The average American woman is a size 12. The average American model is a size zero and shrinking.
Controversy over the fashion industry's diminishing weight expectations was reignited this week during a panel discussion in New York featuring some of the industry's most outspoken insiders.
According to Model Alliance's Sarah Ziff, moderator of the discussion launched for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 64% of models in the industry been asked to lose weight by their agencies.
In order to drop to minuscule sizes, the industry may be making matters worse. In partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the juice company Organic Avenue was providing a 50% discount for models during New York Fashion Week, according to Buzzfeed.
"A significant number [of models] lost weight by going on these juice cleanses," said Ziff at Monday's panel.
In the past few years, under pressure from women’s groups and health organizations, magazines and designers have had to rethink their use of underage models and work to promote healthier physiques both on and off the runway.
But evidence of real change is hard to find. By today's runway standards, a size 6 is a "plus size." The standard model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman, according to one recent report. That's a big difference from 20 years ago when fashion models were only about 8 percent slimmer. Meanwhile supermodels of the last century, like Cindy Crawford and Christie Brinkley, would be considered "plus-size" by today's runway standards.
"It's extremely concerning and confusing. When you've got an industry where you know there's an occupational hazard—put that together with a fad diet, and real commercial interest regarding these juice cleanses, and we really have double reason to worry,” Dr. Evelyn Attia said, speaking on Monday's panel at Pace University.
It turns out that models’ shrinking sizes and ages are related. Chris Gay, the President of the Marilyn Model Agency, said the way agencies and designers are getting closer and closer to size zero as an industry standard is they are simply casting younger models who haven’t fully completed puberty. "You're just replacing good models with new models, and a lot of that has to do with unrealistic standards," Gay said during the panel, reports Buzzfeed.
So what is there to be done? Model and industry activist Crystal Renn suggests making the average model's size be eight rather than zero. Ziff has an more aggressive idea—enforcing child labor laws. In an industry where the workforce is shrinking in size and age, that might be the best solution.
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