Back in January, Heidy Rehman, the founder of “ethical British fashion house” Rose & Willard, wrote an article for Huffington Post UK to announce her company’s curious decision to make their models contractually obligated to eat in the company’s presence. “The consequence of non-compliance will be that neither she nor her agency will be paid,” wrote Rehman.
The post’s original draconian headline was “Our Models Will Have No Choice But to Eat,” but it was changed today to the more gentle and subtly patronizing “Contracting Our Models to Break Bread with Us.”
In her Huffington Post article, Rehman claims that previous attempts to include a broader range of bodies and hire non-models for Rose & Willard campaigns were not “well received.” She further explains:
We are now at a crossroads with regard to whether we continue with professional models or our non-model models. If we do opt for the former we have decided that we will include a non-negotiable contractual clause with the model agency which will state that the model must eat a meal and in our presence. We will not allow her to only eat a tiny morsel and/or suggest she’ll eat later. The consequence of non-compliance will be that neither she nor her agency will be paid.
Yes, it’s a form of nannying but we feel we have a responsibility to protect these young women from an industry which we believe can leave them exploited and puts them under pressure to starve themselves and damage their health and wellbeing.
Aesthetic demands are more acceptable in fashion than in any other industry and models may be asked to gain or (more likely) drop weight at the whim of their agencies or the brands who hire them. This, of course, comes with major health risks that are worthy of attention and scrutiny, but forcing a model to eat in front her bosses to gain her due compensation hardly seems like the answer. It rather comes off as infantilizing, performative, and unethical.
Following backlash, Rehman told Dazed that her words have been “misinterpreted:”
“We have no intention of imposing any form of draconian measures on anyone,” she said. “We shall certainly not be forcing anyone to eat nor placing them under scrutiny while they eat. We also are not going to impose any conditions upon what the model chooses to eat... Our only requirement is that she eats a meal in order to sustain herself.” She also highlighted the contractual nature of this policy, saying, “We are not applying any force. A contract is not force.”
But, as Irem Ozekes at Vogue Anonymous points out, “the very definition of a non-negotiable clause in a contract says otherwise... Non-negotiable” implies that forced food intake is, well, non-negotiable. It’s similarly difficult to misinterpret “the model must eat a meal and in our presence” as anything other than “the model must eat a meal and in our presence.”
“I feel like whether a model doesn’t eat in front of them shouldn’t determine if they get to work with that client,” an anonymous model told Ozekes. “If the model has the ideal look and has the image that the brand is looking for, her eating in front of them or not shouldn’t determine if she gets booked or not.”
More pressingly, adult women—even models—have a right to a body autonomy that allows them to feed themselves what they want, when they want, whether it’s a lunch of purified oxygen and five organic almonds or a meal plan that consists solely of poutine. Yes, the fashion industry ought to broaden its definition of a desirable and preferred body, but that responsibility does not rest on a model’s narrow shoulders—nor does it demand her willingness to joylessly scarf down a meal to placate an audience and get paid. (Unless she’s hired for a Carls Jr. commercial, in which case—sadly—that’s exactly what she’s expected to do.)
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Image via Getty.