There's a saying about foxes guarding hen houses......They're a bad idea.....And the same is true about modeling agents looking out for the eating habits of their models. One of the six members of the CFDA panel that formulated health guidelines for models is Louis Chaban, one of the top agents at DNA Models.
If the American fashion industry had enacted a minimum BMI of its models, half of Louis' employees would be out of work and mainlining doughnuts and ice cream.
Here are some of DNA's models:
Agyness Deyn enjoying a satisfying meal backstage during fashion week.
Snejana Onopka is 5'9", and according to Wikipedia, while appearing on a Ukrainian tv show, Snejana got on a scale and it read 45kg (100 lbs). This would give her a BMI of 14.8.
If you really want to get depressed, go to some of the pro-anorexia sites and see how Snejana is glorified. Please, somebody give this girl something to eat!
Hana Soukupova is 6' tall and weighs no more than 120 lbs. This would give her a BMI of 16.3.
While the designers say that using ultra-skinny models is the best way to show clothes, I don't want to know how clothes look on hangers, I want to know how clothes look on humans.
The CFDA panel offers too much bias, and not enough muscle.
Here are the actual CFDA guidelines and my interpretation:
• Educate the industry to identify the early warning signs in an individual at risk of developing an eating disorder.
Let's host a couple of seminars about eating disorders so we don't actually have to do anything meaningful.
• Models who are identified as having an eating disorder should be required to seek professional help in order to continue modeling. And models who are receiving professional help for an eating disorder should not continue modeling without that professional’s approval.
Since we're not requiring any kind of health certification, we probably don't know who's got an eating disorder or not....So models, if you don't want to take any shit, don't tell us you're bulimic.....
• Develop workshops for the industry (including models and their families) on the nature of eating disorders, how they arise, how we identify and treat them, and complications if they are untreated.
Oh goody....More workshops!!!
• Support the well-being of younger individuals by not hiring models under the age of sixteen for runway shows; not allowing models under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings or shoots; and providing regular breaks and rest.
Young models can't work past midnight? Awesome!!! That'll give 'em more time to hang at Marquee and Bungalow 8....
• Supply healthy meals, snacks, and water backstage and at shoots and provide nutrition and fitness education.
Does chewing celery really burn up more calories than you take in???? Celery sticks, lots of celery sticks!!!
• Promote a healthy backstage environment by raising the awareness of the impact of smoking and tobacco-related disease among women, ensuring a smoke-free environment, and address underage drinking by prohibiting alcohol.
What the F*ck!?!?!?! No smoking or drinking backstage???? You mean we actually have to comply with state and city regulations?? Make this a VOLUNTARY health initiative!!!
Of course, the CFDA "health initiatives" are voluntary and wimpy. Getting 16 year old models in bed by midnight? Gonna try! Hungry backstage? Carrot sticks instead of cigs. You're a model with an eating disorder? Maybe you should get help. I can't wait to see the backstage photos from the next fashion week to see if the smoking and underage drinking have been curtailed. Somehow, I doubt it.
The fashion industry isn't concerned with the health of the models, it is concerned with giving itself cover. If they want meaningful guidelines, they can contact the Academy for Eating Disorders.
On the whole, the recommendations are laughable. Models and the parents of young models hardly need to be educated about eating disorders; they wrote the book. And designers know full-well how to recognize someone with an eating disorder. And when they see one, they slap a size 0 on them and send them into the shoot. A pamphlet won't enlighten them.
But I like the idea of a smoke-free, alcohol-free work environment for models. It's not appropriate for an industry that hires so many young people to encourage and support smoking and drinking.
Health advocates wail that these are merely recommendations, not regulations. The Fashion Council counters, "You're going to be able to get more people involved in helping out by educating and teaching versus enforcing a ban," according to WSJ.
That phraseology is what we in the PR profession knowingly refer to as a "lie." Philosophically, I'm with them though, since I'm no fan of over-regulation of business. When consumers of fashion start protesting by punishing with their pocketbooks the purveyors of bolemia and anorexia, the industry will quickly regulate itself and Kate Moss will pack on the pounds.
Until then, go ahead and print the pamphlets. the models can eat them as low-cal filler.
For the most part, I think he's right. The guidelines are lame, and the fashion industry won't act unless consumers start to punish them. So.....To all those designers who use anorexic waifs to push handbags and dresses, look out. We know who you are, and we're not buying your products.
Just who are the outside experts the CFDA brought in to formulate its voluntary guidelines? Are they talented and trained professionals, or are they industry shills. The answer, sadly, is a little of both.
Let's consider David Kirsch, the panel's personal trainer. He was one of those who called for voluntary guidelines because, after all, there are naturally skinny girls who wanna walk the runway.
Who is David Kirsch? Well, he's a personal trainer with a private gym in Manhattan called the Madison Square Club. In 2004, NY Magazine called him one of America's priciest personal trainers. He works extensively with the fashion media. He's written three diet and exercise books in the past three years, and he even sells expensive diet supplements.
