Eating Disorders in Modelling: In the Wake of High Profile Deaths, What Steps are Being Taken by the Fashion Industry to Protect Models?

Eating Disorder Deaths

An example of a devastating tragedy caused by eating disorders in modelling is the 2006 case of twenty one year old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston. Reston began modelling at the impressionable young age of thirteen in the Brazilian city of Jundiai after winning a beauty contest. As her modelling career progressed, Reston fell victim to anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by not only an intense fear of weight gain, but also persistent weight loss and a warped self image. Eight years after embarking on a career which would result in her demise, Reston entered a Brazilian hospital. At twenty one years old, and weighing a mere eighty eight pounds, the troubled model died of a generalized infection due to her eating disorder. Standing at five feet, eight inches, Reston’s Body Mass Index at the time of her death was just over thirteen; a BMI below 18 is what is generally considered underweight by medical professionals.

Two other cases, the 2006-2007 deaths of sisters Luisel and Eliana Ramos, have been reported as both being related to eating disorders in modelling as well as simply deaths due to a shared genetic predisposition to heart problems. In photographs taken around the time of their deaths, the sisters are both visibly emaciated. Twenty two year old Luisel Ramos died of heart problems after collapsing at a Montevideo fashion show; in a statement issued by her distraught father, it was found that the young model was on a months-long diet of cola and green leaves. Only six months later, eighteen year old Eliana Ramos followed in her older sister’s footsteps, dying of a heart attack in Montevideo. Whether these deaths were indeed cause by anorexia nervosa, or simply by genetic problems, they have sparked much debate regarding eating disorders in modelling.

Impact on the Fashion Industry

In light of the prevalence of eating disorders and the deaths that can follow on from them, the fashion industry in some areas of the world is making positive changes towards becoming more accepting of normal, healthy body weights. For example, the city council of Madrid, the sponsor of their fashion week, imposed a ban on allowing any models with a Body Mass Index of under 18 to participate in the shows. Alongside this, models who are five feet nine inches tall have a minimum weight requirement of 56 kilograms, and any models found to have a Body Mass Index of 16 or below would be receiving treatment.

Similarly, in 2009 a law was proposed in Israel that would ban extremely thin models from being used to endorse or promote products. Under this law, modelling agencies in Israel would not only no longer be allowed to sign on or use underweight models, but they would also be banned from employing technical programs such as Photoshop in order to alter the appearance of models in advertisements. This proposal stems from the rise of eating disorders in Israel, with the media being seen as having a large impact on their development. A comparable law has been proposed in France, stating that a caption must be included alongside any digitally altered photo, making it clear that it has been retouched.

Making Progress

With laws such as these being developed, proposed, and enacted, it is clear that the rise of eating disorders in modelling is having an impact on the fashion industry. In light of tragic young deaths such as Ana Carolina Reston and the Ramos sisters, one can remain hopeful that progress will continue to be made in the fight against eating disorders in modelling.


Models with Eating Disorders:

What’s Being Done: