City, News

Models distort self-perceptions of women, government should intervene, study finds

A new study presented by The Guardian calls the government to actively address the problems of anorexia and unhealthy body image in the fashion model industry. Illustration by Sarah Anolik/DFP Staff

When flipping through magazines such as “Vogue” or “Harper’s Bazaar,” one might notice the scant amount of models larger than a size two.

Government intervention should occur to “prevent the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders,” according to a discussion paper that proposed an economic model of eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa affects women between 15 and 34 and is usually socially induced, according to the paper, published by The London School of Economics and Political Science.

“The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance or the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health,” according to the paper.

Dr. Alison Field, an associate in medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, said women need to look at weight as a health issue rather than an issue on body perception.

“We want people to be thoughtful enough to be active and diet, but not overly focused,” Field said. “Women need to look not just at the scale, but look at all the other wonderful attributes they have.”

Elizabeth Saviteer, program coordinator for the National Eating Disorders Association, said it is important to keep in mind that beauty is subjective.

“Women need to learn to appreciate to the diversity of body shapes and sizes as well as accept their own body image,” Saviteer said. “They need to appreciate what the body can do as well as what it looks like.”

Saviteer said numerous studies have shown unrealistic body images in the media affect self-esteem and can lead to dieting.

“The ideal figure has certainly got much thinner, as well as our body dissatisfaction,” she said.

The media is one of the factors that affect how people see themselves, according to the paper.

“The ‘ideal’ body image portrayed by the media influences social interaction and this may in turn make it more dominant,” according to the paper. “This circularity only makes the power of social interactions in shaping people’s self-identity more extreme.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America recently released a set of rules and regulations for models to encourage healthy eating and dieting habits in the industry.

Saviteer said NEDA supports the CFDA’s new guidelines for models, but eating disorder screenings should be required for minors in the industry.

NEDA is working with the organization “Off Our Chests!,” a women’s magazine that promotes happiness for women and girls.

Saviteer said they are working to get disclosure on images in the media saying the images have been digitally altered.

“Photoshop has a negative impact on body image and self esteem,” Saviteer said.
Field said the media should not use these thin models and eating disorders should not be glorified.

“Wherever we are we’re reminded of this perfect image,” Field said. “At the grocery store, the tabloids say ‘Perfect Bikini’ or ‘Best Dress.’”

More than 90 percent of people with anorexia nervosa are female, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Katie Heimer, the community and education coordinator at the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association, Inc., said there are more people across society struggling with eating disorders, but it might be too much to say the media is the sole cause.

“Media is definitely one factor, but if someone is dealing with other emotional issues, media is an extra burden or strain,” Heimer said.

Heimer, however, said there needs to be more done about advertiser claims. The misleading nature of airbrushing photographs is false advertising, she said.

“Real human beings have flaws, little imperfections, and it is easy to forget that is the case when there are these images,” Heimer said.

Anorexia and bulimia affect between 5 and 10 million women and about 1 million men, Heimer said.

“I think a huge key is media literacy,” Heimer said. “It’s really important to teach children from an early age to be aware of media images because it’s hard to detect if you’re not consciously looking at it.”

Boston University College of Communication sophomore Kelsey Mulvey, who has a fashion blog called “The Trendologist,” said she was not surprised that people would demand change considering the super skinny model image.

“I definitely think there should be some regulation to just how healthy [the models] should be,” Mulvey said. “I don’t think fashion industry is fully to blame. It’s not just models, but Photoshop, and celebrities and Hollywood. Everyone has to change.”

Mulvey said the aspect of having “no curves” offers a “blank slate” for designers.

No matter what, models are going to be underweight because they portray a certain look, she said.

“I feel like in generations to come there might be a change in image.” Mulvey said. “But now, the whole idea of being super skinny will haunt us.”


  1. About the absolute worst possible suggestion is the notion that the government should intervene, or “regulate just how healthy models should be.”

    No one has the moral authority to dictate to others on their lifestyle choices. To be sure, I never thought super-thin models are particularly attractive, and I would rather see the girls a little more filled out, but this is really beside the point. Or, maybe it is precisely the point – that it’s people that “would demand change considering the…model image.” The fashion industry, like any industry, is subject to the demands (internally and externally) of all those who participate.

    Has anyone considered that it’s possible that super-skinny models are perfectly happy being super-skinny? If it truly bothers them, they can either find alternative agencies, or quit modelling altogether. Either way it’s ultimately their choice, even if we disagree it.

    Freedom is about letting adults make their own choices and being responsible for their outcomes. No one has the right to interfere with any contract that is made voluntarily, and without force or fraud. Would those that condone government coercion to deal with this issue also use government to prevent gay marriage or legal prostitution, or prevent individuals from drinking raw milk under the auspices of the health of the individual? Leave people free to make their own decisions.

  2. We need to end the attitude that government regulation is the necessary solution to every problem. Our National debt is $16 Trillion and rising. The last thing we need is more government bureaucracy telling us how to live our lives.

  3. “Government intervention should occur”
    Is it April 1st?