BY SARA SASILA
Most people think the fashion industry is one of the biggest triggers for eating disorders. That being said, is it safe to assume that those in the industry are suffering as well?
Being a model doesn’t sound like a bad profession. The free clothes, endless amount of money, parties and most importantly, a name for yourself would make anyone want to be in the modelling business. But, do we know what happens behind closed doors?
In 2013, Georgina Wilkin, 23, a former Prada model, left the fashion world after fighting an eating disorder for eight years.
“I started modelling when I was 15 years old. I was a size eight but I was told to lose a few inches from my hips so that I could be eligible for the best jobs,” Wilkin said to The Telegraph, a newspaper in the U.K. “This was normal in the fashion world, so I didn’t think too much of it.”
After losing the weight and winning a contract to go to Japan, Wilkin said she expected her life to be glamorous and fun, but it ended up being the complete opposite.
“I was standing in a lineup with 12 models. We were all naked apart from flesh-coloured thongs, standing in front of a panel of casting directors,” she said. “They went through us and said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on whether you were thin enough. If you weren’t thin enough you were sent out of the room immediately. I was sent out.”
Wilkin was admitted to a hospital a year later for anorexia and was sent to The Priory, a rehabilitation centre for people who suffer with mental illnesses.
“At the end of the day, my modelling career lasted for three years and as a result, I’ve had anorexia for eight, and I’m still battling it today,” she said. “It was amazing to work on shows and I loved the clothes and the work itself. But, for the sake of a couple of years of modelling success, it’s just not worth it.”
According to the New York Better Business Bureau, high fashion models need to be between 5’9 and 6 feet and weigh between 110 and 130 pounds, with eyes widely spaced. The reality is, if a woman is 5’9 and weighs 110 pounds, she is considered underweight. However, just because she is on the thinner side, doesn’t mean she is unhealthy.
Audrey Wilson, CEO of Gemini Models in Waterloo, said the fashion industry isn’t to blame for eating disorders.
“It’s all about how you perceive yourself,” she said. “If you look at a photo of a model and you want to look like that then I don’t think you can blame the media for how you feel.”
Wilson added models are routinely told “no,” they don’t have the right look which is just part of the industry.
“Women are told no too often or someone says something negative about their appearance and they manifest that,” she said. “That is unfortunately what leads to psychological problems and eating disorders.”
At the end of the day, it’s a business. There are going to be bad agencies that only look for skinny girls and then there are good agencies where there is no criteria.
“At Gemini everyone is welcome,” she said. “You don’t have to be a certain size or height. We are here to make people feel better and happy about themselves. That is our mission statement.”
Hailey Merkt, a freelance journalist who modelled for eight years, said she had a great experience in the modelling industry.
“I started modelling when I was 13,” the Conestoga graduate said. “I never felt pressure when it came to my size. I was actually told to gain weight.”
Merkt said the industry does not cause eating disorders. In fact, women have issues as is before entering the modelling world.
“A lot of women go into the industry with mental disorders, they go in insecure and they want people to tell them that they are beautiful. They go into modelling to better their self-esteem,” she said. “People want to blame the modelling industry because it’s easy to put the blame on something else.”
It’s understandable that there are certain standards in fashion, huge businesses like Victoria Secret want thin women to carry the brand name, but it doesn’t make them a bad company.
“Some modelling places present unrealistic beauty standards. No one is 100 per cent confident and people generally look for others to compliment them,” Merkt said. “What you hear in the media about modelling isn’t actually how it is, people speculate. They want to talk about the bad and the negativity. Of course there are agencies that only want skinnier girls, but that doesn’t make them a bad place.”
Merkt said people are always shaming; there are always people who want to bring others down.
“Our culture works that way. People want to say that it’s bad being skinny just like being bigger is considered bad,” she said. “I think society puts pressure on women, not modelling and that leads to mental issues.
“Eating disorders have a lot to do with the person and how they view themselves,” said Merkt. “A lot of people are insecure about themselves and they go into modelling insecure and hope that people make them feel beautiful.”