The Fashion Industry, Model Cruelty and Eating Disorders

I recently finished Victoire Dauxerre’s Size Zero:  My Life as a Disappearing Model, a memoir on how the fashion industry and being a model drove her into having an eating disorder. Ms. Dauxerre never really thought of becoming a model – she was scouted as a teenager just as she was finishing high school in France.  According to her book, she had intended to further her education, but hey, the fashion industry, right?  Ms. Dauxerre was already very thin for her height (5’10” and weighed in the 120s), but she had to go down even further (let’s just say that she wasn’t much heavier than me at her lowest, and she’s eight inches taller!  And I’m considered thin for my height) – she was eating nothing but apples to lose the weight.  She had to, after all, fit into designers’ runway samples (which seem to be different from samples used for photo shoots.  Ms. Dauxerre mentioned that she did not need to be as small post-fashion month, when they shoot editorial or catalogues).  Agents are also very demanding about models’ weight.  However, I’m not sure if it’s entirely THEIR fault.  They represent the models and are only sending girls out for go-sees (do they still use that term in the modelling world?) based on what designers look for.  And the pressure of being so thin – unrealistically thin for their height – is very stressful, in body, mind and spirit.  At the end, Ms. Dauxerre quit and then tried to kill herself by taking pills.  So yes, it’s really the designers who are at most fault.

Ms. Dauxerre’s book

As you can see, modelling is far from glamorous.  In fact, it can be downright cruel.  We all know that models are often not treated very well, but how badly are they treated?  Often they had to wear shoes much too small for them – Ms. Dauxerre had to walk wearing shoes two sizes too small!  Talk about blisters!  Ms. Dauxerre also had an awful allergic reaction after wearing a designer’s clothes – to the point that she wasn’t able to audition the following day.  And keeping within the size a designer is looking for not only means dieting to the point that one is much too small for one’s height, but there are restrictions on the amount of exercise (basically zero) as well – at least according to the book.  Muscles aren’t considered feminine looking, according to the book (wait, do these designers know my maternal grandmother??!!!).  Then there are the super-early shoots, temperature issues during shoots and, of course, the lack of food.  Or decent food.  Even if models are fed (say, at a preview for media), they are often not given the same type of food as guests.  Ms. Dauxerre also talks about pay and how models are often “paid” in clothing rather than money itself.

This book definitely serves as a warning to young women (and men, too) who want to become models.  It’s not how it’s portrayed in movies and television.  And definitely not something parents should really encourage their kids as something to pursue.  Unless, of course, changes are made.  Changes such as sample sizes.  If models need to be very tall, then wouldn’t it be better to have larger sample sizes?  At 5’10”, one will appear to be just as proportionately thin in a size 8 as a petite woman (who is, say, 5’2″ or 5’3″) who wears a size 0 or 2.  And the runway “ideal” of not being muscular or athletic doesn’t “fit” the Hollywood ideal either – the “fit” look has been “in” for YEARS.  Wonder Woman was NOT the catalyst!  If designers complain about having to dress larger sized celebrities like Melissa McCarthy, then shouldn’t they also do so for smaller actresses or musicians (I find that body image activists forget this too.  I have reminded them numerous times, yet they seem to either forget or even dismiss my comments.  I guess they don’t want to hear anything from a smaller woman)?  The non-muscular look is not exactly the ideal.  And I have also never heard designers complain about having to dress shorter people.

5 News interview with Ms. Dauxerre
I understand that designers have a “muse” – I have had arguments with them on that.  But they also need to think outside of the box.  Maybe it’s the fault of fashion schools.  Maybe they don’t encourage designers to think differently enough and design not only for a variety of different sizes, but body types (these two aren’t necessarily synonymous.  Even plus sized models tend to be fit into the smaller waist, larger hips “ideal”), including height.  And at the same time, body image activists need to stop shaming those who are actually size zero and get with the fact that some people – especially short people – are really that small.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Ms. Dauxerre was modelling some seven or eight years ago and things have improved…slightly.  For example, models in France must now present medical notes indicating they are not too thin to work.  However, we often hear that designers STILL refuse to use a broader range in sizing.  Is it really that difficult to change?  Or, if they DO prefer to use smaller sized individuals, just use shorter models.  The only reason why agencies are full of very tall, very young and very thin models is because that’s what they have on their roster – because that’s what designers are looking for.  It isn’t up to the agencies and scouts, it’s up to the designers.  And if a designer can dress the very petite Lady Gaga (5’1″ or so), they can dress Chrissy Metz from This is Us.  Oh, and please treat models better.  Feed them.  Give them a place to sit while they’re waiting.  Let them warm up if the location is too cold.  AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE, PAY THEM!!!  Like REAL MONEY.  Because complimentary clothes, shoes and bags don’t pay the rent.  They only clog up closets.


Cynthia Cheng Mintz

Cynthia Cheng Mintz, previously known for her sites, DelectablyChic! (still “live” and still active on social media) and Shorty Stories, was born and raised in Toronto. In addition to writing, Cynthia enjoys cooking and is an avid supporter of the Canadian fashion industry. She is involved with various philanthropic projects, including music, arts, culture and mental health awareness.