I recently had to write a persuasive speech for Oral Presentations class and I chose to write about the fashion industry’s effects on eating disorders. I figured I would post it since it has to do with fashion and is definitely important!
A few weeks ago a woman came into French Connection, where I work, looking for a dress for a very important event. She worked for the Mass General Harris Center for Eating Disorders, which recently put together a public forum to discuss the impact of the fashion industry and media on eating disorders. The goal of this forum was not only to increase awareness of the effects of fashion media on anorexia and bulimia, but also to advocate an increase in the universal sample size measurements. This was a very special event because both Anna Wintour, Editor in Chief of Vogue, and designer Michael Kors would be attending – two very influential people in the fashion world.
I ended up talking to this woman for about half an hour as she described to me how so many girls diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia are victims of the fashion industry, which uses size zero models in their magazines and runway shows and makes the “average” size in a store reasonably below the size of an average woman.
Once I got home, I continued to research this idea of the negative effect that the fashion industry has on body image – especially that of teenage girls who are extremely vulnerable, self-conscious, and the most susceptible to eating disorders. Therefore, I am proposing that we must do something to change the way that magazines, stores, designers, and photographers portray women in the fashion world.
According to Reuters, almost 9 out of 10 teenage girls said that they feel pressured to be skinny by the fashion industry and media. And it is no wonder why. Here are some pictures that I found of obviously underweight models in both fashion shows and campaigns. Today’s model weighs about 23% less than the normal woman. Clearly, most models do not depict average women. A study found that most models are between the ages of 14 and 19. The average height of a model is about 5-10/5-11 and the average weight is between 120 and 124 pounds. The healthy weight for a woman who is 5’10 is between 142-150 pounds. This is a very significant difference. And as you can see in this chart the model, which is here, is far from the shaded region that is considered healthy for someone who is 5’10.
A big factor contributing to this problem is that many influential people in the fashion world encourage the use of overly thin models in editorials and fashion shows. For example, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is known for his belief that those complaining that models are too skinny are just fat and jealous. He has been quoted by Focus Magazine saying “These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly”. Not only is his opinion completely repulsive, but his influence over the fashion world is so great that many people support this notion. In addition to Lagerfeld, world-renowned fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone defends using extremely thin models by saying “Clothes look better on thin people. The fabric hangs better.”
Working in retail since I was 18, I have seen the effects of the fashion industry on girls and women first hand. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have a customer whose dress is just a little too small and when I offer her a bigger size, she will refuse it because it is above a 2 or a 4. Even I will honestly admit to all of you that I have put down a few shirts or pairs of pants because they had a number that was higher than the usual one found in my closet. Therefore, not only are girls suffering from anorexia and bulimia hurting from the fashion industry’s obsession with being skinny, but stores are hurting as well. If only those women weren’t ashamed to wear a 6 or an 8, stores would make so many more sales.
Looking back, the most ridiculous experience I had in this field is when I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch the summer after freshman year. Now, not only does Abercrombie carry the size zero – which is not even a positive number – but they carry double zeros as well. Double zero does not even exist in the numerical world – they might as well just use the number negative 2. This is totally unnecessary because the Abercrombie Kids size 12 is equal to Abercrombie & Fitch’s size 0 and sometimes 2. So growing up as a teenager, the goal was not to be a zero – but a double zero. Teenage girls wanted to fit into nonexistent numbers.
Not only have I had professional experience from working in multiple clothing stores, but I have had personal experience with this as well. 3 of my best friends have suffered from eating disorders in both high school and college. Seeing these amazing, beautiful girls battle these diseases was not only horrifying, but extremely frustrating. I know that anorexia and bulimia are not all about wanting to lose weight but about psychological problems as well – such as depression and the need for control. However, I am sure that the media and fashion played at least a small part in each of their cases.
The fashion industry’s emphasis on being thin and its use of extremely underweight models is absolutely unacceptable. And there are many ways to stop this. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has created the CFDA Initiative, which is implementing certain recommendations to designers and magazines to fix this problem. The CFDA’s ideas include ordering models identified as having an eating disorder to seek professional help and not be able to work without a professional’s approval, supplying healthy food during photo shoots and runway shows, and educating both models and the rest of the industry on eating disorders. However, I believe that harsher rules must be implemented. Yes, the sample size must be increased. But, there should also be a committee in which all magazines and fashion shows must be approved by before airing their work. These committees would have certain weight standards and make sure that each girl pictured or walking is healthy and normal enough looking to do so. Although, this would take time and money, it is completely necessary.
We must increase sample size measurements, we must put healthier models in magazines and runways, and we must put an end to this horrible habit of girls starving themselves to look like unrealistic, photo-shopped women.