Eating disorders are on the rise. Body dysmorphia is on the rise. In fact, 40% of models are estimated to be battling eating disorders. According to the Priority Group, about 1.25 to 3.4 million people live with an eating disorder in the UK. The Mental Health Foundation UK found in their survey that 35% of young people's body image causes them to ‘often’ or ‘always’ worry. Similarly, A 2016 survey discovered 10% of secondary school boys would skip a meal to change how they look and would consider using steroids. These figures expose an alarming trend in mental health but not a surprising one. Airbrushing and Photoshop remained in the realm of high fashion brand campaigns until the digital age of filters. Now with airbrushing apps, anyone can edit themselves. And feel inadequate for not measuring up to their digital counterparts.
Looks Aren't Everything
In Cameron Russel's Ted Talk 'Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model.' Russel deconstructs some of the assumptions people have about models. Most people may assume models have a great body image and zero mental health issues but the opposite couldn't be more true. Many models are deeply insecure as a result of being judged solely on their looks.
Each picture you see in a magazine is a construction created by talented stylists, makeup artists, photographers, and pre and post-production professionals. Being reduced to appearance cannot be good for anyone's psyche which may explain the number of models with disordered eating. Kate Moss famously said, "Nothing taste good as skinny feels" in 2009 and was heavily criticised but there are far more deadly consequences than censure.
Pro Ana or Pro Sickness?
I remember the Pro Anorexia plague of 2013. Scrolling on Tumblr and seeing an image of a girl's thigh gap with instructions on how to starve. Instructions on how to limit calories, no eating past 6pm, and wearing dark clothes. Sickness became a trend. Pro Anorexia and Probulmia had devastating consequences for me and my friends. I developed anorexia and would religiously scroll through Tumblr and magazines, friends of mine developed bulimia. Luckily we all outgrew our disordered eating with support from mental health professionals and our families. However, the mental scars remain.
Kate Moss's quote rings in my ear, "Nothing taste as good as skinny feels" when "too" many slices of cake make their way into my mouth. Eating should be one of the most natural things we do, automatic like breathing or sleeping. On the contrary, the fashion industry, Hollywood and diet culture has made fuelling our bodies a sign of lack of willpower. There is a disconnect. The average model still looks nothing like the average woman and man on the street. The average model doesn't even look like their retouched photos.
Change is Happening
Still, it's not all doom and gloom. Some fashion brands are tackling the bad PR and actually making changes. Some campaigns are focusing on the unique and diverse beauty on our streets and are opting to platform beautiful yet relatable models. Instead of selling perfection, they are selling self-improvement - and that is a much more worthwhile endeavor. One of these brands is Savage X Fenty. Rihanna's Brand sizes range from XS to 3X. She is one of fashion's game-changers making space for the average consumer to believe they are worthy of nice clothing without starving themselves into a size two in order to wear her brand. It's refreshing seeing lingerie that curvier women can wear. The designs are intricate and are flattering to all sizes.
Overall, change is happening. Models are becoming more diverse in terms of skin colour, size, and disability. Beautiful plus-size women are becoming more visible in the fashion industry. Models like Paloma Elsesser, Ashley Graham, and Tessa Holiday are showing beauty can be found in a range of body sizes. In the past, the fashion industry profited from global insecurities but as self-love becomes the new trend (hopefully it sticks) brands are changing their approach and making space for all people to feel comfortable in branded attire.
Fashion has the ability to boost morale; if people feel confident in themselves their mental health will inevitably improve. It's time for fashion to expand rigid ideas of beauty to suit their consumers. Instead of profiting off low self-esteem, brands are choosing to profit from self-improvement and that's something I'm happy to get behind! Do you think the fashion industry profits off low self-esteem?