Modelling and crash-dieting: what could possibly go wrong?

// 21 August 2008

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MTV are chasing after the TV modelling bandwagon with a show that ‘dares to go where no modelling show has gone before’. Where might that be then? Empowering women to measure success with something other than beauty? Not quite…

Model Maker‘s daring idea is to make skinny, body-obsessed girls skinnier and more body-obsessed, by combining modelling and dieting. Let the self-loathing begin!

The official website doesn’t pull its punches over what we can expect:

Women come in all shapes and sizes, but models don’t. The term model conjures an image of stick-thin, towering beauties oozing confidence, glamour, poise and sexuality from every pore.

“Skinny,” “no body fat,” and “size zero” are the words and phrases associated with models. “Chubby,” “well-fed,” and “big- boned” are not… Until now!

15 ‘lucky’ women from across the USA will be chosen to compete in the show. They will endure 12 weeks of intensive physical fitness training to help them get down to their ‘ideal size’, while also competing in modelling challenges every week. The winner receives $100,000 and a personal trainer for a year (assuming she survives that long).

Now for the really frightening part: To audition for the show, contestants must be 5’9″ to 6′ tall, and 130-190 pounds.

Someone who is 5’9″ and weights 130 pounds has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 19.2. Someone who is 6″ and weighs 130 pounds has a BMI of 17.5.

According to the NHS, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. So the person is 5’9″ is already at the lower end of their ‘ideal weight’, and the person who is 6″ is already underweight.

If you want to tell the producers your thoughts about the show, why not email

[via The Lipster]

Comments From You

Alex B (male) // Posted 21 August 2008 at 6:44 pm


Someone who’s 5’9″ and 190 pounds has a BMI of 28.06 – ie they’re overweight.

Flo // Posted 22 August 2008 at 11:47 am

I followed the link to the NHS BMI calculator, which happily told me I am the ‘ideal’ weight for my height. It then informed me that ‘Even if your weight is ideal, you need to keep an eye on your waist size.’ Thank you NHS, I was in danger of forgetting to obsess about my body size, what a timely reminder.

Saranga // Posted 22 August 2008 at 12:38 pm

“They will endure 12 weeks of intensive physical fitness training to help them get down to their ‘ideal size'”

Not their ideal size, the show’s ideal size.

Just to make it clear – I’m not having a dig at Milly here, it’s a dig at the show as it’s bleedin’ obvious they’re not doing what’s best for the clients.

Cazz Blase // Posted 22 August 2008 at 6:59 pm

I found the (unintended?) suggestion that models aren’t women strangely amusing…

Fran // Posted 22 August 2008 at 10:36 pm

Women who are 5’9″ or 6’0″ and 190lb WOULD be overweight (according to the BMI, which is not the most reliable scale), but I doubt the show is going to encourage them to be happy with their bodies or to be healthy — especially as, if what The Lipster says is true, they could be expected to lose up to 80lb in 12 weeks.

And we shouldn’t let that distract us from the fact that Model Maker’s producers clearly think it is acceptable to ask women who are already underweight or at the low end of their ideal weight to lose 30-80lb.

Ruth // Posted 22 August 2008 at 10:39 pm

Flo, the advice about waist size is not given in an effort to “make you obsess about your body size”. It is there because of scientific evidence about a link between waist size (specifically, not body size as such) and diabetes.

Flo // Posted 25 August 2008 at 11:52 pm

Hi Ruth,

I get that the waist size advice has to do with the apparent health risk posed by being apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped, but I would question whether it is appropriate that this advice to keep watching one’s waistline be given to everyone in this way. I’m more a petite leek-shape than fruity so telling me to watch my waist seems redundant at best. To be frank, if someone like me who comes out at the lower end of her ‘ideal’ BMI range needs to watch her waist than no-one is safe from the ever watchful measuring tape of flesh-hating doom!

At worst, I see this advice as yet another sign of how our society places the bodies of its members (and in particular the bodies of women and poorer people) under increasing surveillance and labels those who fail to keep ‘watch’ over their figures as greedy, lazy, irresponsible etc. I’m not suggesting that this one specific bit of advice on the BMI calculator does all this by itself, but I’m looking at it within the context of both the long-standing discourse on women’s bodies and the growing tendency to pathologise and demonise fat in general.

I’m sure the advice is, as you say, based on scientifc evidence, but science and scientists are not outside of culture, so I wouldn’t take the fact that something has a scientific basis as a guarantee that it has nothing to do with social prejudices. Doubtless the NHS isn’t consciously involved in a conspiracy to make me feel bad about my body, but I do believe that what scientists choose to research, what they can get funding to research, how they frame their results, how their results are disseminated and how public health organisations choose to put the science into practice have a great deal to do with culture and society, including the kind of anti-fat discourse the program this post talks about is engaged in (albeit in a more gendered way).

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