Models and Eating Disorders: Is There A Link?

Many people criticize the very thin fashion models that are regularly seen striding the catwalk or posing for photos. The thinnest fashion models are in, which is disappointing to see. What is even more disappointing is the negative impact models are having on body image of all women, especially young girls and teenagers. One question needs to be raised of this and that is whether models can be linked to young girls having eating disorders. Young girls watch what they see and it is only natural that they will try and copy models. Society seems to be under the impression that noticeable rib cages are in and women with a slight curve are out.

Society has not always been against models having curves and a bit of slight fat on their bones. Back in the 1960’s, the average fashion model was around 5”7 (1.7m) and weighed around 58kgs. Today, fashion models are two inches taller and weigh around 51kgs. In the 1960’s, models had a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) but the style soon changed because of a British model name Twiggy. Suddenly because of Twiggy, thin became astonishing – resulting in a new trend to be formed. This trend was not only copied by society but was idealised. The way the world considers a size 12 girl to be a ‘plus size model’ is surprising – it is hard to see the logic in that.

If you are still in doubt about fashion models being alarmingly thin, then read the next few sentences. Back in 2007, a 22 year old fashion model from Uruguay died of heart failure after not eating for days. Months later the model’s sister also died of an apparent heart attack minutes after stepping off the runway. Both deaths of the young girls helped trigger the size 0 debate, this in turn led Madrid Fashion Week to ban models with body masses below 18. This also encouraged other designers to choose curvier women to model for them.

Dita Von Teese is one of many people that prefer curves to bones in fashion models. Von Teese was auditioning models for the Central Pier Runway but had to turn down 12 girls because they were too skinny. In the words of Dita, Lingerie looks terrific on girls with shape; models that have a ‘bit of jiggle’ and have absolutely no ‘orange glow’ are the fashion models that will always be more genuine to magazines, the catwalk and the public. Vogue magazine is also another industry that has banned models for being too skinny. The magazine is also following the principle of, too thin is no longer in. They all agreed to ‘not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder’. This change by Vogue in banning unhealthy looking models is hopefully the key to changing the fashion industry. This in turn will show more reasonable images of women on their glossary magazine pages.

Young girls are idealising fashion models and they do strive to look just like them, but at what cost? According to 13 year old Katie Hennessy, models are role models to the public. “I do not see the need to be anorexic like most models, but some of my friends do. Sometimes they do not eat to keep their image. I think it is because so many people follow models, they just think that it is the right way to look. When in reality it is not at all – it is just unhealthy”. Whether we want to admit it or not, models are potentially the reason behind eating disorders in young girls and teenagers.

Over the past couple of days, photos have been passed around to residents within Perth to get their views on what looks good and what does not in a fashion model. The first picture shown was of Eliana Ramos – a size zero model and the second was of Jen Hunter who is a size twelve model. Out of the ten people questioned, all ten of them pointed to Jen Hunter – the size twelve fashion model, for her modest curves. The public labelled her as “very classy and healthy, whilst Eliana was classified as “scary and no were near healthy”.

It is a known fact that young girls and teenagers looking at fashion magazines may be the very girls who fall victim to a form of eating disorder. The stats on eating disorders show that 1% of the population of teenagers are anorexic and about 5% are bulimic. The statistics on girls who read fashion magazines are extensively higher. These stats alone show the connection between the two is surely stressed. If 60% of girls read these magazines it would make sense that eating disorders would be higher. If a girl’s self-esteem is already damaged there would be no doubt that images in a fashion magazine would influence them. Girls who are comfortable with their bodies usually will not be influenced into dieting by images that they see in a fashion magazine.

When we are being repeatedly bombarded with alarmingly skinny fashion models as the core of beauty, it is truly challenging to see the normal size female body as gorgeous. It would be beneficial to all women if agencies and magazines considered showing a much more realistic picture of a woman. Real sized women will always be just as beautiful and stunning as a size zero model. Confidence will always allow a woman to hold herself up and stride through a room as though she owns it. That is more appealing than any visible ribcage.

By Danielle

Australia's Student Newspaper, trying to Improve Student Life. We publish articles written by students from across Australia and the world!


  1. John

    09/06/2012 at 12:03 pm

    I prefer curvey girls, and I think most other guys would be in the same frame of mind.

  2. NickiM

    10/06/2012 at 11:14 am

    Great article! Shedding light on this topic needs all the help it can get.

