how fashion images are affecting mental health

The fashion industry's perception of "thin" is undeniably skewed. Even if it's not solely to blame, it's played its part in affecting young girls' opinions of their own bodies. But times are changing. With laws being passed against models with an...

by Ger Tierney
29 April 2015, 9:15pm

The fashion industry has always been in the firing line when it comes to pin pointing the root of an eating disorder. While it is negligent and short sighted to solely blame one single factor on an incredibly complicated disease, it is imperative that the industry does acknowledge that an image is very powerful and its content has an effect on both the viewing public and the models starring in it. Young people are bombarded daily with photos that fuel negative body image and self-loathing. It happens in advertising, film and music; which all have a responsibility, as does the fashion industry, to become more conscious of the negative impact they are having on young people.

Fashion is about fantasy and aspiration, and so it should be. A great fashion image is a very powerful and beautiful thing. I can think of a few that evoke a very strong emotive response in me for positive reasons. This is what fashion should be about, inspiration rather insecurity. Shouldn't the images we are putting out to the world be positive, beautiful and make people feel good? Eating disorders are incredibly complicated and I am not about to pick apart the disease and decipher the causes. The reality is, an image of a model in a bikini will affect people differently and it will be far more negative to some than to others. It is a very sensitive issue that is not going to be resolved by changes in the fashion industry alone, but if we can make a difference in some small way to the models we work with everyday, and from there the public, then I believe we have a responsibility to do so.

It is undeniable that models are under pressure to, literally, fit the mold of the fashion industry's standard of beauty. As an industry our perception of thin is massively skewed. What non-industry people perceive as 'too thin', we see as normal. I myself have had a few humiliating conversations with friends who have been shocked by what I see as healthy. We have become immune to the fact that the majority of models we are working with are under pressure to remain thin. I'm not saying that all models have eating disorders, what I am saying is that more of them than we care to admit are depriving themselves of enjoying their daily-recommended calorie intake. This really doesn't have to be the case. Every section of the industry could take a stand; designers, casting agents, model agencies and magazines could all put provisions in place to ensure each and every girl they work with is healthy. We could choose to empower the young girls in the modeling industry to be strong and healthy rather than the shrinking clotheshorses we so often see. We could choose to offer role models to young girls, we could make sure that the image we put out there is aspirational in a healthy way, encouraging the youth of today to use their body the right way, inspire them to think about nutrition, to take up healthy exercise and to respect and love their bodies.

While it might feel like we are still in a bad place when it comes to beauty and image standards, things are starting to change. British Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman's letter to designers in 2009 calling for an end to size zero models was a very positive step from a very powerful industry player. Today the face of fashion images is changing and street casting for editorial shoots and for shows is becoming increasingly popular. The idea of real people selling a brand or product is becoming more and more appealing to a post-internet audience, who are bombarded with glossy imagery every day. Perhaps they no longer want to accept the fantasy of the fashion industry and want to relate to the models in the images. These kids are beautiful, interesting and diverse; they have character and, god forbid, sometimes even hips.

Another shift is the rise of the Victoria's Secret angel. Yes, these women are otherworldly and not exactly attainable, their image is far more healthy and athletic than editorial models. They may be thin but they look strong rather than emaciated. The Victoria's Secret models are also encouraged to have a character and project it to the world. They have a personality that young people want to connect to, rather than nameless new faces that only last a season and then disappear.

Older models are outshining those in their teens and early twenties. Kate Moss is earning more money now in her 40s, and Daria Werbowy is at the top of her career in her 30s. Models such as Audrey Marnay and Kim Peers are returning to the industry, now as mothers with life experience behind them.

Women no longer want to be bombarded with a bevy of nameless teenagers barely out of school. We want a character before us, someone to inspire us and most of all, not to feel bad about ourselves when we look at a beautiful image.

France has recently passed a law that will make it illegal to employ a model that has an unhealthily low BMI. And if an image is photoshopped to make a model skinnier or bulkier, a magazine must clearly state that this is the case. This is a huge step forwards for the industry. The law has caused controversy and many think it is a giant step backwards, but if we all embrace this practice, then it can have a positive impact on the models and in turn the public. It seems to me the fashion audience is no longer interested in the same skinny girls and while things are changing, we can do more. We should be empowering models to become the strong and healthy personalities the world craves, and make a fashion image something to enjoy and take pride in, not something that has to be defended. 


Text Ger Tierney 
Image Kristina Britton

mental health
ger tierney