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Another fashion model dies of anorexia – the world yawns

23rd November 2007

Another fashion model dies of anorexia – the world yawns

Another fashion model has died from anorexia-related complications. Israeli fashion model Hila Elmalich died Nov. 14 of heart failure. The corpse she leaves behind is the average weight of a seven-year old child.

If you didn’t read about it in the newspapers or hear it on the evening news, you aren’t alone. I only stumbled upon the news accidentally via a search for another eating disorders-related topic.

Have we become so desensitized to the fact that so many contemporary fashion models are eating disordered that news like this isn’t even news-worthy anymore? Has the anorexic model become so commonplace in our collective consciousness that, when another one of them dies from the disease, it’s oh-so-easy for us to suspend our shock, outrage and concern?

Elmalich’s death comes as just the next in a recent string of anorexia-related deaths in models. Twenty-two-year old model Luisel Ramos died during Fashion Week in August last year. She reportedly lived on lettuce and diet drinks.

Then in November, 21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died following complications from kidney problems, due to anorexia and bulimia. And earlier this year, Ramos’ sister, Eliana Ramos, also a model, died from a heart attack, believed to be brought on by malnutrition.

Ramos’ and Reston’s story garnered international attention; yet Elmalich’s death seems to have faded into obscurity. As writer Emily Nussbaum points out in her examination of eating disorders in the modeling world, anorexia and bulimia are often the rule, not the exception. Nussbaum finds that as models’ autonomy and agency have diminished, so too has their physical statures, until they become, much like Elmalich, “nameless, faceless manual laborers with short shelf lives.”

Yet fashion designers persist in casting models that are, if not actively anorexic, practically indistinguishable from the eating disorder sufferers at Renfrew. In America, the Council on Fashion Designers of America continues to fight proposed legislation that would implement height and weight regulations and enact age restrictions on models.

“The President of the Council of Fashion Designers was quoted as saying that the government would be involved in regulating models size ‘over my dead body,’” said Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who introduced New York’s “Skinny Model” bill. “We don’t want anymore dead bodies, that’s the point of my legislation.

There are some who see this and Spain’s decision to enact BMI standards for models as a continued effort to regulate the lives of women. And I agree – to a point. And here’s the difference: this argument is rooted in the assumption that women with anorexia are making an informed, rational decision for themselves to whittle their body in such an extreme fashion.

They aren’t. Eating disorders are psychiatric mental diseases, and it’s time we treated them as a mental illness and not just as a “fad,” a temporary diet, a “lifestyle” choice – or any of the other numerous euphemisms we label eating disorders with in efforts to avoid acknowledging them for what they are and/or to justify our idolization of them.

This is not to say that such regulations will reduce or minimize the rising numbers of eating disorders. As I’ve written about in length, banning super-skinny models isn’t the cure-all prescription for eating disorders – they’re much too complex in origin to point the bony finger of blame at any one influence.

But the sad fact is, many an eating disorder begins as a simple diet. And many a diet is influenced by the unrealistic and often unattainable images girls and women find themselves bombarded by with in the media. The Women’s Forum Australia recently released a publication which shows that images in the media lowered girls’ perceptions of body image and contributed to a rise in dieting and eating disordered behaviors.

Elmalich’s friend, Israeli fashion photographer and modeling agent Adi Barkan, is honoring the memory of Elmalich by campaigning internationally to change attitudes in the fashion world. His three-year activism saw fruit when, in 2004, Israel became the first nation to pass laws requiring modeling agencies to hire only models with a BMI of 19 or above.

Elmalich’s death is a tragedy; it is no irony that Marya Hornbacher settled on the double entendre “Wasted” as the title of her memoir, which describes her battles with anorexia and bulimia. But Elmalich’s death doesn’t have to be in vain.

Write the Council of Fashion Designers of America and contact members of its board and urge them to adopt and embrace BMI regulations. Stop the glamorization of anorexia by protesting with your pocketbook – don’t buy or patronize designers who continue to flaunt a disregard for eating disorders. About-Face.org has 10 other ways in which you can empower yourself and others.

