We are all fascinated by those flawless models we see on Instagram or on the cover of magazines. Girls especially appear to be drawn to this type off beauty: the long legs and those bodies that seem to be perfect because they can fit into any clothes they want.
But what hides behind the pictures, and this industry that young girls and boys find so glamorous and exciting?
Models usually start their modelling career very young, often first being scouted at 12 or 13, either on the street, or at the many castings that happen in places like New York, London, Paris or Milan.
What young people do not realise is that once they get into this industry they will have to cope with the stress and anxiety of worrying about their body image.
If models put on a bit of weight, many managers ask them to lose it, in whatever way they can. And if they don’t, the agency will refuse to represent them.
When models are young they don’t know how to stand up to their managers. They just want to be successful and see their managers as their mentors, even their guardians. For this reason some of them start dieting, thinking that they will be able to stop once they reach the right weight.
So perhaps they start by replacing meals with fruit, until that becomes part of their daily routine. Their managers will congratulate them and they will feel proud of how well they have done.
But for some of them losing weight will be more difficult, and they will begin to take laxatives and diuretics. For these people sport is not an option for losing weight, because their dietary regime means they can’t cannot gain the muscle they need for it.
It’s a pattern that arises because of the way that agencies want their models to look like pale mannequins that can fit into every kind of clothing. They must not have curves. They must not go over a size 8.
Erin Heatherton, a Victoria’s Secret model, accused the fashion house of pressurising her to lose weight. She used to work out twice a day but the weight was always the same.
Another former French model, Victoire Dauxerre, also struggled with her body image. Her managers asked her to go down to a size two from a size four, and to do so she went on the apple diet, which means replacing a balanced meal with an apple.
And the problem is that many girls outside the modelling industry also suffer from this kind of sickness. I had the chance to meet one of them whose name is Sara. Due to privacy reasons she has asked for anonymity.
Sara is extremely skinny and she tries to hide her skin-and-bones body by wearing large clothes. Dark circles around her sad eyes give her pale face a tired look. She needs love and protection, but at the same time she rejects people, even her parents. She thinks her boyfriend does not show her that he cares for her enough, and this makes her feel lonely.
Every time she sees models on social networks, she starts comparing her body to theirs, thinking she is not thin enough. Weight loss is now the only aim in her life. For this reason Sara goes to the gym everyday and skips meals. This makes her feel weak and increasingly tired and sleepy.
Her parents have noticed this change and want to help her. But she keeps insisting that she is fine even though she is aware of what is really happening to her body and her health. But she cannot control herself. She cannot eat without feeling guilty.
“Everytime I go food shopping with my mom, I always check how many calories are in the food she puts in the basket. And if she cooks high-calorie foods, I start feeling bad and guilty. After eating I stare at my reflection in the mirror and the only thing I see is fat. So the day after I skip meals. It’s like I punish myself for eating that food with so many calories in it,” Sara says with her shaky voice.
After that she adds: “I keep saying to myself that I’ll be fine and it’s just a period. But I feel that my stomach gets smaller day by day and it doesn’t accept food anymore. I don’t even need any kind of help because I’m sure that this period will end very soon. I’m just stressed.”
People suffering from eating-related conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and the depression that often comes with them rarely admit that they need the help of doctors. Most of the time they are afraid of what others may think of them.
To protect young people from the pressures they feel when they look at some fashion pictures, in 2015 France approved a law against showing skin-and-bones models.
Models have to show a medical certificate before taking to the catwalk. If they are size 32 or less, their designers can get banned, because models now have to be size 34 or more.
What models should do is denounce those agencies that ask them to lose weight and do not pay attention to their health.
Agencies should care about their models instead of behaving in ways that risk them suffering from anorexia, bulimia, depression and anxiety.