Kirsch has many endorsements on his website, like those from healthy celebrities like Heidi Klum and Liv Tyler. But more tellingly, he has endorsements from the editor in chief of Allure magazine, and another from an editor at Vogue. These are the very magazines that cover and promote him. My favorite endorsement, however, is from Naomia Campbell. She says:
"David Kirsch is a full-body experience. There's a connection between the body, mind and spirit."
Naomi Campbell has an estimated BMI of 16.5. The woman is crazy and crazy skinny. On the one hand, you could say that Kirsch has seen first hand what a BMI of 16.5 looks like and can assess whether or not it's healthy. On the other, we can look for ourselves at Naomi Campbell and understand how these apparent outsiders are really insiders.
Kirsch began his career as a lawyer, so he's clearly a smart guy who understands the concept of "conflict of interest." No corporate board would permit its outside directors to have these kinds of personal and financial ties, so it is disappointing that the CFDA would select "outside" experts who are so embedded in the fashion business. There are thousands of personal trainers in NYC. Surely, Vogue magazine and the CFDA could have found a trainer who wasn't so beholden to them. And perhaps found a trainer who doesn't believe that Naomi Campbell is perfectly healthy.
In response to the CFDA's lame set of guidelines for the fashion industry, the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), has proposed far more rigorous rules for the fashion industry and the models it employs. After all, can we expect a business where drug and alcohol abuse are rampant to take self-policing seriously?
The AED would like to see underweight models banned entirely from magazines and runway shows, not only for the health of the individual models, but for the health of the population at large. The AED notes that "eating disorders are triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including socio-cultural influences such as an extremely thin standard of female beauty upheld by the fashion industry."
The guidelines are thoughtful and specific, and include requirements like:
The CFDA has been criticized for not seeking medical opinion beyond that of the three professionals - a trainer, a nutritionist and a psychiatrist - pulled together by Vogue magazine. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, past president of the AED and a professor of eating disorders at UNC was unhappy with the voluntary guidelines.
In an article in the NY Times, Lynn Grefe, the chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association, took her displeasure with the fashion industry even further:
“I am surprised every time that people say overly thin models do not cause eating disorders. Their response looks like a P.R. cover on a real problem. It is like saying tobacco advertising does not cause lung cancer.”
Clearly, the CFDA is not serious about cleaning up its industry. Does another model have to collapse during fashion week like Luisel Ramos, or waste away like Ana Carolina Reston, before the designers recognize their complicity and take some responsibility. While many of the models may be children, it's time for the rest of the industry to grow up.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America loves its models. Really.
Following in the footsteps of Milan and Madrid, the CFDA has come up with a set of guidelines -- voluntary, of course -- to address the health problems faced by models. The New York Times reports:
these recommendations are likely to include scheduling fashion-show fittings with younger models during daylight hours, rather than late at night, to help them get more sleep; urging designers to identify models with eating disorders; and introducing more nutritious backstage catering, where a diet of Champagne and cigarettes is the norm.
Such advances......Teenagers will be put to bed at a decent time and everyone might get to snack on carrots.
Notably absent from the guidelines was specificity. Madrid requires models to have a BMI over 18. Milan requires models to get a certificate of health. The CFDA requires nothing of the sort. The designers think it's unfair to those models who are naturally skinny, and the CFDA believes it is unrealistic to impose rules on the fashion industry. Moreover, Vogue magazine has helped give the designers cover by coopting several "experts".
Vogue magazine identified a few resources for models needing education. One of them, nutritionist Joy Bauer, was quoted in the NY Times piece: "It’s not so much about whether they can be 18 or higher and still look fabulous, I’m not for mandating certain B.M.I.’s because I don’t think that is fair.” An accomplished woman, Bauer has written several books about cooking and nutrition. However, she's also worked as a nutrtionist for the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. It's an open question which group has the highest incidence of eating disorders: ballet dancers or models.
Will these guidelines have any effect? Who knows. When the prevalence of eating disorders has been the longstanding dirty secret of fashion, will a half-hearted attempt to educate and inform have any influence? I doubt it.
On Tuesday, Diane von Furstenberg of wrap-dress fame and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, sent CFDA members a letter urging them to address the issue of underweight models! The previous week, fashion insiders like Anna Wintour, Vera Wang, and Derek Lam, got together with health and nutrition experts to discuss the same thing. When your employees start dying -- like Luisel Ramos and Ana Carolina Reston -- it's time to consider whether or not there's something flawed in your industry.
Per the LA Times, Von Furstenberg wrote that ultra thin models are a "global fashion issue." Moreover, "as designers, we cannot ignore the impact fashion has on body image. We share a responsibility to protect women, and very young girls in particular, within the industry, sending the message that health is beauty."
I think it's great that the industry is finally recognizing that many of the demands made on models are unhealthy and may have lasting, adverse effects. To expect a 16 year old model from Moldavia or Uruguay, who may be her family's primary bread-winnder, to adopt a sensible diet in the face of industry pressure to remain stick-thin, is outrageous. The fashion industry must acknowledge its role in the eating disorders and other health issues that these young girls acquire.
Of course, emphasizing the use of healthy models on the runway is a necessary first step. However, the fashion industry needs to go one step further. They need to consider the broader impact of their sizing and marketing practices on the public. What is the message that Von Furstenberg herself is sending when her clothes are only available through size 12?