National Eating Disorders Association

Panel Highlights Wide Range of Reforms Needed in the Modeling Industry

Ellen Domingos

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and The Model Alliance (MA), a non-profit dedicated to improving working conditions in the American fashion industry, co-hosted the panel event, Inside The Modeling Industry: A Conversation About Health & Beauty In Fashion at Pace University for 2013 NEDAwareness Week. MA founder, Sara Ziff, moderated the panel discussion which featured models Crystal Renn, Katharine Schuette and Amy Lemons, modeling agent Chris Gay, eating disorder specialist Dr. Evelyn Attia and Ashley Mears, a former model and assistant professor of sociology.

Topics discussed during the two hour event included the models personal stories of poor body image and struggles of maintaining an unrealistic weight in order to work; the shrinking sample size and current size zero standard within the industry; and the controversial partnership between the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Organic Avenue promoting juice cleanses to models during Fashion Week.

"It's extremely concerning and confusing," said Dr. Evelyn Attia, director of the Center for Eating Disorders at New York Presbyterian Hospital, "When you've got an industry where you know there's an occupational hazard" — meaning, the pressure to maintain a very low weight — "put that together with a fad diet, and real commercial interest regarding these juice cleanses, and we really have double reason to worry," she said.

A central theme that ran throughout the panel discussion was the critical need for more diverse representation within the industry. While the modeling industry has been often criticized for a lack of body diversity, Ziff pointed out the low levels of participation in the 2013 New York Fashion Week by models of color. According to Jezebel, fashion week models were 82.7% white, with 13 companies failing to feature even one model of color.

The panel concluded by offering potential solutions to some of the complex problems within the fashion industry. Ziff focused on enforcing existing child labor and contract laws while Renn suggested a new standard of a size 8 sample size, in turn giving designers more freedom. Mears added that legislation and consumers boycotting brands that set unrealistic beauty standards is the pathway to change. All panelists agreed the industry standards are unrealistic and more discussion is needed to understand such complex issues.