Is there such a thing as a model being too young or too thin?
Just this past week, a fifteen year old girl, Claire Quirk was dumped as the up and coming face of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week for being too young. Ironically her sixteenth birthday coincided with the Melbourne Fashion Week where she was scheduled to saunter the catwalk. The chair of the Melbourne City Council, Cr Fiona Snedden told theage.com, “as a parent, I have a fundamental issue about this. Fifteen is just too young. There needs to be a time when we stop and say, is it wrong to have models this young?”
Claire Quirk above
The British fashion industries panel recommended banning models under the age of sixteen from London fashion week. This report raised many questions such as how prevalent are eating disorders among models and should a minimum body mass index be introduced for London Fashion Week?
In Rome designer Raffaella Curiel barred fifteen models from her show for being too skinny, in order to comply with the fashion code, in wake of the death of a Brazilian model weighing in at 88 pounds with a height of 5-foot-8 inches. The code bans models under the age of sixteen as well as requires each model to present a health certificate. “I was forced to fire 15 models who were too skinny and for the others I still had to tighten the clothes,” reported Corriere della Sera daily. “I absolutely don’t want models who are too skinny,” she told RAI TV. “They are a bad example for young generations.”
Australian fashion council manager Zoe Edquist agrees with these restrictions, “children under the age of 16 – and they are children – are in a very adult industry. It is not an adult industry in the way pornography industry is adult, but it is a grown up environment.” Questions whether young teen aged girls were mature enough to cope with rejection, sexuality and alcohol in a responsible and healthy way were also raised.
Gisele Bundchen, a 26 year old supermodel, has strong beliefs that the fashion industry is not to blame, Gisele told Brazil's Globo: "I never suffered from this problem because I had a very strong family base. The parents are responsible, not fashion. Everybody knows the standard for models is to be thin, but you can't generalise and say that all models are anorexic."
Jenny McWhirter, an underground student at the University of Waterloo and part time model, decided to conduct an online survey to challenge the very common view that models are at an increased risk of developing eating disorders or having unhealthy relationships with food.
McWhirter interviewed 339 models for her study which focuses on self-esteem produced surprising results. It found 93 per cent of participants felt that modelling was a positive influence that enhanced their lives as opposed to a stressful or damaging experience. However a contradiction occurs when looking at the girls body mass index results which found that the majority of models taking part in the study would be considered underweight ( weighing in with a score of 17.4 ). The underweight girls claim that eating habits and exercise programmes do not seem to differ from those of the non-models ( weighing in with the score 22.7 ).
Dr Adrienne Key, clinical director at Priory Hospital eating disorder unit, had reported that almost 40 per cent of models may have eating disorders. A report from the Canadian Paediatric Society confirmed that eating disorders were prevalent among adolescent girls, being the third most common illness in this age group.
Analysing and interpreting the accuracy of Jennifer’s findings have raised additional questions. The undergraduates who participated in her survey may not be sufficient representatives of the entire young adult population, and their relationship with food, as her participants were sourced from a single University, consisting exclusively of undergraduates. The Hawthorne effect is also called into question as it undermines the internal validity of the survey i.e. subjects could respond in a certain way as they know they are being observed and receiving additional attention. McWhirter admits to the possibility that both models and non-models that have chosen not to participate in the study may have eating disorders. The reliability to the degree to which the scale yields consistent results are also questionable as this experiment has not been repeated by other researchers. In addition some may question Jennifer’s objectivity given that she is part of the same industry she is researching.