Scientist: Screening Models For Anorexia "Unnecessary"

Illustration for article titled Scientist: Screening Models For Anorexia "Unnecessary"

Canada's Montreal Fashion Week just ended, and models were not allowed to walk the runway if they were too thin. But on LiveScience, Benjamin Radford writes that testing fashion models to see if they have an eating disorder or are anorexic is "an unnecessary, cosmetic fix." Radford notes that there is no way to physically "screen" models for anorexia — since it's a psychological disorder, the women would have to be asked a series of questions, which, argues Radford, "like drug use or any other topic the model may not want to admit to—could be easily evaded." And just figuring out if the models are heating healthily may not work, either. As he puts it:

While thinness is often associated with malnutrition, many thin (even anorexic) people are properly nourished—and even obese people can be malnourished. Not only is the health screening impractical, but in America, such measures might be illegal. An employer can't fire someone from a job or discriminate against that person because he or she has a disease.

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True, but then we read this:

Anorexia is a complex psychological disorder; young women can no more "catch" anorexia from seeing thin models than they can "catch" depression from watching an actress cry in a film. Furthermore, if thin models somehow caused anorexia, why is the disease so rare? Hundreds of millions of American girls and women see thin actresses and models every day in the media, yet fewer than one percent of them develop anorexia. Decades of research suggest that the disorder is primarily genetic, not environmental.

Women may not be able to "catch" anorexia, but can't they "catch" lowered self esteem and a sense that a girl is not worthy of adoration unless she is thin? Can't they "catch" a lifelong borderline eating disorder than never turns into anorexia? We also call bullshit on the depression thing. We've seen movies (Dancer In The Dark, Inconvenient Truth) that made our psyches fucking crumble. Real Problems Hidden Behind Thin Fashion Models [LiveScience]

DISCUSSION

jennasauers
Jenna Sauers

@Lemonyc: No, there's no evidence that eating disorders are more prevalent among models than among comparable sectors of the broader population. There've been a very scant few studies, but the most authoritative compared Canadian female fashion models (most of whom worked the international circuit) with Canadian female undergraduates. There was no difference in the prevalence of anorexia or bulimia between the two groups, although the fashion models admitted to using unhealthy weight-control methods like purging, excessive exercising, and laxatives at slightly higher percentages than the students. So models are slightly more likely to use disordered eating to lose inches fast, but are only as likely as "regular women" to have these short-term tactics morph into full-on eating disorders.

Honestly, I sympathise with the author of the opinion. It would be hard to screen models for anorexia, and probably unnecessary, since evidence suggests they aren't more likely than the general population to be anorexic - but are likely to indulge in stupid and dangerous weight-control tactics (without actually stopping their periods, or having any kind of body dysmorphia, or any other symptoms of anorexia/bulimia). Models need to be discouraged from the moderately disordered eating they exhibit - not screened for eating disorders they don't have.

I eat a lot healthier since becoming a model than I ever did in college. Instead of having no breakfast, no lunch, a late-afternoon Easy Mac, a post-night-class/post-night-shift vending machine run, and a 2 a.m. delivery pizza, and 3-4 giant flavoured coffees with whipped cream throughout the day, I actually eat breakfast now, and fresh fruit is no stranger to my diet. When your entire job shrinks to "shave your legs, wash your hair, try not to get pimples, and don't get fat," it's remarkably easy to accomplish (certainly easier than juggling three part-time jobs and 18-semester-hour class schedules, which was the reason I ate so badly for those three years). But I know I'm not necessarily the rule - the teenaged models with the raging metabolisms pig out on chocolate and fried foods, and the older models tend to get neurotic about calorie counting and live on lattes and cigarettes. Whenever there's a fruit plate at a casting, or an agency dinner, everyone acts all weird about people seeing them eat, questions what they should order, picks at their food, acts disinterested. Your agents are, after all, the people who tell you to lose the inches - it's weird to be in situations where you have to eat around them, it feels like getting caught using bad grammar around your editor. It's that atmosphere that encourages disordered eating, even if it can't by its nature cause eating disorders. And that atmosphere is what should cause concern, and what needs to change. Models aren't by and large anorexic. But some of them are unhealthy in their eating habits, and that in itself should be enough of a concern.