The fashion industry has become more aware of anorexic models and the dangers of anorexia nervosa within this business. Like others who suffer from anorexia, many models develop fears over becoming fat and losing jobs. And this is a valid fear; many models have been told by managers that they need to lose weight in order to keep working.
The disease may start out innocently enough – with just harsh dieting, intense exercise, and/or the use of laxatives. Over time, however, the person’s self image gets distorted. They always see themselves as too fat for success and continue the unhealthy behaviors.
Anorexic models are common on catwalks where the pressure to fit into size zero outfits seems intense. As time goes on, an anorexic model may become very weak, develop a variety of health issues, and also show serious signs of depression. Over time, anorexia nervosa can even lead to death.
Some of the health issues associated with untreated anorexia nervosa include:
- Calcium deficiency
- Kidney stones
- Liver disease
- Interrupted menstrual cycles
- Heart failure
- Nerve damage
- Muscle loss
- Emotional withdrawal
- Gum disease & tooth erosion
- Hair loss
- Sleep disorders
Some models do get help, though, and overcome their eating disorders. Kate Dillon developed anorexia as a preteen when classmates teased her about her weight and continued to starve herself while establishing a career as a model. She says she equated thinness with happiness and with having friends. As time went on, though, she became more and more depressed and began suffering anxiety attacks. She was neither healthy nor happy. So she sought help, recovered from her eating disorder and went on to work as a plus-sized model (wearing a size 14, which, by the way, is the average size worn by women in the U.S.).
Crystal Renn is another model that struggled with anorexia, got help and went on to continue to work as a model wearing larger sizes. She says she wants to be known for her work, not for her size. She also says she now believes being healthy is more important than being a certain size. She hopes to design a clothing line “with body diversity in mind,” with clothing for people of all shapes and sizes.
Supermodel Tyra Banks has spoken out against the fashion industry’s encouragement of unhealthily thin models and has refused to starve herself in order to get work. She’s had a very successful career at a healthy weight. She now mentors other models, encouraging them not to sacrifice their health for a career.
It’s important to understand that anyone with the genetic predisposition can develop anorexia. It’s just that those in the fashion industry have a much higher risk of developing the condition than those in less appearance-oriented jobs. Models may develop the condition in their teens, as do many other individuals. About 90% of people with anorexia are women.
No one knows for certain if there’s a sure-fire way to decrease the number of anorexic models. However, the severity of anorexia, and its high percentage rate among models has led some fashion show facilitators to take a closer look at their runways. In some cases this has lead to rule changes.
For example, fashion leaders in Madrid have a rule requiring a minimum body mass index of 18. Girls must meet this to appear in shows. And the editors of Vogue International have agreed not to feature models that appear to be unhealthily thin or to have eating disorders in their publications. The hope is that by having new guidelines a model with anorexia will be encouraged to take steps toward wellness.