The Fashion Industry Suddenly Acknowledges Its Anorexia Problem

For decades way-too-thin models have been en vogue and in Vogue as our culture's representations of beauty, but just now, for some reasons related to the Internet, we're suddenly seeing the fashion industry respond. 

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For decades way-too-thin models have been en vogue and in Vogue as our culture's representations of beauty, but just now, for some reasons related to the Internet, we're suddenly seeing the fashion industry respond.

Yesterday, for example, Vogue announced a pledge to use healthy models, agreeing to not employ models under 16 or with eating disorders. "Vogue believes that good health is beautiful," Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, said in a statement via the BBC. "Vogue editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the wellbeing of their readers," he continued. We've been hearing about the anorexia and image problems for years, even decades. So why now? We're thinking it has something to do with the convergence of fashionable extreme-to-the-extreme thinness and the Internet.

Models have been the idealization of beauty pretty much forever, and that aesthetic has been "very skinny" since at least the mid-90s, when the slender Kate Moss appeared in this Calvin Klein ad (pictured above), popularizing the "waif" look. "The reason for Kate [Moss] and this whole group of women I found that someone named 'waifs' was because before that, a lot of women were getting breast implants and doing things to their buttocks," Calvin Klein told Women's Wear Daily in 2011. "I wanted someone who was natural, always thin. I was looking for the complete opposite of that glamour type that came before Kate," he said.

Over time, looking at fashion ads, one can see the evolution from still-skinny, but healthy-looking to emaciated. Just to give an idea of how aesthetics have changed, compare these two swimsuit models, one from a 1984, pre-Moss ad and a current model we found on ShopBop.

That look doesn't come natural for a lot of people and the fashion industry's anorexia problem has been well-document. A January PLUS Model magazine report found most runway models would be considered anorexic using Body Mass Index standards. And last year Isabelle Caro, who spoke out about anorexia problems in the fashion industry died at the age of 28 from the disease. Yet, it has taken the most major of fashion magazines, which has featured Kate Moss plenty of times, over 15 years to do anything. Why the sudden zeitgest of overall weight awareness? We think it has something to do with the Internet.

That waifish look on the right not only fills magazine pages these days, but it's also all over the Internet, being co-opted for more dangerous uses, as fodder for the pro-anorexia imagery found on "thinspo" blogs. Thinspiration, the glorification of anorexia via "ideal" body images, which often translates to sickly thin body images, is not a new phenomenon, either. But, because of new social networks, like Pinterest and  Instagram, these communities that glorify anorexia and an ultra-thin, ultra-unhealthy lifestyle have gotten lots of attention. In the last few months, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram have all taken steps to ban this imagery, which has shown up as these Internet communities have increased in popularity. But even as these sites do what they think will help, the problems all point back to the fashion industry. A lot of the imagery comes from fashion. Like that Alexa Chung photo, which showed up on Instagram, for example. Or, just last December, Vogue Italia had to pull a photo of model Karlie Kloss (pictured above) because it was showing up all over pro-ana sites.

Like we said, none of this is new, but the Internet has both allowed for the proliferation of this stuff in new ways, as well as given critics a platform to talk about and magnify the issues. We saw a bunch of blog posts about the right and wrong ways to handle thinspiration and our culture's thin obsession. We also got this more creative critique from a 14 year old girl, urging Seventeen Magazine to use "unaltered, real photos." To get noticed, she started an online petition, of course. It has over 46,000 signatures and has gotten the attention of the magazine. But, not exactly the right attention. "I think we do a phenomenal job of celebrating the authenticity of real girls, of celebrating them for all of their real authentic beauty, of skin tones, of ethnicity, of body shape and size," editor in chief of Seventeen, Ann Shoket, told the New York Times's Jim Dweyer, noting that the magazine's getting singled out for a practice common among pretty much every single fashion magazine and website. Sure, but perhaps it takes a little singling out to change the entire aesthetic of an industry.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.