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The prevalence of eating disorders in the fashion industry

Fashion models are among the key players who embody the industry’s reputation. However, countless instances show how fashion models often occupy a power-derived position of aesthetic norms.


“I saw it like I was accomplishing something. I felt like I didn’t have control over a lot of things in my life at that time and that was the one thing that I could control to a tee,” current model Tannisse Clark said. “I had full control over what I was eating and what I was doing, and I loved that.”


For those working in the fashion and modeling business, eating disorders are not a new concept whatsoever. From subtle reminders like “lose a couple inches” to being told to shed pounds, the implications are pervasive.

Lineup of models

While it's important to mention the fashion industry is not responsible for causing eating disorders, which develop from a variety of factors, it's undeniable that the field is doing more harm than good in this area of concern.


“They get deeper and deeper in it, and it controls their life,” former model Jackie Livigne said. “That’s what eating disorders do, they control your mind.”


Too often, models are met with harmful prerequisites for employment. According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 21% of models were told their agency would stop representing them if they failed to lose weight. And 63% of professional models have been told by their agency they would be more successful if they lost weight.


When the Council of Fashion Designers of America released its health guidelines in 2017, it demanded increased awareness about eating disorders. The goal was explicit: admonish what the council's website calls the “overwhelming concern about whether some models are unhealthily thin.”


“What makes us associate thinness with beauty? It’s not beauty, it’s genetics,” Clark said. “Some people are just thin and some people are built differently, so much of it is just anatomical.”


Despite the ever-changing nature of the fashion industry, the correlation of thinness and beauty, bookings and money will continue to dominate.


“This was the craziest thing because I thought I didn’t lose any weight and that I looked the same, but I tried to put on a pair of shorts I had gotten for Christmas and they fell off of me,” Clark said. “They were tight on me when I first got them.”

Catwalk with models

The circulating mindset of the fashion industry suggests that a smaller figure is easier to work with than a larger one. It’s extremely rare for brands to supply anything other than small sizes for the lineup of models.


Luckily, many brands and agencies are beginning to adopt a new look – one that displays clothes on a variety of body types.


“It is shifting a lot though. It’s come a long way in the industry,” Livigne said. “People are including plus-size models on the runway in the past few years. The new ‘norm’ is not the same wafer-thin anymore.”


As more models begin to notice these changes, the pressure to remain a certain size decreases.


“It all flashes before your eyes. You have to ask yourself if that’s how badly you want to be thin,” Clark said. “Garments can be flattering on anyone, you don’t need to be a certain way to make them look good.”


By Sofia Jas

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