Inside a Model’s Body: Health Risks of Modeling

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

When models are being asked about their eating habits and how they manage to keep “fit” (an euphemism which usually means skinny), they always tend to respond the same: that they try to keep a balanced diet and that, from time to time, they treat themselves with an ice-cream, some chocolate or whatever they crave for. This usually reminds me a job interview, when you memorize the right answers to the questions you might be asked in order to be considered for the post.

Maybe models just memorize what agencies have told them they must say, so they can keep their image clean (both the agency and the model) and things keep running the same way. Maybe, they don’t. Even though, this learnt behavior (or not) is at least suspicious, as models continue looking too skinny, something which can be dangerous not only for public health in general, as the message they are transmitting with the promotion of this type of body is that you can only be beautiful if you look like that; but also for models’ own health, as starving oneself can lead to severe diseases.

As British researchers Janet L. Treasure, Elizabeth R. Wack and Marion E. Roberts stated in an editorial for The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008, there are many serious consequences of being underweight, the main ones affecting to reproduction, bones and brain. On one hand, menstruation can become “irregular or absent” and fertility can decrease as well. On the other hand, poor nutrition can lead to osteoporosis, as it hinders bone development and makes bone turnover and repair more difficult. Finally, starving to reach or to maintain a zero size can damage the brain, as it interferes with homeostasis, causing “changes in drive, thoughts, feelings and behavior” and modifying “metabolic and physiological processes”.

Also, binge eating after a period of extreme food restriction and dieting, combined with an “intermittent consumption of snacks and high palatable food”, has dangerous repercussions on health. As the researchers found out, if binge priming occurs during adolescence, this can lead to the development of serious eating disorders in the following years. Moreover, people who binge eat at an early age “are more prone to develop substance and alcohol misuse”. In fact, “binge priming might explain why models have such a high rate of substance misuse”.

It has always been rumored models take drugs to keep their zero size, but it has been confirmed by some of them many times, too. It is the case, for instance, of Russian model Kira Dikhtyar, who spoke out to Fox News in 2012 about the techniques some of her colleagues employed to starve themselves (“packs of cigarettes, daily colonics, laxatives, Phentermine diet pills, Adderall, prescription drugs that suppress the appetite”) and how agencies encouraged the girls to “do speed and cocaine in order to speed up metabolism and eat less”. The 26-year-old model also told that some models even ate cotton balls to fill their stomach. There are many more models who have opened up about this situation as well. British former model Tess Daly admitted last year that “the pressure to take drugs was immense” when she did modeling and “taking cocaine […] was seen as an essential part of fitting in”, especially with the agents, who were the people “who secured the jobs”. Even top model Naomi Campbell confessed some years ago that she got addicted to illegal drugs, not to mention the time when Kate Moss was spotted taking cocaine.

Effects of drugs and substance addictions are well known. Some of them include the increase of the risk to suffer infections; cardiovascular conditions; nausea, vomits and abdominal pain; liver failure; brain problems, such as the loss of the ability of making decisions or psychological problems as paranoia, aggressiveness and quick mood changes. Finally, drugs can lead to baby malformations and difficulties when being pregnant.

As the British researchers go on, health implications and pressure to models don’t stop here. In addition to the above described consequences, there are social factors which contribute to make the problem worse and to increase models’ risk to develop an eating disorder, like “constant exposure to media images depicting thin women […], criticism, teasing and bullying focused on food, weight and shape issues” and the fact they are “frequently judged and evaluated on these domains and critical and hostile comments, under the guise of professional development […]”.

If we take into account these data, it is clear something must be done in order to protect models’ health. As any other employee, they should be able to do their job without putting their lives in jeopardy, since starvation, eating disorders and drug addiction imply serious health issues. If we don’t want that cases like with Ana Carolina Reston or Eliana Ramos ever happen again, we must demand the end of the zero size era.