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Vogue will no longer use anorexic models - but will this change our perception of the female body?

Posted in: Weight Loss 18 May, 2012

"When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more," claimed everyone's favourite fashionista Carrie Bradshaw in a Sex and the City episode. The irony of this statement did not go unnoticed, as the high-end fashion magazine has been repeatedly criticised for featuring Size 0 models and consequently contributing to the media's responsibility for the increasing number of eating disorders.

This week 19 Vogue editors released a joint statement saying that they would ban the use of models who look like they could be anorexic, as well as models under the age of 16. Amongst these editors was Anna Wintour, who heads up the US flagship edition and is often dubbed the "Ice Queen of Fashion", due to her being the most influential person in the industry.

Former super-model Tyra Banks – whose curvaceous figure caused her to lose out on jobs in her modelling days – has publicly commended the move, drawing even more attention to the issue. But the question remains as to whether haute couture is the arena with the most impact when it comes to idealising underweight women.

"The current inclination to embrace a female beauty standard that exalts thinness has devastating consequences on many adolescents' eating habits," said Vogue Italy's Franca Sozanni.

Despite this acknowledgement of the fashion industry's responsibility, editors and designers maintain that using smaller sizes is a financial decision, as they use a smaller amount of fabric. But a recent study has shown that brands which use models who resemble "real women" see a spike in their sales.

Ben Barry, a modelling CEO, said: "My study found that women increased their purchase intentions by more than 200 percent when the models in the mock ads were their size. In the subgroup over size 6, women increased their purchase intentions by a dramatic 300 percent when they saw curvier models. Conversely, when women saw models who didn't reflect their size, they decreased their purchase intentions by 60 percent, and women over size 6 dropped their purchase intentions by 76 percent."

Much has been said about the UK's troubling levels of obesity but eating disorders have received a lot less publicity, despite the fact that one in every 20 British women will develop unhealthy eating habits to try and achieve a slimmer figure.

In 2007, the British Fashion Council recommended that models be screened for eating disorders. This measure was never implemented, but even if it had been – are the aspirational women in Vogue wearing the £50,000 dresses really those who women think they should resemble?

Vogue coverpage

It would be impossible to legislate against celebrities being too thin but magazines and newspapers aimed at women consistently run story after story about the body shape of anyone their paparazzi can snap in a bikini. They comment on the cellulite on their thighs, the protruding ribs or even - on some bizarre occasions - both. And we lap it up.

When Vogue used a picture of Michelle Obama on the front cover of the March 2009 US issue, their sales increased dramatically, proving two points which the media fails to understand: that the public is more likely to buy a magazine with a woman on the cover who has a more realistic figure, and that celebrities can successfully be part of a story without being objectified.

Until publications have a reason to stop using the criticism of women's bodies as a way of making money, young girls will not stop thinking that anything over a size 6 is fat. Having said that, a stance from Vogue is certainly a stepping stone; whether their intentions are honourable or a cry for publicity in an effort to boost their ever-declining circulation figures is irrelevant.


  • JANEFriday, May 18, 2012

    At last this issue is being talked about. It´s about time we found a healthy balance between obesity and underweight. The fashion and music industries are surely culpable for promoting distorted and damaging images of unreal people only for them to be held up as ideals to be emulated.

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