Modeling Bad Behavior
February 1, 2007 10:15am CST
The skeleton walking down the runway had a face like a mask. Her cheekbones protruding so far from her face her eyes looked hooded and sunken. Why was everyone applauding, I thought? Can't they see she's sick? But following her were dozens more designer-draped girls, all looking as if they’d just been released from a concentration camp. Some looked barely old enough to be in high school, or even junior high. They had the pre-formed look you see on gangly adolescent girls whose parents are tall. The health and fitness pros at eDiets can show you how to combine exercise and nutrition to get the best results. Click here to get started. You know they'll eventually catch up to their height, but for now, they’re painfully thin; abnormally, sickeningly thin. Today, the average female fashion model is 6-feet tall but only weighs about 120 pounds -- 23-percent less than the average woman. Over the past two months, four young women have died from anorexia in South America, three of them models. The Deadliest Disease Anorexia nervosa has four primary symptoms: Resistance to maintain normal body weight for one's height and age. Intense fear of gaining weight. Denial of seriousness of low body weight. Loss of menstrual periods in girls. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness. At least 10 million Americans suffer from anorexia or bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by binging on food and then purging by using laxatives, vomiting, exercising excessively or all three. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sept. 6, 2006) quotes Women's Health Weekly as reporting that more than 75 percent of professional models are clinically underweight (with a body mass index of less than 18.5) and 25 percent have anorexia. And they're young -- some are children. I clicked on the Web sites of two of America's leading model agencies and see they're accepting girls as young as 13, as long as they're 5 foot 7. At 13, most girls' bodies are still developing. Designers are choosing them because they don't have bumps that interfere with the drape of the garment. But the pressure to stay thin is so intense that girls risk compromising their health, perhaps suffering permanent damage. The rare girl is genetically programmed to be tall and thin, though she is more likely to be practicing anorexic behaviors. Womanly Curves? In the 1950s, girls with curves were considered sexy. Think Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. When Miss America walked down the runway, she was 5-feet 8-inches tall, and weighed 132 pounds. Her body mass index (BMI) was acceptable at 20.1, albeit on the lower end of the "normal" scale (18.5 to 24.9). Today’s female icons can only be described as scary skinny. Emaciated-looking actresses and celebrities are featured on magazines, in movies and television shows. A study in the International Journal of Obesity (2001) showed even Playboy centerfold models are little more than legs with breasts. Seven of 10 centerfold models appearing over the last 20 years are clinically underweight. Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders Inc (ANRED) reports that one out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control -- including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse and self-induced vomiting. Girls as young as 8 or 9 are dieting, and 35 percent of girls 6 to 12 years old have been on at least one diet. Fifty percent to 70 percent of normal-weight girls believe they are overweight. On Jan. 2, 2007, The Associated Press reported that the top cause of train delays in New York City was dieters fainting from missed meals. “Anorexia is not exclusively a disease that afflicts models. All women are at risk," said Ellen Delalla, eDiets' expert on eating disorders. "It's been reported that young girls as young as 8 suffer, and with the societal demands of all women, we see more and more women in their 40s, 50s -- even in their 60s succumbing to the illness.” Although males represent only about 10 percent of reported anorexia cases, it may be because a man can look overweight and be considered attractive. But the National Eating Disorders Association reports that the number of men with eating disorders has been growing for the last 10 years, and that the biggest cause of eating disorders in men is the idea that they can change their bodies to be more perfect. The physical consequences of anorexia are extreme: severe dehydration, muscle loss and weakness, reduction of bone density and hair loss to start. And although there’s more awareness of the disease, the Mayo Clinic reports that anorexia has been increasing 36 percent every five years since the 1950s. According to Delalla, anorexia is a sneaky disease -- people are preoccupied with hiding their disorder, dishonest about their food intake and preoccupied with food and body image. As a clinical nutritionist, I know that when girls don’t have normal periods they lose the opportunity to build bone in adolescence. Girls who go more than five years without a period can lose a third of their bone mass permanently, increasing the likelihood of osteoporosis. Deliberately withholding