Two models have spoken out about the pressures they faced to stay skinny, shining a light on the continued body image issues faced by the fashion industry. Erin Heatherton, a former Victoria’s Secret model, has revealed that she was pressurised to lose weight by the fashion house. Despite exercising twice a day she was unable to reach the weight specified by the company.
“My last two Victoria’s Secret shows, I was told I had to lose weight,” she told the website Motto. “I was really depressed because I was working so hard and I felt my body was resisting me.” She left the company soon afterwards.
Model Zuzanna Buchwald, who signed with Wilhelmina Models, has echoed Heatherton’s experience. “My agents told me to stop exercising and stop eating,” she wrote in an essay for The Daily Dot. “The pressure quickly developed into an eating disorder (anorexia) that I battled for almost four years.”
She said the industry sees models as “interchangable coat hangers”, writing that the key to success is the ability to stay a size 0-2 (UK size 4-6) throughout your career. “Young models learn about it the hard way,” she wrote.” If an agency catches the smallest weight gain, you are measured, told to lose weight immediately and reprimanded.”
Model Rosie Nelson, who had a similar experience to Heatherton and Buchwald, adds that the issue is made more problematic by the disconnect between what the public think modelling involves and the reality of it. “People think it’s really glamorous and luxurious, with loads of freebies and getting paid millions. That’s not the case. There’s an underlying pressure to stay thin and the thought that you will be rejected if your hips are too big.”
Caryn Franklin, former co-editor of i-D magazine and currently professor of Diversity at Kingston University, says that there is a culture of denial around the issue meaning that the fashion industry does not see what effect it is having in the wider world. “Women are made to self-objectify because they see objectification in fashion,” she says. “Young women who have been engaging with fashion since they were seven or eight years old have been taught to see themselves as an exterior.”
Franklin adds that 30 years ago, models were shorter and bodies were more realistically proportioned. “Now the industry standard height is 5ft 11in but the measurements that designers make to their samples haven’t changed. The taller model therefore is under pressure to reduce her body accordingly.”
The testimony of Heatherton and Buchwald comes days after a bill in California, aimed at reducing eating disorders among models, cleared its first legal hurdle. The bill, which requires the state to develop health standards for models in the state, passed the Assembly Labour and Employment Committee. “The goal of the bill is not only to protect the health of the workers themselves, but also to help young people to emulate the models,” said Democratic politican Marc Levine, who authored it.
Last December France banned excessively thin models, partly as a response to the death of Isabelle Caro, a 28-year-old model who died of anorexia. In 2012, Israel passed a law banning underweight models, and Italy and Spain have taken similar measures. Nelson is hopeful that through a new generation of designers such as Nasir Mazhir, who streetcasts his models, there will be a change.
“It’s a great achievment to walk into a Victoria’s Secret show, so the fact that someone of Heatherton’s stature has spoken out is a big deal. I’m optimistic that in the future it will mean that big designers will take note.”