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Vogue: setting a model example

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Brogan Driscoll
WVoN co-editor 

The fashion magazine, Vogue, has taken a stand against eating disorders and the use of underage models in the fashion industry.

All 19 international editions of the Condé Nast media giant are involved in a call for change that is long overdue.

A six-point health initiative to encourage a healthier attitude to body image and obey child labour laws was published in the June issue (see below).

“As one of the fashion industry’s most powerful voices, Vogue has a unique opportunity to engage with relevant issues where we feel we can make a difference,” British Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman, explained.

It’s not the first time she has spoken out about weight and health issues within the industry. In June 2009, Ms Shulman wrote a letter to major fashion houses criticising their ‘minuscule’ sample sizes resulting in the use of underweight models. Sadly, her letters – as Shulman herself admits – had very little impact.

But that seems to have been about the only stand Vogue has ever taken  to tackle the issue. This is a sad reality for a magazine whose US edition has been in publication since 1892, its British counterpart since 1916.

Worse still, it’s outrageous that any of us need to say these things in the first place. Surely there should be unwritten rules – thou shalt not work with children. Thou shalt not work with models who are suffering from an eating disorder.

It’s logical.

It’s humane.

It’s plain common sense. You’d think so, at least.

In fact, many world-famous supermodels were ‘discovered’ under the age of 16. Kate Moss was scouted at 14 and appeared on the first cover of British Vogue at 16, making the emaciated ‘heroin chic’ look famous. Karlie Kloss, the 19-year-old currently taking the fashion world by storm was spotted at just 13.  Lara Stone was 12 and Gisele Bundchen was 13.

Just recently in the UK, 19-year-old model Bethany Wallace, a cover girl for glossy teen magazines who was blighted by anorexia, died in her sleep weighing just six stone.

Clearly, Vogue’s initiative is a step in the right direction but it (and the industry as a whole) has a long way to go.

Vogue’s six part-plan:

1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.

2. We will ask agents not to knowingly send us underage girls and casting directors to check IDs when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.

2. We will help to structure mentoring programmes where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.

4. We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.

5. We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.

6. We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.

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