nutrient-rich foods makes anorexia the deadliest psychological disease. When left untreated, the damage is irreversible. Is starvation the price of success? In Europe and South America, the fashion industry has enacted regulations. In Spain, the top fashion show banned ultra-thin models from its runways, limiting minimum BMIs to 18.5 and requiring a minimum age of 16. For example, a 5-foot-9 model must weigh at least 126 pounds to work. Spanish designers support the decision, saying they want to promote a healthier image for Spanish teens. In Milan, Italy, the fashion industry there is similarly taking up the cause, implementing similar restrictions at its biggest fashion show, which takes place next February. The Italians have even prohibited models from wearing under-eye shadow -- makeup that makes them look even more gaunt and starved. Brazil has adopted Milan and Madrid’s guidelines: No one under the age of 16 will be allowed to walk the catwalk, and every model must present a medical certificate deeming them in good health. So what do those in America's fashion industry have to say? CNN.com quoted a major modeling agency’s director as concerned that any restrictions were violating the designer’s rights and possibly harming a skinny model’s career. Aye, carumba! Two leading players in American fashion, Anna Wintour of Vogue and designer Diane von Furstenberg say they want all models to be healthy but say standards for age and weight should be imposed by the industry. They insist that promoting health is the best solution. According to a story in the Jan. 6, 2007, issue of The New York Times, fashion magazines don’t want to dictate or impose rules on the fashion industry. Guidelines for Healthy Models The Academy for Eating Disorders, an international organization of doctors, has released specific guidelines, and it urges the fashion industry to adopt criteria that have “teeth” and exclude obviously underweight models from walking the catwalk. The group's guidelines protect models from irreversible damage to their bodies, it says. The guidelines cover: Age: recommending a minimum age of 16 years old. Weight: require that females, if 18 or older, have a minimum BMI of 18.5 (that means greater than 126 pounds for 5-foot-9 models). If the model is between 16 and 18 years of age, minimum 10th percent BMI (117 pound minimum for 5-foot-9 models). Medical certification of health, insuring the model has no eating disorders. An action plan to identify and treat eating disorders and work to discourage throughout industry. Banning the use of retouched photos to artificially make models look skinnier. Promoting health, not thinness. The design industry would work with government, regulatory agencies, media and schools to support healthy eating behaviors. BMI: An assessment of health…or risk? Body Mass Index represents a range of numbers, used to assess overweight and the risk someone has for obesity-related diseases, -- including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and depression. Until the age of 18, growth is assessed by plotting height and weight on a chart. Percentage fat should be higher for girls as they mature, because teenage girls are supposed to develop more body fat than teenage boys. A boy and girl of the same age may have the same percent BMI, but the girl could be of normal weight and the boy could be at risk for being overweight. Someone with a high BMI could weigh more, and still be in perfect health. Raphael Calzadilla, eDiets chief fitness pro and competitive body-builder, is a perfect example. His normal BMI is approximately 30, which is considered overweight -- bordering on obese (normal BMI 18.5 to 25; overweight 25 to 30; obese is a BMI greater than 30; extreme obesity would be greater than 40). But his body fat is very low; when he’s competing it gets as low as 3 percent. What’s Happening in America? According to data presented to the National Institutes of Health, 33 percent to 40 percent of adult women are trying to lose weight. They cite our cultural preoccupation with a media-driven “ideal woman,” that is much too thin for good health. A study published in December 2006 Journal of Adolescent Health showed that girls who frequently weighed themselves are at higher risk for eating disorders, such as fasting, purging and vomiting, abusing laxatives and using diet pills. However, frequent weighing doesn’t mean these kids have better control of their weight, it just means they obsess about it more. The January 2007 issue of the journal Pediatrics reports that girls who most frequently read articles about dieting and weight loss have three times the risk of using extreme weight-control behaviors, such as fasting, s
8 Feb 07
HI , great topic ! i think both cultural misimpressions and economy considerations(market and competition) combine to attack the "psyche"s of young women , leading to the occasionaly fatal affliction in those exceptionaly fragile . A comprehensive multi-disciplinary plan should be implemented to eradicate this danger and also public health awareness campaigns should make sure this problem recieves at least the same coverage of the disease on the extreme opposite of te weight range-obesity .