CFDA model health summit - food for thought?

24 March 2010

Of all the industry’s controversies, the subject of size zero, model health and eating disorders is probably the touchiest. Yesterday in Boston, USA, some of the most powerful figures in fashion spoke publically, and quite candidly, about the issue at the CFDA's panel talks on model health and body image in the fashion industry

Anna Wintour, Michael Kors, and Natalia Vodianova all came out with some very interesting points.

Anna Wintour gave a pre-debate interview where she said “the models were so frightened of recrimination and that they wouldn’t be booked for shoots or shows that they didn’t want to talk about what everybody knew was going on.’’ She went on “creating guidelines within the industry to know what to do when they see a girl with a problem was an important first step. What we’ve been doing with discussions like this one is making sure that the message gets out there to everyone.’’

Designer Michael Kors sees the issue of eating disorders as closely related to the number of underage girls working as models, and pledged to no longer work with models under the age of 16, hoping to keep what he called the industry's "army of children" from proliferating.  “I think super-young girls used to be the exception,’’ he said. “There’s always been a Twiggy, or a model who is very young. But they were few and far between. Now, they’re completely common. That’s something I see as a huge problem.’’ According to Mr Kors, the choice of extremely young models may be on the out, in any case.

“The fashion industry is starting to address real women again,’’ he said, prompting applause from the audience. “Adults are in vogue. What a shock. This show season really was about the return of the adult in every city. . . . The emphasis in fashion is shifting toward an emphasis on real women who are women, not girls. The reality is that women who buy designer clothes are 30-plus. The visual has to match the reality. Girls dressed up in their mother’s clothes? Guess what, it’s not attractive.’’ Strong words Mr Kors – but they will undoubtedly go down well at a time when exploitation of vulnerable young women in the industry is in the news more than ever.

Supermodel Natalia Vodianova said many models probably develop eating disorders because they're so young. “Their sense of self-worth is handed over to a bunch of people who don’t care about their self-esteem,’’ she said.

Was she speaking from experience? She certainly managed to avoid the pitfalls of the industry long-term, enjoying phenomenal success on the runways from when she moved from Russia to Paris at age 17, until her ‘retirement’ after marrying The Honourable Justin Trevor Berkeley Portman with whom she now has 3 children.

We’ll have to wait for the collections to see if these discussions have had any impact on who the designers are going to cast – but it’s encouraging to see this issue (one that gets so much coverage in the non-fashion press) being addressed by the people who actually have the power to affect it.

-Naomi Attwood


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