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Eating Disorders within the Fashion Industry: Are models a high-risk group?

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Written by Stella Leontiou, @nutrimind_

The fashion and modelling industry is often being criticised for promoting an idealised thin body shape and size, sometimes referred to as the ‘size zero culture’.

But what are the health implications of this culture for the employees of the fashion world?

What’s the prevalence of Eating Disorders in the community?

Thin model

It is well known, that eating disorders and particularly anorexia nervosa are more commonly reported among young females. Although the percentages of females meeting the criteria for diagnosed eating disorders are small; 0.3-0.4% for anorexia nervosa, 1.0 % for bulimia nervosa, and 2.5 % for binge eating disorder there is a high incidence of engagement in unhealthy/disordered eating behaviours by young women. Reba-Harrelseson et al., (2009) found that 31.1% of women aged 25-45 years old engaged in extreme weight loss and purging behaviours while 40% have used diet pills. Other studies reported that 16% of young women have dieted on less than 1000 calories per day, 13% smoke in order to lose weight and 26% cut out of their diet entire food groups.

Wellbeing across the fashion industry

Given that thinness is a key requirement, it is now clear that the fashion and modelling industry has created a ‘toxic’ environment in which the development of eating disorders and body appearance concerns is at high-risk. Fashion models have been recently referred to as the ‘body image experts’. In such occupations, individuals are exposed to thin ideals and their body weight and shape and physical appearance is a primary requirement in order to secure their job. Given such pressure and the excessive focus on appearance, models, have been often considered as a high-risk group for the development of unhealthy or extreme eating behaviours and serious body image disturbances.

model and body image

What does the research say?

Occasionally, research has been done investigating the prevalence of eating disorders within the fashion industry, and particularly among the body image experts, the models. However, the findings have been mixed suggesting the need for future research of similar studies.

Before investigating the prevalence of eating disorders within the industry, it's essential to examine the prevalence of primary features contributing to their development. In the case of fashion models, they have been recently considered as a high-risk group for the development of disordered eating behaviours and serious disturbances when it comes to their physical and body appearance. Such behaviours have been blamed to the pressures arising from their agencies, in order to maintain the ‘ideal’ body and secure their job in the industry.

A study by the National Eating Disorders Association and Rodgers et al., (2016) examined the prevalence of different types of pressures perceived from modelling agencies, casting agencies or designers across a sample of professional fashion models. Models reported high rates of pressures from their agencies to tone up (64.9%), lose weight (54.1%) or use diet and exercise regimens that might help them to lose weight (57.6%). On top of that, models reported having told by their agencies that they would stop representing them unless they lost weight (21.2%), they will be more successful if they lost weight (63.1%) or that they would not be able to find them jobs unless they lost weight (54.1%).

How do we tackle this phenomenon?

Given the public concerns, recently, campaigns, guidelines and legislative efforts have been proposed, which are begging the fashion industry for a healthier and diverse environment for the models. During the New York Fashion Week in 2017, a campaign led by the Model Alliance and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), encourage models to ‘prioritize health and celebrate diversity on catwalks’ (Rahim, 2017). Models used the hashtag #DearNYFW to share their experiences on social media platforms with regards to pressures from their agencies to lose weight with the aim to prevent the prevalence of eating disorders and promote diversity within the fashion industry.

Several countries have banned ultra-thin models from the runways and proposed guidelines which ensure the exclusion of very-low weight models from the fashion shows and tackle against anorexia. Given the death of Luisel Ramos in 2006, an underweight, 22 years old model from Uruguay who died of a heart attack during a fashion show, Spain was the first country which banned extremely thin models. Italy, France, Israel, Germany, Denmark and the United States were also proposed similar legislation. The legislations require the models to present a valid health certificate which ensures their healthy range BMI (>18.5 kg/m2), body shape and appropriate age (usually over 18 years).

Although the world of social media has been ‘bombed’ with body positivity-influential posts, the efficiency of such campaigns and guidelines into the wellbeing of fashion models has not been confirmed yet. The need for future policies targeting the extreme thinness and body diversity within the industry along with the investigation of their effectiveness is considered essential.

This article was written by Stella Leontiou. Stella is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr). She specializes in Eating Disorders, Disordered Eating and Emotional Eating. Currently, she is taking webinars into Intuitive and Mindful Eating Approaches.

Stella is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr), while she also holds the Graduate Basis for Chartership with the British Psychological Society. Stella had obtained a first-class Bachelor of Science degree (BSc) in Nutrition from Oxford Brookes University and a Master’s degree (MSc) in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition at UCL. She also holds a distinction MSc in Psychology as a conversion course from the University of the Arts, in London. My professional background reflects a combination of research-based experience and collaborations with numerous external organizations, in clinical and industry settings. You can find Stella on Instagram at



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