Hila Elmalich’s obituary needn’t only read “Died of complications from anorexia.” It can also read “Provided the momentum for sweeping changes in the modeling world.”

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 23rd, 2007 at 2:11 pm and is filed under Arts and Music, Body Image, Eating Disorders, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 25 responses to “Another fashion model dies of anorexia – the world yawns”

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  1. 1 On November 23rd, 2007, vesta44 said:

    It’s horrific that women continue to die trying to meet an unattainable ideal. When the fashion industry no longer considers models as simply “clothes hangers” and starts to design clothing that looks good on a woman versus looking good on a hanger, then maybe, just maybe, part of the battle against eating disorders will be won. Then we need to work on the media to get them to use women with a diversity of sizes in magazines, movies, commercials, and tv series without all the nasty ‘ha ha ha, she’s not ideal’ snark. But as long as there is money to be made off making women insecure about how they look, in any/every way, I don’t see much chance of any of this happening (after all, billions of dollars in profit are worth more than lives to those people).

  2. 2 On November 23rd, 2007, Sarah said:

    Here is what the fashion industry feels about Hila’s death:

    http://modelmayhem.com/p.php?thread_id=213323

    These individuals utterly refuse to take ANY responsibility, preferring to stick their heads in the sand and continue to blame everybody else for problems THEY have created.

    In case you don’t want to visit the actual link, the conversation of fashion “professionals” can only point out alarming rates of “obesity” in respond to the death of a model by anorexia. They also proclaim that all women should aim to be the shape of models.

  3. 3 On November 23rd, 2007, twilightriver said:

    If the BMI is an ineffective measure for showing how fat people are, is it not also an ineffective measure for showing how skinny models are?

    There are ways of measuring body fat percentage which might be more a more accurate of way of raising a red flag than BMI would be.

    Proper education about eating disorders might also be helpful, starting with the legislators.

    When people start dying as a result of their profession, it’s important to create safety regulations, but those regulations don’t usually get formed starting with what’s wrong with the people being killed. It starts by looking at the root of what’s causing the safety issue and fixing that.

    Models and the people who work with them are already hyper-aware of the models’ bodies. That’s exactly the kind of thing that can be triggering to people with eating disorders. Perhaps there should be more regulation of things like harassment and threats of not being able to find work if the model doesn’t conform herself. But since I’m daydreaming, we may as well change the culturally beauty standard into something that’s closer to a representation of reality.

    Unfortunately, that would take too long and cost more lives, so we start with an arbitrary measure and, hopefully, work forward from there.

  4. 4 On November 23rd, 2007, Rachel said:

    If the BMI is an ineffective measure for showing how fat people are, is it not also an ineffective measure for showing how skinny models are?

    You raise an interesting and good objection, but the reason BMI is ineffective amongst the general population is because the sample size of people is so large and varied with respect to height, weight, bone density, ethnicities, musculature, etc…

    Unfortunately, there is a one-size-fits-all mentality with models. Models have to be within a narrow height requirement, as well as fit into a very small range of clothing sizes. Many are caucasian. Therefore, while using BMI might still be problematic, the smaller sample size it’s applied to will yield more accurate results than if you were to base, say, a national health program around BMI.

  5. 5 On November 24th, 2007, iiii said:

    Maybe more important, BMI is fast, cheap and easy to figure using tools that every modeling agency has on hand. Calculating body fat percentage accurately requires special equipment and is a lot more expensive. Getting some sort of useful estimate of general health is even more complicated than that. If figuring out a model’s minimum weight is at all difficult or costly, the agencies will find a way around it.

    But there’s no way they can claim to not know a model’s BMI.

  6. 6 On November 24th, 2007, Jade said:

    I felt horrible when I read that because yes I wasn’t shocked. I like fashion, well certain aspects of fashion but I hate the fahion industry. I don’t buy any fashion or women’s magazines (I don’t even mention designer’s items since I ‘m too poor for that) because I don’t want to support such evil practises. I feel bad for the models because they are exploited but still I’m a fatalist and as long as the fashion industry make money it will go on so when I hear that another model died I feel helpless. The only thing I can do is not supporting the system who contributed to her death but that’s not much is it ?

