This week, Britain's Next Top Model Cycle 5 premiered. One contestant, Jade McSorley, is openly struggling with anorexia. Is a televised modeling competition appropriate for a young woman who was hospitalized just months before filming?
My initial reaction, upon learning about Jade (who, at 5'9, weighs about 90 lbs), was that it was a terrible idea for her to not only enter the modeling industry, but also take part in a competition in which she will be compared — physically and otherwise — to other girls on a regular basis. It also seemed like a poor choice for producers of the show, since the Top Model franchise prides itself on featuring girls with role model potential.
But after reading that this cycle will delve into how Jade battles her disorder, I wonder if maybe the casting couldn't be a helpful thing. Eating disorders are a reality in the fashion industry, and they may as well be addressed on reality TV. (It always seemed bizarre that the issue is rarely mentioned in the American version of the show, unless it's an accusation made by one contestant against another.)
According to reports, episodes of BNTM will show Jade being told by judges and clients at casting calls that she needs to put on weight before anyone will hire her. Whether or not this is a machination on the part of the producers for appearances is unclear, but at least it discourages impressionable viewers away from the idea of "never too thin." In a recent interview, Jade said, "I wouldn't want any girls to watch this show and think I look good."
However, she also said that she "came into the show with literally zero confidence and [she's] got so much more." While it's great that Jade seems to have enjoyed the experience, it would be a bit irresponsible — and more importantly, inaccurate — to assume that a modeling competition is a self-esteem booster.
The first episode of Cycle 5 aired on April 20, and can be viewed on YouTube.