With a petition calling for greater modelling health guidelines being handed in to Parliament, and an official Government inquiry underway it’s fair to say the size zero debate is heating up. Cosmopolitan’s Sam Beamish speaks to the petition’s organiser, model Rosie Nelson and MP Caroline Nokes, who is leading the inquiry to see if Britain’s models are really at threat.
In a society where plus size models are becoming more and more accepted, and individualism celebrated, it’s hard to believe that the fashion industry hasn’t changed its ways. However the stories of Anorexic and ‘down to the bone’ models still exist and are perhaps more common than ever. Former model and health advocate Rosie Nelson, is a prime example. Moving from Australia to Britain with the dream of joining one of London’s prestigious modelling agencies Rosie’s life soon became a nightmare following the dramatic requirements asked of her by her modelling agency.
“When I came to London nearly two years ago I went into the agencies and I was rejected by nearly all of them because they said I wasn’t the right shape. One agency said they really liked me but to get me work they wanted me to lose weight.
“I went and lost weight and I didn’t do it responsibly. I was eating purely vegetables and fruit, no sugar or carbs. They said they wanted me down to the bone. At that point I was skinnier than I had ever been, and I physically couldn’t lose any more weight. I decided if the industry is pushing me that far I can’t work in it.”
As a result of her extreme diet Rosie took 2 inches off her hips and nearly lost a stone despite being a size 8.
However, today Rosie considers herself healthy and comfortable in her own skin. Following her experience she began a petition on change.org to call for modelling agencies to take greater responsibilities for the wellbeing of their models, and for improvements in legislation.
The Association of Model Agents (AMA) has a code of conduct to ensure its member agencies keep their models safe and healthy, however its legitimacy has been questioned. Their website says:
“AMA members have worked with a number of professional bodies to help agents identify models who may be in need of specific advice and support on particular health issues.
“AMA Members will not promote any model for work where, in the judgment of the agent, the impact will be to the model’s detriment.
“AMA members must ensure that at least one member of staff is trained to recognise possible symptoms of eating disorders and will take appropriate action, seeking professional advice where necessary.”
When asked if Rosie felt her agency (which she does not wish to name) adhered to these guidelines she replied:
“No, not at all. When I’ve been on shoots, you can tell when someone is incredibly sick because they’re not eating enough and the hair on their arms and legs will stick up to keep the body warm because there is not enough food inside them.
“One time I went into my agency after having food poisoning and I had lost weight as a result, the agents praised me! Because I looked thinner. I think it’s really backwards.”
The size zero debate is becoming more and more covered in mainstream news. In late 2015, a Gucci ad featuring an excessively skinny model was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK.
Following Rosie’s petition reaching over 100,000 signatures, the matter was expressed to Parliament last December. An official inquiry into the wellbeing of models was planned for 2016. MP Caroline Nokes is currently leading the inquiry and shares Rosie’s wish for Government legislation.
Last year France and Italy pushed for a set Body mass Index (BMI) across agencies to ensure that models working on the catwalk aren’t excessively underweight. However this received criticism as BMI is a calculation of averages and does not take mental wellbeing into account. It is known that Anorexia and Bulimia are amongst the main eating disorders faced by models, and are considered mental illnesses as well as physical.
Caroline Nokes wishes for the age of models walking on the catwalk to increase to 18-years-old. Seeing it as a more effective measure:
“We need to be realistic about what is legislatively possible and what isn’t. It’s important to set out a framework which might see some changes which are in the right direction. A set BMI could be potentially discriminatory.
“I’m hoping for legislation protecting models at 16-years-old. It helps young people receive education and most importantly there are physiological changes which happen at the end of puberty, if you’re a girl, your hips will widen as the last change of puberty somewhere between the ages 16, 17 and 18.
“A lot of fashion producers will insist on a hip measurement of max 33/34 inches, which is almost impossible to achieve for an adult female. By increasing the age at which models are able to work to a minimum of 18 years-old, you’re effectively removing the possibility of designers making hip sizes smaller and smaller.”
This will be the first inquiry into the wellbeing of models since 2007, which was criticised for its limited results. Caroline cites this as one of the reasons for Government action:
“The 2007 inquiry was a lot of shoulds and woulds. I spoke to the Equality Minister to say let’s talk about legislative change. The British Fashion Council (BFC) have provided a code of best practice, which people were meant to take seriously and the best part of ten years later they’re not.”
The potential of the 2016 inquiry is still unclear. Increasing the age of fulltime models could be the legislative change the Fashion industry needs to start to protect its models. However, It is clear that there is a need for greater transparency amongst modelling agencies. Britain currently has a long way to go before it can be said that they’re doing enough to protect their models.