On size zero and modeling

// 9 September 2008

Londonist has an interview with London Assembly member Dee Doocey about the British Fashion Council’s u-turn over issuing certificates proving that models’ BMI is healthy.

Some exceprts:

Why are the younger, up and coming designers more likely to be in agreement with the recommendation to ban size zero?

The younger designers are more independent; they have less feathers to ruffle if they challenge the way things work. For the more established designers, there is more to lose. If the top fashion editors, designers and so on say ‘I want size zero’ then that’s what they’ll get, and no one is prepared to challenge that. Even some of the top designers would agree, but it seems that no one is prepared to be the first person to rock the boat – everyone is too frightened. The thing is, we have never been about big names in London – we’ve always produced great talent in a grassroots sense, and that’s why it is so important that we take a stance on this. Madrid and Milan banned size zero models in 2006. London should be leading way on this issue.

The BFC at first said the recommendation was ‘eminently sensible’, but then seemed to change their mind. What accounted for this U-turn?

Once again, it’s all about money. Hilary Riva [chief executive of the BFC]’s open letter to the industry outlined unhappiness about the recommendations from a few individuals – certain designers, casting agencies, buyers and so on. There would be models who couldn’t be used during Fashion Week, and this would certainly upset some parties. However, the independent Model Health Inquiry lead by Baroness Kingsmill was extremely thorough and took six months to complete. It took a large body of evidence from across the industry, from models, bookers, designers, health experts and so on, and what was highlighted was the vulnerability of professional models. The BFC heard whisperings that implementing the recommendation from the inquiry would not be well received, and backed out. Asking these people if they want the recommendation is like asking a turkey if it is happy about Christmas – if its not in their interests, of course they will not agree.

Comments From You

Frances // Posted 9 September 2008 at 2:35 pm

I really struggle with this concept. First off, most models are not ‘size zero’, they are very tall women, who are underweight/BMI for their height. This can happen for a number of reasons, but in the case of most models, it’s because they are very young, and this is where we should be concerned, not over what dress size people may or may not fit in to – how can anyone justify the amount of interference into someone’s life necessary to issue them with a “certificate”? These are women, or rather girls, not cars.

The entire “size zero” debate appears to be about dehumanising and reducing these vulnerable young people who are frequently far away from home (a lot of models are from Eastern Europe/Latin America) living in groups without adequate support or advice and they fall victim to the mentality that models are hangers who have so little personhood or agency we can demand what they eat, what size they are, where they appear and somehow blame women who are barely more than girls for the eating disorders of other young girls and women. It is not the models who should be weighed in and certified, it is the designers, editors and photographers who owe readers responsible images of healthy women.

Aimee // Posted 9 September 2008 at 3:58 pm

I’m consfused about this. In fact, i’m confused about the whole modelling industry. It seems that models have to work under conditions that other people wouldn’t dream of working under. That they have to face constant blatent sexism, that they are derided, patronised and generally treated in a way which the meekest of employees in other sectors wouldn’t dream of putting up with. I don’t understand how the fashion industry can get away with forcing models to produce certification to ‘prove’ they’re not size zero. What if they’re naturally size zero? Why are models always too fat or too skinny and why and how can the fashion industry get away with what I consider gross discrimination and heinous violation of employees’ rights?

Louise Livesey // Posted 9 September 2008 at 6:06 pm

Dear Amy, The certificates wouldn’t say that the model isn’t a size zero but that she is of a healthy BMI for her height. It’s not penalising them so much as preventing models from having to diet to dangerous levels to get catwalk work.

Aimee // Posted 9 September 2008 at 7:33 pm

Okay, I see, but this completely discounts that BMI is a wholly inaccurate portrayal of someone’s health, and is actually quite gendered towards men. This just seems to me like another way to dehumanise models and deny them the rights that other people are afforded in the workplace. I understand that there is a need to moniter the health of models and ensure that they’re not conveying an unhealthy image to the public, but surely there’s a less vague, demeaning and discriminatory way to do it.

Aimee // Posted 9 September 2008 at 7:38 pm

Frances, I totally agree with . This is completely demeaning, in my opinion and it seems like a superficial and narrow sighted way to tackle a problem with much deeper roots that ‘girls using models as an influence’. Instead of demeaning and blaming other women for eating disorders amongst young people, we should instead be addressing the value systems imposed on them by society! The higher echelons of the fashion industry could do SO much to address these kinds of issues. But instead they choose to demonise models (women) for being ‘wrong’!

Rachael // Posted 10 September 2008 at 9:48 am

I think Frances is spot-on. I also think that most models are not treated with much respect – even without taking into account body size.

And I am thinking of more socially priveledged models from the UK and the US here.

You only have to watch a couple of epsiodes of the MANY “Britain’s next top model”, “Make me a supermodel” shows on Living. I admit – sometimes these are a guilty-pleasure of mine!

But I feel sorry for the young women – who are CONSTANTLY called “girls” even if they are in their twenties. Who are shouted at and patronized.

They are not allowed to answer back because the judges claim that they are just hangers and that is “what the world of fashion is like”. Well, if that is true isn’t it time for a huge change?

Don’t the judges (as huge names in the industry) have some responsibility to change the outlook for these young women after suffering the way they did in their position?

And yet – there does seem to be some strange social obsession with “every girl wants to be a model” at the moment. Do we? Did we?

If these young women are treated as ‘the elite’- the one’s who really could “be a model” – then why are they treated so disgracefully?

Genevieve // Posted 10 September 2008 at 5:17 pm

Personally, I would love to see a wider variety of women in the modeling industry. I would like to see a celebration of all female beauty, rather than simply tall thin female beauty (even as a tall thin woman myself). But I don’t believe that BMI is a reliable indicator of health. I am far below what is considered a ‘healthy’ BMI for my height. I’m not sure if I could eat enough food to gain enough weight to be in the ‘correct’ range, and if I did I’d probably feel permanently sick. (Much the way someone who’s trying to lose weight below their normal range feels permanently hungry.) There is no one perfect body type, there are many, and BMI standards completely discount this.

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