According to the Mission Australia Youth Survey released in September last year, body image ranks in the top three issues of concern for young Australians.

You won't see this girl in Vogue from June (hopefully)... Picture: AP

Research shows 90% of 12-17 year old girls and 68% of 12 – 17 year old boys have been on a diet of some type, and that bulimia and anorexia are among the top ten causes of burden of disease and injury in young women in Australia.

So in announcing The Health Initiative this week, Vogue’s editors have shown not just that they understand the powerful influence their magazines and the wider fashion industry wields over the public’s ideas about what a normal body looks like, but also that they are prepared to show leadership and a degree of corporate social responsibility in their industry.

Their commitment includes a promise not to knowingly work with models under the age of 16, or those who appear to have an eating disorder, to encourage producers to create healthy backstage environments, to ask designers to consider the consequences of using tiny sample sizes, and importantly, to structure mentoring programs for older, more experienced models to give guidance and advice to younger models.

This indicates a real industry-driven move towards best practice by Conde Nast, and I congratulate them on it.

Vogue Australia has taken a lead in its recent issues, by profiling models like Robyn Lawley, who don’t project the typical ‘skinny’ image. Other magazines in Australia have long had pages profiling, ‘vox-pop’ style, the ensembles of women they have canvassed on the street, at work or at university.

Franca Sozzani, the Vogue Italia editor, has campaigned for the use of larger models and bigger bodies in print, and has put her money where her mouth is in her magazine. Last month she delivered a lecture on the issue at Harvard University.

She said: ‘According to numerous psychiatrists, in fact, the current inclination to embrace a female beauty standard that exalts thinness has devastating consequences on many adolescents’ eating habits. And this is where fashion comes into play, alongside models, fashion magazines and everything regarding aesthetics. What lead us to establish that thin is beautiful and that thinness is the aesthetic code we should follow?’

There is nothing we can do to alter our genetic makeup – whether we’re short, tall, built like a ballerina or a brickhouse; whether we have green eyes and freckles or we’re knock-kneed. Diversity is what makes each of us individuals – imagine how dull the world would be if we were all the same! This initiative will help celebrate a less homogeneous ideal of what constitutes beauty.

Former Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis’ National Advisory Group on Body Image, appointed in 2009, and the resulting Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct, achieved few tangible outcomes, and demonstrated why it is so important that industry itself takes the lead on this.

I hope The Health Initiative is the first move in a cultural change in the fashion industry and that the 19 editors of Vogue magazines continue to recognise that ‘there are many different types of body which are healthy’ - and beautiful.

I am also hopeful that other publishing houses and the wider fashion industry including retailers, designers, advertisers and model bookers follow Conde Nast’s lead and adopt their initiative, as the potential to create positive change is enormous.

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10 comments

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    • Fee says:

      07:37am | 07/05/12

      Good on Vogue - hopefully other publications will follow their example.
      I just have to add - although body image is a big factor exacerbating eating disorders, it’s not a cause. Neither is seeing skinny models in the media. Eating disorders are mental illnesses - they can be triggered by body image and media, they can be triggered by going on a diet -  but they aren’t actually about food/weight.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      11:20am | 07/05/12

      “Good on Vogue”, you say Fee but don’t you realise that it was publications such as Vogue in cahoots with the so-called Fashion Designers who put this “Models Must be Stick Insects” farce in place to begon with?
      OK, so the alleged designers demanded it because it showed their lousy fashions off to what they thought was “best Advantage” but if the fashion mags had from the very forst stood up to those pathetic, up-themselves clowns and said a Great Big Collective “NO” and had refuse to include any photos of those sick, emaciated freaks the desigenrs demanded they would have put their inane, cruel & grossly unhealthy demands away.
      Young girls & boys are very body image conscious. They do take their cues from the Fashion World. Of course those mags must take responsibility for those young people developing eating disorders for thoes mags promoted the emaciated, starved concentration camp look as being Beautiful & Desirous. They young were told that if they wanted to become a Top Model, Be Successful then this was what was required. Certainly most eating disorders are a Mental Illness but what are the triggers for that those particular illnesses? A hell of a lot of those triggers will have been pulled because of the Fashion Industry.

    • TJ says:

      12:03pm | 07/05/12

      Yeah it’s step in the right direction but it’s a bit of a joke really. Nothing much will change. As Robert said, it was publications like Vogue who caused all of this so they won’t be getting a “good on you” from me.

