Cover girls under 16 are out. So says Vogue, fashion's longtime dictator.
In a statement released Thursday morning, publisher Conde Nast announced the magazine's worldwide ban of the use of models 15 and younger in their pages.
"Vogue believes that good health is beautiful.
Vogue Editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers," said Conde Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse in the press release.
The accountability movement has been brewing since the deaths of malnourished models and shrinking ages of cover girls. Last season, the Council of Fashion Designers of America publicly urged runway designers not to hire those younger than 16. And this past February, the Model's Alliance, the first union designed to protect the rights of fashion models was launched.
Sara Ziff, founder of the Model's Alliance welcomed Vogue's announcement. "Most editions of Vogue regularly hire models who are minors," Ziff told Yahoo! Shine, "so for Vogue to commit to no longer using models under the age of 16 marks an evolution in the industry."
Both Ziff and Vogue acknowledge underage models are only part of the industry's problem. Included in the magazine's manifesto is a pledge to "not knowingly" employ those "who appear to have an eating disorder." Presumably that includes models over 16 as well. The magazine's editors also devised a plan to influence the industry at large.
Their strategy includes mentoring programs for younger models, and better backstage conditions for runway models, specifically more healthy food options and a "respect for privacy." Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her staff also encourages casting agents to "not to keep models unreasonably late" and ask "designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes."
This is a major breakthrough for an industry long accused of setting unrealistic beauty ideals and doing nothing about it. Vogue's move is worth all the praise it's getting. But any reasonable skeptic has to ask, why now?
It's been a difficult year for the magazine, particularly for its international arms. In August, French Vogue was under fire for a sexually charged spread featuring a 10-year-old girl. Racially insensitive fashion editorials in Italian and Japanese editions only added to a chorus of criticism.
In a world where trends are now dictated by Twitter, and where Wintour's fiercest competitor is a teenage feminist named Tavi, the shroud Vogue privilege is no more. Young women outside of the glossy fashion bubble have the megaphone and they're as passionate about causes as they are about color-blocking.
This week's proof: 14-year-old Julia Bluhm. After launching a petition asking Seventeen magazine to ban retouching, Bluhm moved the protest to the magazine's offices and to the press. "Girls shouldn't compare themselves to pictures in magazines," she told Yahoo! Shine. "They're fake."
But not everyone is as savvy as Bluhm. For years, fashion magazines have packaged adult femininity with the help of barely pubescent models. Until recently, most people didn't notice. According to Model Alliance, over 54 percent of working models start working between the ages of 13 and 16.
Fashionista's Haley Phelan sees Vogue's healthy model promise as a potential game changer. "It should make a big impact on the kind of models and editorials we see in the magazines," writes the industry insider. But she worries the language in their statement, peppered with non-binding legal terms, is "non-committal."
Ziff too is cautiously optimistic saying she "hopes that Vogue will honor its commitment." With so much on the line, and so many people watching, it better.