at [email protected]