      It’s a bit like Maccas introducing salad on their menus and saying “look, we are doing our bit to stem the obesity epidemic in Australia” while they sell a few million unhealthy, fat filled burgers on the side.

      I wouldn’t expect too many changes down at the Vogue offices. Despite what they say, they will keep printing skinny models, they just won’t print girls who look like they live in concentration camps.

    • Kirsty says:

      11:46am | 07/05/12

      Thanks for the link Adam, I especially liked this quote.

      “Anorexia is not new. What is quite new, though, is the arrogance of mass communicators who believe they are able to cause widespread behavioural change for the better or the worse”.

      I read an article awhile ago (unfortunately forgotten where/ the title etc) that rightly or wrongly said that “high” fashion generally does the opposite to what is happening within the larger population.  E.g. years ago when most of the lower class were thin it was fashionable to be larger and now we are seeing that as obesity and being overweight are more widespread thin is “in”.  While I don’t necessarily totally agree with this claim I think it is an interesting point of view.

    • Josephine says:

      10:08am | 07/05/12

      I think it’s a great idea. However, if they are going to stop using under weight models it also follows that they shouldn’t use over weight ones either.

      “Built like a ballerina”? Genetics has little to do with it. Very few people would genetically look like a ballerina. It takes years of training & discipline to be a ballet dancer and you’ve just denigrated all the hard work that goes into ballet by inferring that it’s genetic. There are women of many shapes & sizes in my ballet class . I took it up as an adult and while I enjoy it, it’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.

    • egg says:

      10:49am | 07/05/12

      ... huh? “you’ve just denigrated all the hard work that goes into ballet” is not true. Some people ARE naturally built like ballerinas, so stop being so precious. I had a friend who ate meat pies & popcorn all day, barely ate veggies or drank water, and people thought she was anorexic and/or a ballet dancer. Metabolism works differently for all people.

    • Karla says:

      10:10am | 07/05/12

      All of this seems more like a token gesture to me in an attempt to deflect the negativity which surrounds these magazines for the very skinny women they choose as ideal representations of female beauty.
      The self-regulation “guidelines” are laughable. They’ve provided enough caveats in their mission statement that they can essentially get away with carrying on as usual while appearing as though they’re trying to make a difference.
      As the above commenter said, anorexia and other eating disorders cannot be solely blamed on the saturation of such images throughout our society. If that were the case, I imagine the proportion of eating-disorder sufferers would be a great deal higher! These images do not help, and in many ways feed the monster that lives inside you that stops you from eating. But they are not the reason that monster is there.
      As someone in recovery, it frustrates me to no end that this topic is constantly discussed in the media with so many broad generalisations made and so many assertions. On one hand, I could say that all this conversation about it is good for awareness. On the other, when I was in the throes of the illness no amount of awareness within the public can really help someone who is suffering from what feels like such a personal, shameful problem.
      In the end what I think I’m trying to say is… don’t confuse an eating disorder with a desire to be thin, the feeling that apparently everyone has that they could ‘stand to lose a few’. For me it stemmed from a desire to be anything, anyone, but myself - and the only way I felt I could achieve that was by disappearing entirely. But I’m also well aware that my reasons differ from other sufferers - it is not something you can generalise.
      This attempt from Vogue to change is perhaps a step in the right direction, but maybe for a society which places to high an ideal on thinness over health, and beauty above all.

    • Flutz says:

      11:05am | 07/05/12

      I’d applaud Vogue a lot more heartily if they were being relalistic with this campaign. I think it was the editor of Aust Vogue (I missed the start of the segment so not 100% sure her position, but she definitely works for Aust Vogue) on morning TV last week in an interview about this and one of her lines was “well obviously we aren’t going to be using size 12 models - we aren’t a plus size magazine after all.”  What tha? To Vogue size 12 is plus size???!!!! I inintially thought I had mis-heard her until the female host of the show made this exact same observation to her co-host after the interview was finished. It’s a pity she didn’t actually say it to the lady from Vogue.  So I agree with Karla - it’s a token gesture.

    • Ridge says:

      11:58am | 07/05/12

      All of this concern about body image is seemingly doing nothing to solve the real problem of increasingly fatter bodies.

      Instead of petitioning for bigger models, how about trying for a thinner population?

 

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