Models and Mental Ilness

Girls are taught from a young age that their body is the enemy – that to fit into the mould presented to them by the media they must pluck, wax and starve their bodies into submission in a way men simply are not. The supposed ideal male body, albeit a body that would be difficult to attain without committing a huge amount of time and dedication to the gym, is healthy. It is muscular, strong and nourished, and most importantly, it is adult. The vast majority of women’s modelling careers start at pubescence and few thrive afterwards – Miranda Kerr began modelling at 13, Kate Moss at 14. Look to any fashion magazine and many of the models featured will probably still be embarrassed about buying tampons and laughing at typing out 58008 on their calculators. They probably never even had tamigotchis.

It is not healthy for the consumers who are conditioned to believe that these bodies are even attainable post-puberty, and it is definitely not healthy for the models themselves whose careers and livelihoods depend on staying in some kind of Peter Pan-esque chidlike state forever. Christ, just think about how awkward and gangly you were at fourteen and how traumatising it was for the boys who sat behind you in Biology to ping your bra straps, let alone have to stand in front of actual adults who scrutinise every part of your being and deem you too fat/ugly/skinny/weird. Kate Moss recently admitted in Vanity Fair magazine to having a ‘ nervous breakdown’ during a teenage photo-shoot with Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Klein;

It didn’t feel like me at all. I felt really bad about straddling this buff guy. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I thought I was going to die. I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘I’ll give you some Valium,’ and Francesca Sorrenti, thank God, said, ‘You’re not taking that.’ It was just anxiety. Nobody takes care of you mentally. There’s a massive pressure to do what you have to do. I was really little, and I was going to work with Steven Meisel. It was just really weird—a stretch limo coming to pick you up from work. I didn’t like it. But it was work, and I had to do it.”

People can, and have been scorning, at this millionaire supermodels’ tale of woe at the start of a huge worldwide career, but to do so is besides the point. The ‘I had to do it’ is particularly sad; barely out of childhood, she was forced to seek medical help because grown men made her feel like it was her duty to take her clothes off in front of a camera. And for every Moss who goes on to become enormously successful, what about the hundreds of girls who are never plunged out of obscurity? Who are pressured into an adult world they are not ready for, at the cost of their mental health and self-esteem? Last year Vogue made a published statement that they would no longer use such young girls as models in their magazines, but went back on it within a few months. It would be lovely to boycott publications and brands who employ child models, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the agencies, designers and photographers to ensure they are following ethical employment practices. Forcing adolescents into such self-loathing that it results in mental illness, as well as engaging girls and women of all ages in a culture of distorted body image and expectation should not be celebrated as fashion – because that, in the words of my muse and inspiration, Marc-Francis from Made in Chelsea, ‘is NOT chic.’

Louisa Ackermann

3 thoughts on “Models and Mental Ilness

  1. Thanks for the outstanding post. It is a very sad industry in so many ways. I think that part of the problem is our cultural value on cheap sex and also false concepts of feminine youth (the “Peter Pan” principle you mentioned). No one wants to talk honestly about human development. No wants to acknowledge that wrinkles are normal – in fact they are beautiful. No one wants to address that the model-look is unnatural and downright unhealthy.

    By the way I have a new WordPress which you might enjoy; I already have several followers. I post a lot of feminist material as well a variety of other topics. Please check it out!

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  2. Good post (really love your whole site too) but one / two points:
    Completely agree that the idealised male body is an adult one, while the female version tends to be pubescent, but it isn’t always healthy. I’ve known a few guys who, despite having six packs and biceps, aren’t actually eating enough, which is pretty obvious when you realise their ribs are visible and their wrists are thinner than yours. The bigger issue, I guess, is that girls feel more pressure to attain these ‘model-perfect’ bodz than men.

  3. Pingback: Eating isn’t Cheating «

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