How the Fashion Industry Contributes to Disordered Eating


CW: This article discusses issues surrounding eating disorders which some readers may find distressing or triggering.


Not many would label fashion companies, especially modelling businesses, as particularly diverse or healthy workplaces. Magazine covers are dominated by white and often dangerously underweight women. Since these models are what many people aspire to look like, it is little surprise that so many succumb to disordered eating. Much work needs to be done to not only protect impressionable consumers, but also the fashion models who are being controlled and bullied within their own industry.


Making everything about numbers


One of the most disturbing revelations about the fashion industry for me appears in the 2007 film The Devil Wears Prada. Emily Blunt’s character announces: “I'm on this new diet, it's very effective. Well, I don't eat anything, and when I feel like I'm about to faint, I eat a cube of cheese." To add to this, Anne Hathaway’s character is criticised for being a size 6. In other words, if you are in the fashion industry and you are not a size 0 or a size 2, you supposedly aren’t doing your job properly. Although Blunt’s line is played for laughs, there are highly disturbing undertones to her words. She is willing to sacrifice her physical health for the sake of maintaining unrealistic standards for beauty.


Despite being a work of fiction, The Devil Wears Prada taps into a very unnerving reality. Ruthie Friedlander suffered from an eating disorder for ten years. Although her anorexia began in her childhood, working for fashion companies exacerbated the issue. She reveals that “I received expensive gifts, worth thousands of dollars sometimes, in a size that was smaller than my own. Every time that happened, I’d look at it as a new goal: This brand thinks I’m this size, so I will become this size.” Rather than creating clothing items that would fit Friedlander, brands would make dangerous assumptions about her weight. Surely, if she is working for this industry, she must be starving herself and conforming to hazardous beauty standards, right? Horrifyingly, a number on a tag seems to matter more to numerous brands than the physical and mental wellbeing of fashion workers.


Bodies come in all shapes and sizes


While some models are naturally very slim, fashion companies cannot continue acting like these ideals are normal for many people. In an article for Fashionista, Tyler McCall notes that "Most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women." Indeed, "The average American woman stands at 5’4″ and weighs 140 pounds, while the average American fashion model is 5’11” and 110 pounds." To put it another way, the average American fashion model is underweight and, to make matters more terrifying, is pressured into losing more weight. Failure to do so means she runs the risk of losing her job and having her dreams shattered.


Of course, there have been slight improvements to this industry in recent years. Plus-size models have strutted down runways and appeared on clothing websites, making women feel that bit more seen and included.


However, there are still some very prominent issues, and social media is only worsening them. It has been found that "Time spent on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter directly correlates with eating disorder risk." Indeed, a lot of influencers do more harm than good. The Kardashians have rightly been criticised by activists such as Jameela Jamil for their promotion of dangerous dieting products. They admitted that they endorsed these products to make more money. If there is one thing the Kardashians do not need more of, it's money. Their carelessness is just one of many examples of how those within modelling professions can contribute to this very pressing concern.


What can be done?


Fashion industries certainly are not the sole contributor to the world's eating disorder crisis. However, the fact that they are contributing at all needs to be addressed. Efforts need to be made to create more inclusive, compassionate and celebratory workplaces.

Bodies are all different; no one looks the same and this needs to be celebrated both in the industry and in terms of marketing where everyone’s body type should be represented. It is another step towards equality and another step towards a world where everyone is accepted, no matter what they look like. Lucy Pettigrew

We can also, however, actively help ourselves. I implore anyone who is struggling with these pressures to unfollow those on social media who makes you feel worse about yourself. The least we can do to be more kind to ourselves is to follow fashionable people who uplift and inspire us, rather than those who make us feel inferior and insignificant. This will not totally eradicate these issues within the fashion world. But it is most certainly a start.