In January 2017 , the International Journal of Eating Disorders published the largest study to date on eating disorders among professional models. This study was a joint effort between the Model Alliance and researchers at Northeastern University and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The landmark study aims to bridge a gap in data on the pressure to lose weight and the rates of unhealthy weight control behaviors among models — and to use this evidence to suggest policy changes in the industry.
“Results of a strategic science study to inform policies targeting extreme thinness standards in the fashion industry.”
About the survey: We sent an anonymous, online survey to 241 working fashion models based in New York and Los Angeles. 85 responded. Their average age was 26, indicating that our sample skewed towards older, more experienced models. We are working to reach out to younger models at the beginnings of their careers. We chose to focus this survey on women models, because male modeling is a much smaller market, but in the future we would like to survey men. Our respondents have worked in over a dozen countries, and several high-profile supermodels completed the survey.
We found that the majority of models begin their careers very young — most start working before age 16.
Despite the fact that the modeling labor force skews so young, the most models under the age of 18 are not supervised by a parent or guardian while on the job.
For the overwhelming majority of models who are not born and raised in New York, starting a career means moving to a new city, or even a foreign country, where their families may not be financially able to accompany them.
The models we surveyed shared several common concerns about their health on the job. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly two-thirds of models have been pressured to lose weight by their agencies. Eating disorders are not uncommon. Models report that drug use in the workplace is rampant. And more than two-thirds of models say they suffer from anxiety or depression.
Given that agencies and clients consider models to be independent contractors, rather than employees, many of our survey subjects lack health insurance coverage. And given our survey sample skewed in favor of older, more established and financially stable models, it's safe to say that among younger models and foreign models, the rate of insurance coverage is even lower.
Sexual harassment and abuse at work is also of concern to many models. Backstage at fashion shows and at photo shoots, models are often expected to change in full view of photographers, stylists, assistants, and anyone else who may happen to be present. Nearly all models have experienced a "surprise" nude shoot or casting. A sizable minority of working models have experienced sexual harassment on the job. Few models told their agencies about it, perhaps because of the fact that of the models who did, two-thirds found that their agents didn't see the problem. Models even reported that their agents encouraged them to sleep with their harassers to help their careers.