National Eating Disorders Association

The Modeling Industry is Changing. It’s About Time.

Nikki DuBose

As a former model, commercial actress and host, I enjoyed my share of success within the fashion and entertainment industries. I also suffered from binge eating disorder, bulimia and anorexia nervosa for the length of my career—although the behaviors didn’t begin in the industry, they were exacerbated by things I heard, saw and experienced: things like sexual harassment, trauma, bullying, exposure to wild parties, drinking, drugs and the daily pressure to lose weight. At the beginning of my career I was curvy and healthy—but by the time I left the business, I was unrecognizable even to my agents. Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder had ravaged my mind, body and spirit, and thus, in 2012 I decided to leave; it was the greatest decision of my life. I’ve been sober for over four years, free from my eating disorders for almost three, written a book about my recovery and the modeling business,* currently speak about mental health and am a supporter of Assemblymember Marc Levine’s Bill AB2539.** Here’s why I’m so passionate about the bill.

While not every aspect about and person within the modeling industry is bad—I certainly am not setting out to vilify the business—it is, however, a poorly regulated industry. When a business is poorly regulated, this opens the door for all sorts of unhealthy, unsafe—and in the case of the modeling industry—deadly things to happen. Take into account the following names: Luisel Ramos and Eliana Ramos, Ana Carolina Reston, Hila Elmaliach, Isabelle Caro, Jeremy Gillitzer and Bethaney Wallace. They were all models whose lives were tragically taken by eating disorders—mainly bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all psychological disorders, and the modeling industry—with its high expectations, unrealistic sample sizes and bullying tactics—creates an environment for disordered behaviors such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and OSFED to manifest. Binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and OSFED are not talked about as often, mostly because the public still thinks that you can tell if someone is struggling from an eating disorder just by looking at them, which is false! So yes, you can be a model and struggle with the three disorders I just mentioned. And let’s not forget about the common but hardly discussed laxative and diet pill abuse among models—they’re just as deadly, however anything is encouraged as long as models “fit the sizes” and “look the part.” The models are not valued for who they are as human beings or seen as unique, worthy individuals; rather they are hangers for the clothes.

And with that perception, it’s no surprise that 40% of models have some sort of an eating disorder. Although the reasons for developing an eating disorder are complex,*** at their core individuals are often dissatisfied with their bodies and feel unworthy. So if models are working in an industry that constantly degrades their bodies and devalues who they naturally are, then it’s not so hard to see why eating disorders are so prevalent in the business and why Bill AB 2539 is so critical. What the bill hopes to provide are things that every model deserves, such as periodic health checkups, nutrition counseling and appropriate medical testing as needed. Also, the models would no longer work as independent contractors—instead, they would be employees of their agencies, which would provide them with more protection and labor rights. As of now, the fact that models are independent contractors and signed under exclusive contracts to their agents allows for all sorts of underhanded nonsense to go on—such as not getting paid, bullying, sexual harassment, being asked to lose weight in order to work and so on. I can vouch for all of the previous behaviors because I encountered all of them and more, which I detail in my upcoming memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light and in the film series Real Women, Real Stories. Furthermore, the bill stipulates that the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board and the State Department of Public Heath have to adopt the stipulated health standards for the models, the agencies have to be licensed by the California Labor Commissioner, the models themselves must obtain a doctor’s certificate stating that they meet the noted health standards and the agencies are required to store records; if they hire models who do not have an up-to-date doctor’s certificate, they can be fined.

Really, this is all pure, common sense. Models’ rights are human rights. However, because of the stigma and false glamour that surround both the fashion industry and mental health—especially eating disorders—the public and government have long turned a blind eye. But that’s changing. Models are humans who deserve to be treated fairly and with respect; they deserve protection and for their labor rights to be exercised, just like any person working in any industry.

I’m certain that everyone—models and citizens alike—can agree on the need for Bill AB 2539. If we can change the health standards within the industry, then in turn this can have a positive impact on society. Models make up a majority of the people we see in the thousands of advertisements we are exposed to every day. Nearly half of girls in 5th to 12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.** If the model’s mental, emotional and physical health are taken care of and they are educated about becoming role models, imagine the profound effect this can have on children—and adults—everywhere.

About the Author:
Nikki DuBose is a California-based former model, commercial actress & host who is now an author, speaker, and mental health advocate. Learn more on her website: