With the tiny increase in the number of larger models in fashion magazines, the issue of models who are too thin has somewhat receded. But another former model has spoken out about how she developed anorexia in order to work.
This story in the U.K. tabloid the Mirror suffers from sensationalism, contains potentially triggering and somewhat tactless photographs, and is hazy on certain points of fact such that it strongly suggests its authors are unfamiliar with the material. No matter: It's still an important tale.
Inga Radziejewski, a German former model who is now 24, worked for years in Asian and European markets, doing jobs for designers like Christian Dior, Benetton, and Miss Sixty. Although she did not have to lose weight in order to begin modeling, as she grew older in an industry where her ability to work depended on her size, and where models have little control over many basic aspects of their lives, she began to cut out certain foods. Then entire meals. Nobody — not her agents, not her clients, not the models she lived with — notice her eating disorder and encourage her to seek help. In fact, casting directors would talk about her "fat ass" as if she wasn't even in the room.
She was hospitalized when her parents saw a picture of her at work in Shanghai and implored her to come home. In recovery, as Radziejewski started to return to a healthy weight, she found she was unable to return to the job she'd been doing since the age of 15. At a fit-to-confirm for a Prada show held in London, things didn't go so well, Radziejewski writes in this essay:
[T]he man measuring me said, "Hips 102 cm," and the fitting woman repeated "What?" And there was a long pause, and they said, "Thank you," and I left and never heard back from them.
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Typically, models have hips of 86.5-89 cm, or 34"-35". Anything over 90 cm is considered undesirable.
Radziejewski's struggle to conform to these standards isn't necessarily unusual. In 2006, Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos and the Brazilian Ana Carolina Reston both died from complications of anorexia. In 2007, Ramos' sister, Eliana, also a model, died for the same reason. When Crystal Renn was 14, her then agency asked her to get her 43" hips down to 34"; this amounted to losing 40% of her body weight in order to model, and she lived for years with an eating disorder. Kate Dillon had an eating disorder. Christine Alt, Carol Alt's sister, had an eating disorder. So did Carre Otis. So did Ali Michael. And then there are the many, many more women who've worked in this industry whose eating habits, while perhaps never meeting clinical criteria, were less than healthy. People who developed disordered eating, and a disordered relationship with their own bodies, as a coping strategy to deal with the constant scrutiny and competition based on their size.
These standards, which can be met naturally and safely by so few people, have to change. The fact that women can be forced to choose between their career and their health — the idea that if you choose to work as a model, you somehow cede the right to a healthy workplace environment — has to change. Agencies need to stop telling women like Coco Rocha "We don't want you to be anorexic, we just want you to look it!" Because too many of them are. In any other job, a worker who developed a serious health problem due to the job's conditions would get workers' compensation. Models get, generally speaking, fired. In any other job, if enough workers were developing the same serious health problem due to the job's conditions, there would be an outcry, and the dangerous conditions would be abolished. Now, we've had the outcry: stories like Radziejewski's, and the nodding of the talking heads that inevitably follows them, are distressingly common. But where is the change?
In other dismaying news of the day, the Girl Scouts of America surveyed teenage girls in the United States, and found that 75% rate fashion as "really important." Almost nine out of ten feel pressure to be thin. And celebrities and models influence girls' self-perceptions more than parents or friends. Obviously, conditions need to change within the fashion industry to benefit the models who live and work in an environment that can be hazardous to their health. But with fashion playing such a crucially influential role in the lives of young women, we need change — larger sample sizes, more diversity in magazines and on the runway, a greater focus on health and better eating disorder screening — for the good of all girls.
Interestingly enough, the vast majority of teenagers would also prefer to consume fashion imagery that has not been excessively Photoshopped, and to buy clothes modeled by people who aren't super-skinny. These sound like specific instructions from a key segment of the apparel market — meaning that change would not only be morally admirable, but remunerative as well. The only question, as always, is whether or not the fashion industry is listening.
Exposed: How The Fashion Industry Rejected Anorexic Inga As 'Too Big' [Mirror]
Model Lili Radziejewski shares strong views based on her personal experiences... [Sinclair Management]
American Teen Girls Feel Pressure To Be Thin [Reuters]