    Of course there’s a link. Sadly, models, especially young ones are far too impressionable. The media, being as powerful as it is, only fuels the stigma surrounding the “size 12 is a plus size”, which is an absolute fricken joke!

    I began modelling around 7 years ago. At 173cm tall, I weighed 44kgs (not by choice. It’s just the way I was), a modeling agency told me I was 2cm too short and “too big” for catwalk. Too big?! Thankfully I wasn’t swayed by the industry to conform to what they feel is ‘beautiful’ and told them to get stuffed.

    There is nothing attractive about stick creatures looking withered, gaunt and sad strutting up and down the catwalk.

    I agree with John’s comment. Curves are much sexier!

  3. Oceanic

    17/06/2012 at 11:37 am

    I commend the writer of the article for such a honest insight into a issue that has been circulating the globe for years. The whole concept of “skinny models look good” is pathetic and no women deserve to feel there meant to look a certain way because the media says so. Its impact is taking toll as more dangerously skinny girls are promoted on the cat walk, the younger girls are influenced of around 10 years old!
    Just recently my friends and I were discussing something about models; constantly they repeated comments such as –
    “No, only skinny models go on runway…”
    “Yeah but… in comparison to plus size models its usually the skinny ones”
    It was so irritating, it was if they just wanted to believe only skinny girls were meant to model and their opinions were influenced by conformity.

  4. Kodiko

    18/07/2012 at 12:11 am

    As someone in the modeling industry (freelance model), I think it is important to know that plus size in the industry is very different to plus size outside of it, and it doesn’t actually have much to do with discriminating against body size/shape.

    Yes, there is a link, but perhaps we also need to look at what we are teaching our young people, that they feel so inclined to mirror the model look.

  5. Melanie

    18/04/2013 at 11:37 am

    While of course I agree with the overall contention that very skinny models are unhealthy and sending a dangerous message to certain young and vulnerable girls, I think as a writer you need to be a bit more careful. If you’re trying to link one thing to another, and indeed state that the image of very thin models is the direct cause of young girls developing eating disorders, etc, you need to be very precise with the facts.
    ”What is even more disappointing is the negative impact models are having on body image of all women, especially young girls and teenagers.”
    Can you really prove this? I am a young woman, I have many friends who are also young women, and I can safely say that most of us are happy with our own body sizes and don’t spend hours flicking through glam magazines. While it is true that there are plenty of women who are affected, you need to specify who? Remember that this is primarily a problem in westernized cultures. I seriously doubt that in many other countries, especially in those where poverty is rife, that there are many girls going around worrying about their body image. Surely what they are much more concerned about is getting a square meal!
    ”This trend was not only copied by society but was idealised. The way the world considers a size 12 girl to be a ‘plus size model’ is surprising – it is hard to see the logic in that.”
    Once again, who is ”society” and who is ”the world?” Yes I agree, of course a size 12 girl is not plus sized by any reasonable standards, but by reducing your population to a more specific entity, one which can be backed up by using statistics, you will strengthen your argument twice-fold.
    ”Young girls are idealising fashion models and they do strive to look just like them, but at what cost?”’
    Again, this is an enormous generalisation, and a dangerous one at that. Which young girls? How exactly are they ”striving” to look like them? I was a young girl not long ago and I never once tried to look like an anorexic model. Nor did basically everyone I know. How can you justify that comment?
    ”The stats on eating disorders show that 1% of the population of teenagers are anorexic and about 5% are bulimic.”
    Where did you get your stats from? What are the parameters for ”teenagers”? Are we still talking about only females or do you include males in this statistic? Writing something like ”A study by so-and-so from such-and-such organisation showed that 1% of teenage girls between the ages of 12 and 18 in Australia were anorexic – would be much more accurate and would make your argument a LOT more convincing.

    Anyway, there are more examples but I think I’ve explained my point. In general, I agree that the images of super skinny models is having a negative impact on SOME members of the western world, be it old or young, male or female, and I believe there is a connection between viewing these images and developing an eating disorder. But so many other factors play a part, such as family life, stress (related to school/work/relationships, etc) natural body size, access to information about healthy eating and exercise, etc. If you wish to say that the presence of size 0 models in the media is the primary cause for some young girls becoming anorexic or bulimic or whatever, you need to use much more factual-based evidence and quote scientific studies, etc.
    But anyway, I’m not writing this in an attempt to offend you or anything. It’s still a decent article and I think you have talent as a writer (if that’s what you want to do). Just some advice that will help you improve your style 🙂

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