07 May 2012

Vogue bans skinny models

Models that are too skinny will be banned from its pages, the world's top fashion magazine Vogue has announced. Is this just another fashion publicity stunt or for real?


Models that are too young and too skinny will be banned from its pages, the world's top fashion magazine Vogue has announced. Is this just another fashion publicity stunt or for real? DietDoc comments.

Initially when I read the various headlines in the international media this week that announced Vogue Magazine’s undertaking to "ban models who are too skinny, who have visible signs of eating disorders and who are under the age of 16 years", I felt pleased and relieved. But on second thoughts, I am not sure that this grand and noble-sounding resolve by what is probably the world’s most powerful fashion arbiter, will make much of a difference to young, and not so young women, and even some men, who are prepared to die to be thin.

Is it for real?

Can we take Vogue’s promise seriously? Will the editors who after all need to sell millions of magazines, stick to this undertaking? Or is this announcement just a way of placating lobbyists after the death of two models reportedly linked to eating disorders in 2006 and 2007? (Italie, 2012).

The wording of the announcement is already suspect, and one of the first questions that leaps to mind is how do they define models "who have visible signs of eating disorders"? How thin must a model be before her anorexia becomes visible? Eating disorders are after all characterised by secrecy as many a parent has discovered. And what about eating disorders such as bulimia which can be just as serious as anorexia, but are less evident to observers? Princess Diana was an example of the latter scourge. While she smiled and charmed the world, she was suffering from this hidden eating disorder and endangering her physical and psychological health.

According to Audrey Brashich, a former teen model and previous editor of a magazine for teens, has commented on the Vogue announcement as a “tiny baby-step of progress”(Italie, 2012), and I must admit that I concur with her.

I can’t shake off the feeling that this is just another fashion publicity stunt and it will take sound evidence that the entire fashion world is serious about changing its attitude towards the exploitation of under-age and/or starving girls, to persuade me that things are actually changing for the better.

A great puzzle

The entire swing of the fashion industry from normal looking images of women to the current skeletal parodies which are no longer feminine and are often hardly human, puzzles me a lot.

I suspect that fashion houses and magazines are exploiting a number of psychological factors, such as:

a) The use of paradox

Paradox is a very powerful tool in achieving change in human attitudes and beliefs. It is used in many faiths, in the field of clinical psychology, in politics and in advertising. Examples of the use of paradox to make fashions desirable and irresistible include the launch of Dior’s New Look after the austerity of the Second Word War. Just when most countries around the globe were seriously impoverished, fashion decreed that women should wear sumptuous clothes which required metres and meters of expensive material to produce.

Conversely when the economies started to improve again, the mini was all the rage! Just when we were able to afford those metres and meters of material, the tyrants in the fashion industry presented women with the paradox that the smaller the garment, the more desirable it would be.

I believe that the present adulation of emaciated models in a time when food is relatively plentiful for those who can afford fashionable clothing, is an example of such a paradox. It would certainly not work in the Sudan or the Horn of Africa where thousands of  men, women and children are starving to death.

b) Power play

Wielding power be it in the political or the fashion arena, is a heady feeling. Imagine how seductive it must be to know that what you say or command will influence millions of women throughout the world. If a fashion designer announces that thin is in, then women everywhere will do anything to try to achieve this ideal, no matter how difficult or dangerous it may be.

Our leading actresses also tend to enjoy wielding this power. Just think of Angelina Jolie in that seductive black dress at the Oscars ceremony this year. The leg peeping though the daring slit in her skirt was skin and bone and some reporters took her to task for being too thin and setting a poor example. Give me healthy-looking female actresses such as Charlize Theron any day.

What about South Africa?

Although we don’t as yet have a South African version of Vogue magazine, you can purchase this mega-fashion publication everywhere, as well as dozens of other international and local fashion magazines in every bookstore, supermarket and corner kiosk. Will other fashion magazines also ban images of models who are too thin, too emaciated or too young? I certainly hope so.

At present, it is estimated that 10% to 20% of teenagers use binge-purge behaviours, excessive exercise, laxative and diuretic abuse to manipulate their weight and body image (Mahan et al, 2011). Actual eating disorders which include anorexia nervosa, orthorexia and bulimia nervosa, are classed as the third most common chronic illness in adolescent western girls occurring in 1.5% to 5% of young females. According to Mahan and her coauthors (2011), anorexia is characterised by “dangerously low body weight, preoccupation with thinness and restrictive dietary behaviours”. Bulimia is characterised by “a body weight that is close to normal, episodes of uncontrolled eating (bingeing), and efforts to eliminate calories or food from the body (purging)”. (Mahan et al, 2011).

In South Africa  in 2009 it was estimated, that urban women between the ages of 15-65 years with a relative income of R3000/month or more, had a 13% incidence of eating disorders, 50% were unhappy with their body images and black women with an incidence of 20% were more likely to have eating disorders than women in our other population groups. Competitive athletes had a high tendency towards eating disorders of 16% and women attending gyms followed close behind with an incidence of 11% (Senekal, 2009).  

We can, therefore, conclude that eating disorders and the desire to lose weight at any price are already rife in South Africa. These tendencies which can have such destructive consequences are fuelled by the tantalising images of ultra-thin models draped in exotic clothes, teetering on impossibly high heels as they swagger down the catwalk. If the Vogue announcement to ban too thin models and to stop using models under the age of 16 helps to stop one young girl from turning into an anorexic or bulimic, it will already have helped. May all fashion magazines follow suit and may our image of the ideal woman become more realistic once more.

- (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, May 2012)


(Critchell S, 2012. Vogue bans too-skinny models from its pages. Lubbock Online, 6 May 2012.; Italie L, 2012. Vogue’s too-skinny models ban: Does Vogue go far enough? Huffpost Style, 4 May 2012.; Mahan LK et al, 2011. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th Edition. Elsevier Saunders, USA; Senekal M, 2009. A continuum of weight management related problems: from classic eating disorders to obesity. Paper presented at: Sugar & Health Symposium 2009. 12 & 13 May 2009. SA Sugar Association. East London)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

(Photo of anorexic model from Shutterstock)

Read more:

Eating disorders
How to help anorexics and bulimics
Boom in anorexia sites


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