Imagine a factory where the employees are regularly being starved.
Some are so desperate with hunger that they pick up tissues from the floor and stuff them into their mouths, while a few become so weak that they have to be admitted to hospital and put on a drip. Any industry which treated workers so badly would be targeted by undercover reporters. Photographs of emaciated workers would cause an outcry, questions would be asked in parliament and the factory would be closed down. This would happen anywhere in the developed world with one glaring exception, and that’s the fashion industry.
“You know how you read interviews where models insist that they eat a lot? Not true,” says Kirstie Clements, who edited Vogue Australia for 13 years. “The only way they can get that thin is to stop eating. They eat tissue paper to stave off the hunger pangs – literally ball it up and eat it.” It’s one of several startling claims in The Vogue Factor, a book that Clements has written about the industry she knows from the inside, and it’s not even the most shocking.
Clements lifts the lid on the existence of “fit” models, the women used to check the fit of clothes who are expected to be even thinner than the catwalk variety. “Fit” in this instance means just the opposite, as Clements discovered when she asked a top model how she was getting on with her flatmate. “Oh, it’s fine,” was the insouciant reply, “she’s a fit model so she is mostly in hospital on a drip.”
By any normal standards, someone whose job puts them in hospital most of the time is: (a) deluded; and (b) abused. But the fashion industry departed from normal standards years ago, not even bothering to hide the damage it inflicts mostly (but not exclusively) on young women. It’s paraded on catwalks and in fashion spreads for anyone to see, evident in models whose jutting hipbones and stick limbs suggest they’re suffering from malnutrition. When flipping through a glossy magazine a couple of days ago, I was mesmerised by a perfume ad featuring two models whose naked bodies were as skinny as saplings.
Clements recalls a fashion shoot which lasted for three days yet she didn’t see the model eat once, even when the girl got so weak that she could hardly stand or open her eyes. Everyone involved in the fashion industry is expected to buy into a fantasy in which there’s nothing unusual about being five foot nine and weighing 45 kilos. But the death toll on the international modelling circuit – Ana Carolina Reston, Luisel Ramos and her sister Eliana, Isabelle Caro – tells a different story. Fashion isn’t worth dying for, so let’s start applying the normal health and safety standards to this sick industry.