Notorious is the fashion industry’s problem with body image. From glitzy advertisements to matchstick-skinny mannequins, fashion consistently pummels consumers with a single message: Thin is beautiful, thin is good.
In some parts of the world, steps are being taken to combat this message, as well as the related eating disorders that plague the modeling community. In France, new models are required to present medical documentation of a body mass index (BMI) of at least 18, and brands and agencies that employ models under that height-and-weight ratio run the risk of jail time. Fellow European governments are weighing similar rules and also potential bans on teenage models.
Other measures, though, veer toward heavy-handed—if not downright invasive. The latest crackdown on eating disorders in modeling comes in the form of a British fashion brand’s insistence on “non-negotiable” contracts that require models to eat while being watched.
Heidy Rehman, founder of the fashion label Rose & Willard, explained her company’s decision in a Huffington Post essay this week: “Yes, it’s a form of nannying, but we feel we have a responsibility to protect these young women from an industry which we believe can leave them exploited and puts them under pressure to starve themselves and damage their health and well-being,” she wrote. Rehman said she’s been told of instances where models “eat tissues ahead of castings or shootings in order to avoid having their stomachs rumble.”
Her solution? Surveillance. Speaking to the Sunday Times (paywall), Rehman said any model participating in Rose & Willard’s photo campaigns will now have to “not just eat a meal but eat it in our presence… she’s not going to get away with eating a slice of cucumber or throwing it away.” Models who don’t comply with the contract will find their payment withheld. Rehman didn’t specify whether company employees would eat with the models or just look at them.
Call it a publicity stunt; call it a radical attempt at altruism. While Rose & Willard claims it’s protecting vulnerable women, this particular tactic may just be making everyone massively uncomfortable.