Models' mental well-being worse than their peers

Jeremy Laurance
Monday 12 February 2007 01:00

Modelling is a lonely profession which strips those who enter it of their autonomy and leaves them waging a "war against their bodies," research has revealed.

At the start of London Fashion Week, a study comparing models with young people in different occupations has shown their mental health is poorer and their life satisfaction is lower.

Despite their earning power and status as icons of beauty, the models rated lower on measures of happiness, psychological fulfilment and feelings of competence.

Changing continents as often as outfits, strutting catwalks and posing for the camera left them feeling less satisfied and more isolated than their peers doing ordinary jobs in offices and gossiping round the water cooler with colleagues.

The research was conducted by psychologists at City University, London, including two who also freelanced as models, and is published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. The researchers recruited 56 models, almost two-thirds of them female, from two London modelling agencies, who answered questionnaires. The results were compared with 53 non- models. A second study compared 35 female models with women from a design office and literary agency.

A key finding was that models felt their lives were out of their control as they were ordered about by clients, used as clothes horses and valued for their looks rather than skills.

That left them with their bodies as the only arena over which they had control, fuelling the obsession with weight, dieting and the quest for size zero.

Kristin Enstrom, one of the researchers and a model with the Nevs agency in London, said: "The way it works for models is that they get put forward for a job and then it is a yes or a no. There is nothing you can do to improve apart from dieting.

"You are only valued for your looks - not for what you say. Clients don't value you for anything except your appearance."

A survey commissioned for MTV found young people snubbed size zero as the ideal body shape. A third of 16-25-year-olds polled said a size 10 with a 34B bust was the ideal figure and just 4 per cent said it was a size 6.

Ms Enstrom, aged 25, from Sweden, started modelling 10 years ago and travelled all over Europe before basing herself in London. She graduated from City University in psychology last year and aims to return to do an MA.

"We travel a lot and it is seen as a glamorous profession but that is not enough. In a normal job you have time to bond with people."

She has modelled for Prada and Armani and appeared in the magazines Grazia, Elle and Glamour.

She added: "The pressure is there all the time - on everyone's mind - you are at war with your body. The London market is not as harsh as Milan, Paris or New York. You don't have to be stick-thin to get work. The top models tend to be skinny but the level I am in - doing catalogues and magazine shoots - is not so bad."

Ms Enstrom said she hoped to make her future career in psychology and had learnt to take more control of modelling jobs she was sent on. "I was grabbed at 14 and at that age, when you are told you are a model, you do whatever you are told. Now, if there is something I am not happy with I tell them."

But she was pessimistic about the prospects for change in the industry. "The business is what it is. I don't see there is much they can do. Models have to learn to cope," she said.

Bjorn Meyer, of City University, who led the study, said the industry needed to offer models more support to prevent eating disorders and other mental problems.

"We stereotype models as commodities, good for displaying clothes and nothing else. But they are human beings with the same needs as everyone else," he said. "The industry needs to ensure their working conditions do not undermine their psychological well-being."

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