The issue of underweight, unhealthy models on the catwalk is one that has plagued the fashion industry for years and doesn’t seem to be going away. This week, the debate is back in the news as a size 6 model has been told she is “too big”.
23-year-old Charli Howard took to Facebook to write an open letter to the agency (which she preferred not to state) after being told she was “out of shape” and should attempt to lose at “inch off her hips”.
She wrote: “Here’s a big —- YOU to my (now ex) model agency, for saying that at 5’ 8” tall and a UK size 6-8 (naturally), I’m ‘too big’ and ‘out of shape’ to work in the fashion industry. I will no longer allow you to dictate to me what’s wrong with my looks and what I need to change in order to be ‘beautiful’ (like losing one —-ing inch off my hips), in the hope it might force you to find me work.
“I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting your ridiculous, unobtainable beauty standards, whilst you sit at a desk all day, shovelling cakes and biscuits down your throats and slagging me and my friends off about our appearance.
“The more you force us to lose weight and be small, the more designers have to make clothes to fit our sizes, and the more young girls are being made ill. It’s no longer an image I choose to represent. I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down. Let’s face the facts: when I was 7 and a half stone, I still wasn’t thin enough for you. When I went to the gym 5 hours a week, you still weren’t finding me work. I can’t win.”
Since, the model says she has been “overwhelmed” by the support in response to her post.
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
Last month, model Rosalie Nelson who is also 23 was told by one of the major agencies in the UK that she needed to get “down to the bone” if she wanted to be signed. She explained:
“I’m a 23-year-old model, a clothes size 8 to 10. When I walked into one of the UK’s biggest model agencies last year they told me I ticked all the boxes except one – I needed to lose weight. So I did. Four months later I lost nearly a stone, two inches off my hips. When I returned to the same agency they told me to lose more weight, they wanted me ‘down to the bone.'”
Unfortunately, Rosalie’s story is one we have all heard before. Young girls told they need to get to an unhealthy point in order to be succesful in the fashion industry or models sent down the catwalk when they are seriously underweight.
So, Rosalie decided to do something about it and started a petition that stated:
“Agencies managing and recruiting models have a responsibility to the wellbeing of girls on the catwalk at fashion week, and in the industry as a whole.”
The petition urges the government to criminalise the use of models who are “dangerously underweight”. Having gained 55,000 signatures, the petition is now being looked into by the All-Party Paliamentary Group in Westminster, headed up by Caroline Noakes.
Caroline explained that the enquiry would be discussed in November:
“Legislation should be a last resort, but I’m conscious the fashion industry isn’t responding to calls for change. We would prefer a code of conduct, if we could feel confident it would be adhered to.”
There are already laws in place in both France and Spain which bans models of a BMI less than 18 to be hired to work. Bare in mind that the average model has a BMI of 16! Although this law is obviously very useful in controlling the use of underweight models, some experts believe that this is not the measurement that should be used. Caroline Noakes is one of these:
“I don’t think BMI is the right measure, because many models I know are size 6 to 8, and very conscious of their health and fitness. I would prefer a mandatory health check for models every three to six months, which would be an incentive for agencies to take better care of the models they work with, making sure they’re healthy.”
We will have to wait for the enquiry to take place in a few months to see if any restrictions will be put in place, but it certainly seems that demand for change is there, although exactly what that change should be is still unclear.
By Amy de Klerk