Fashion designers need to stop blaming models for the industry's anorexia problem
Fashion Week, the glitzy annual fashion festival in New York, starts today. And the Council of Fashion Designers of America has responded to the annual furor over anorexic models with a health initiative and editorials that claim to address the problem — but really just shift blame from the fashion industry to the models.
The council's new guidelines encourage greater awareness of eating disorders, urge models to seek professional help if they have a problem, and call for organizers to have healthy snacks available backstage. In addition, the standards say models should be at least 16 to participate in a show.
What the guidelines don’t do is endorse the most obvious solution: for designers to make larger sample sizes. Sample sizes are the prototypes that models wear in shows, and they are growing vanishingly skimpy. Instead, the basic thrust of the guidelines is that models just need to do a better job managing the demands of being unrealistically thin.
An editorial on the CFDA site co-written by council president and veteran fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg acknowledges there's a lot of pressure from the industry to be thin, but still places most of the blame on models.
"Some models have difficulty maintaining the body ideal as they move into adulthood," it reads, "and run the risk of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors that lead to eating disorders." Furthermore, "No single influence is responsible for the development of eating disorders. Genetics, neurochemistry, personality, weight- conscious occupations, and sociocultural factors all play a role in the etiology of these illnesses."
The old tried-and-true victim-blaming game is alive and well in the fashion industry. Does the council really think that the rampant problem among their models is caused, as is first on their list, by "genetics?" Or, even more insulting, "personality?" Or that models are the key to changing the problem?
Note to the fashion industry: Do you know what causes eating disorders? Not eating. And do you know why models don't eat? Because your sample sizes would make a broomstick look fat. Because you won't hire them if they don't take drastic measures to remain rail-thin. And if you don't hire them, they have no job.
If the council had true, heartfelt concern, models would hardly be mentioned in the initiative. The leader of the fashion world control the industry. They can create real change. While their ideas such as "an Ambassador Program aimed at helping young models develop the tools to meet the challenges they face" may have good intentions, it's not enough. It will never be enough.
Quit blaming the models. Mandate larger sample sizes for shows. Cast models who have curves and aren't a haircut past being little girls, and do it consistently, not just for the occasional good-P.R. grab. If you are a fashion publisher, don't run shots of women who are unhealthily thin. And, if you're a model, don't accept the blame.