We appreciate Hadley Freeman’s point (Don’t blame the fashion world for the cult of skinny, Weekend, 10 September) that eating disorders are multifactorial, unattributed to any single cause. However, we disagree that the fashion industry, and its media representations, don’t play a role.
The industry’s promotion of extreme thinness is a major sociocultural pressure that increases eating disorder risk. Furthermore, these pressures are harmful to models, who too often must put their health at risk to keep their job. Legislation that can change this thin-ideal saturated environment has a high potential to decrease the incidence of disordered eating behaviours.
The Women’s Equality party’s proposal argues for legislation aiming to increase size and shape diversity in fashion, including through larger sample sizes. Such legislation can be effective when end-users are involved and when enforcement is possible in practice and through the allocation of resources. In addition, providing youth with tools to resist appearance pressures is critical to decreasing rates of disordered eating. The WEP’s additional focus on including media literacy in curriculums would address this. A number of effective, evidence-based media literacy programmes are freely available for schools.
Limiting the impact of the thin ideal can only happen through concerted efforts to decrease these pressures and simultaneously help young people resist them. The WEP’s proposal outlines such a plan and may pave the way to healthier working conditions for models and positive body image for the greater public.
Rachel Rodgers Associate professor, Department of Applied Psychology, Northeastern University, USA, Professor S Bryn Austin Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, Sara Ziff Founding director, Model Alliance, Áine Campbell, Madeline Hill, Meredith Hattam Co-directors, Model Alliance