National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Unhealthy eating habits endangering models

The United States is observing the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from February 26 to March 4, 2017, to highlight the issue of eating disorders and make available critical resources to people in need. Every year, the campaign is spearheaded by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) which provides support to individuals and families suffering from eating disorders.

As per NEDA, 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. experience a clinically significant eating disorder in their lifetime, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). Eating disorders are quite prevalent in the fashion industry which continues to be criticized for propagating impractical perceptions of beauty and for enforcing controls which require models to remain excessively thin. This is resulting in serious health problems among models, especially women.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders highlighted that disordered eating among models are prevalent in the American fashion industry and is turning into a serious health concern. Ironically, being slim and thin have become a prerequisite to providing employment to aspirants who wants to make a mark in the modeling industry.

Losing weight: Prerequisite to getting modeling assignments

The study interviewed around 85 models, out of which 62 percent said that they were asked to tone down and alter their body shape and size by their employers during the past year. 54 percent of the models were told that they won’t get any assignments if they don’t adhere to the demands and 21 percent said that their agency would no longer be associated with them.

The study also found that the models were indulging in unhealthy behaviors just to be in the “ideal shape.”  Some of them skip meal often or every day, some take weight-loss supplements, some go on regular fasts or detoxes and some forcibly throw-up.

Another research paper published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) in February 2016 notes that the average body mass index (BMI) of fashion models is less than 16, which in the case of adults is considered dangerously thin as per the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the authors of the paper, starvation-related complications have led to the death of models, sometimes immediately after a fashion show.

The authors, who are public health experts from Harvard Chan School’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED), have recommended that the U.S. health officials should frame rules which forbid the engagement of models below a given BMI, such as BMI less than 18.

Bill to empower models put on hold

Realizing the gravity of the situation, California State Assembly member Marc Levine introduced a bill (CA AB 2539), in collaboration with NEDA and the Model Alliance advocacy group, on Feb. 19, 2016. The bill, first of its kind, aimed to empower models with employee rights and targeted workplace issues of eating disorders and starvation. In April 2016, CA AB 2539 received approval from the Labor Committee but in the following month, it was held in suspense by the California Assembly Appropriations Committee and killed for the rest of the year.

If passed, the bill would have required modeling agencies to obtain a license from the California Labor Commissioner. It would also require the Department of Public Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to implement rules governing the health of professional models, including regular health checkups, nutrition counseling and medical testing. Levine doubts that there is a 40 percent likelihood of fashion models currently suffering from eating disorders.

Recovery from eating disorders

Professional help is the best remedy to cure eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. If you or a loved one is battling any kind of eating disorder or a mental illness, you can contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline for information on a wide range of mental health services. You may contact us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to know more about mental health rehabilitation centers near you.