Battle rages over girls' image

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am



International fashion magazine Vogue has made a pledge not to employ models who are too young or too thin. Earlier this month, the 19 editors of the magazine decided to project a healthier image of women by banning models under the age of 16. Models who are so thin that they may be suffering from an eating disorder will not appear on the pages of the magazine, either. The US, Chinese, French and British editions of the glossy magazine will begin following the new guidelines starting with next month's issues. The Japanese edition will follow suit in July. Many people applauded the magazine's decision. They said it's a good step towards dealing with the unhealthy image of women portrayed by rail-thin models.


A 'perfect' body in the fashion and media industry

The idea of a perfect female body has changed dramatically in recent decades. Just three years ago, British supermodel Kate Moss boldly told the industry publication Women's Wear Daily: 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.'

Magazines routinely run photos of unhealthy-looking models. Some even Photoshop images to make them look even thinner. That trend has also migrated to movie and television screens.

However, in recent years, the fashion industry has come under a lot of criticism for its obsession with thin and sickly looking models. Critics blame the industry for promoting an abnormal and unhealthy body shape for women - an image that especially affects impressionable young girls.

'We know that there is an impact for young girls - and boys - of what is put in front of them in terms of media,' Elissa J Brown told AP in New York. Brown is a professor of psychology at St John University in the US. She is a founder of The Partners Programme, a specialised form of therapy for children.

Too thin can kill

Fashion models' health and weight has become even more of a controversial issue after some models died from the eating disorder anorexia. They included Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, who died of heart failure in 2006.

Anorexia nervosa is common among models. Sufferers have an irrational fear of gaining weight, and a distorted image about their bodies. Complications include anaemia, heart and kidney problems, and bone loss.

Ramos was 22 when she died. She had a body mass index (BMI) of just 14.5 and weighed only 44kg. The World Health Organisation considers a BMI of around 16 to be starvation.

Following Ramos' death, the Madrid Fashion Week in September 2006 set a minimum BMI of 18 for all models.

In December that year, Italian fashion designers banned size zero models from their catwalks.

Lack of social responsibility in the industry

Models are often mistreated by their agencies. They are overworked and underfed. Young models constantly face harsh demands if they want to succeed. They have little say over what's behind the catwalk scene.

Elettra Wiedemann, daughter of model and actress Isabella Rossellini, started out at age 14.

'I did experience a lot of pressure from my agency in Italy,' she told AP in New York. 'They asked me to get a breast reduction. They asked me to get a nose job. They constantly criticised my weight,' explained the model, who is now 28.

'You go through a period of sadness, anger and self-loathing, and then I just decided: 'You know what, I'm much more than just a number on a scale.' I chose to have a boundary for myself.'

Not all models can make that choice. The fierce competition among fashion brands often means that social responsibility is not a top priority for them.

In Hong Kong, it is common to see adverts of weight-loss programmes and products everywhere - on the MTR, in fashion magazines, on television. These adverts send one message: you are not good enough when you are compared to others. There is always something wrong with your body size.

Pressure from important people

Teenagers are particularly conscious of their body image, says Eve Wong Wai-lan, hospital manager of the Adolescent Medical Centre at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Jordon. She works with 12- to 19-year-olds about a range of problems, including body image.

'Apart from the media, teenagers are told by their family and friends they have to be thin to be beautiful and successful. They are forced to fit into a mode set by others in order to feel ok about ourselves,' she said.



A skinny British supermodel Lesley Lawson, nicknamed Twiggy, becomes a great success in the industry. She is named 'The Face of 1966' by the Daily Express and voted British Woman of the Year in 1966. She is one of the world's first skinny supermodels, and becomes an idol among teenage girls.


People begin to favour Amazonian models who are muscular and toned. Some famous examples include Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.


Thin models become popular. Kate Moss is one of them. According to insiders of the modelling industry, Moss' BMI is 15. She says: 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.'


Model Luisel Ramos dies during Uruguayan Fashion Week after fasting for several days. Later the same year, Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston also dies from complications of anorexia nervosa.

December 22, 2006

The Italian fashion organisation agrees to ban any models younger than 16 or with a BMI of less than 18.5 from the Milan Fashion Week for brands like Gucci and Prada.

September 2009

'Super-size' model Hayley Morley, 21, who is European size 46 and is 1.76 metres tall, participates in the London Fashion Week, gaining huge media coverage. The same month, the US magazine Glamour publishes a picture of Lizzie Miller, who is 1.81m tall and weighs 79.5kg. Support for 'non-skinny' models begins to pick up.

March 20, 2012

Israel's government passes the 'anti-skinny model' law and bans models with a BMI lower than 18.5 from doing the catwalk and advertisements. Medical proof of their BMI is required.

May 3, 2012

The editors of global editions of Vogue agree to ban models under 16 and those who appear to be anorexic.

'I accept myself for what I am'

How I've come to terms with my own body: A personal story by Young Post intern Jocelyn Wong

I have struggled with my body image since I was three. I thought I looked fine, with the size of an average child, but I was picked on for being 'fat'.

I've been taking ballet classes since I was four. Over a period of 10 years, I took all the major exams and practised eight hours a week - even when I was brushing my teeth at night.

But it was at that prestigious dance school I experienced the lowest self-esteem. At six years old, the pianist asked me, in front of my 20 classmates, why I was so fat. When I was eight, the school principal told me I should drop 10kg, and my dance teacher warned that if I didn't lose weight I would not pass the exam.

I felt no matter how hard I tried, I would never be good enough for them because of my size-10 body. I was very upset by the constant criticism and insults. I always wore a shirt or cardigan to cover my body in class.

One night I snapped and broke down on my way home after a teacher told me again to lose weight. I went on a diet and soon lost more than 10kg in a month. My hair started thinning and I had horrible mood swings. I needed to seek professional help.

I changed to another dance school, which taught me that it wasn't all about how I looked but how hard I worked that mattered. At last, I scored a centre position in the front row during a performance and was invited to dance at a private function.

I was so grateful and touched. Over the past two years, I have finally come to terms with my body image. I've learned to accept myself for what I am. Being bullied has taught me to have confidence in myself the way I am.