  7. 7 On November 24th, 2007, Rachel said:

    I agree Jade, and that’s why I posted a link to About-face.org’s 10 tips. I can’t afford to purchase from many of the designers on the council’s board. But I can blog about the issues and help spread awareness. I can avoid engaging in diet talk with others. I can serve as a good role model for girls I know. There are many ways we can combat this.

  8. 8 On November 24th, 2007, Jade said:

    I realise that my comment was too pessimistic. I really appreciate what you do Rachel. I think it is useful to spread awareness. It makes people realise that contrary to their belief they can have a say in the aesthetic choices of the fashion industry. But I lose hope sometimes because this industry seems so powerful and ubiquitous. But even if sometimes I’m not sure you can win this battle I still think it’s a battle worth fighting for.

    So I guess that what I meant was that people feel they can’t do anything to help models and fight the twisted standarts of beauty of the fashion industry but as you said they actually can . And if a significant number of people stop supporting this industry they’ll have to change.

  9. 9 On November 24th, 2007, Sarah said:

    Jade – good for you! I’m glad to see others taking steps to fight the fashion industry. I was actually so angered by this, I finally canceled my subscriptions to Vogue and Lucky magazines. I am only going to buy Figure magazine from now on. I refuse to support an industry that sees me as a disease to be eradicated and ignored. Plus, the treatment toward “normal” models is deplorable too.

  10. 10 On November 24th, 2007, Orodemniades said:

    Anyone try and read the comments? I read the top three and was disgusted.

  11. 11 On November 24th, 2007, Brad said:

    I don’t really think the real skinny ones are all that great anyway. I think they should be a little more natural looking and put on a few pounds. Plus they would be a lot healthier.

  12. 12 On November 25th, 2007, nornerator said:

    There is no need for the government to become involved in the affairs of the fashion world.

    If the government wants to prevent this sort of thing they need to re-vamp our education system.

    The reason this is a problem is not because of fashion designers or models. Its the fact that women admire these models. If we want under-eating disorders to no longer be a problem we need to change our cultural attitude in regards to “looks”

    Why on earth would a person admire another person simply because of the way they look? Although this is somewhat natural, it is a completely absurd notion to think models are anything more than what they are, walking mannequins. Why would somebody aspire to be somebody that does nothing all day long but be rewarded for being born with a mutant “perfect” body and having nobody care about the content of your character, your intelligence, or any other aspect of who you are.

    Yet still women are taught that it is a good thing to “look good”

    The fact is, there is very little a person can do to alter their “beauty” and obsessing over “becoming beautiful” is extremely destructive because it is impossible to become beautiful. You can lose a few pounds, put some make-up on, but you are still the same looking person underneath.

    Men are not socialized in this same way, although physical attractiveness is still something men will think about, much less men, overall give a damn about how they appear to others. This is why eating disorders are less common among men.

    It is not the designers nor the models fault things like this happen, it is how we socialize women. If we want the problem to stop making laws is not going to change a thing, we need to start teaching women that the content of their character is far more important than how they look, if people in society embrace this, the “demand” for ultra-thin models will decrease significantly because we will stop acting like children glancing at a picture book and actually start reading what it is the people have to say.

  13. 13 On November 25th, 2007, Rachel said:

    Nornerator – I don’t think anyone is proposing that increasing size diversity amongst models and ending the glorification of anorexic bodies is the cure-all for society. In fact, I pointed out that eating disorders, in particular, stem from much more complex origins.

    However, it’s a start.

    Numerous studies have shown the results when a certain segment of society, whether black or thin, are excluded from popular mass media. The result is a stigmatization of that group, who both virtually and literally, are reduced to the cultural “other.” And, it’s a little difficult to change the culture of “lookism,” when impressionable young girls hear the rhetoric, but then all they see are images and articles that reinforce that they should look and act a certain way.

    Cultural redefinitions of beauty presents the core problem, of course, but you have to start chipping away at the surface before you can ever hope to reach the nucleus of the issue.

  14. 14 On November 26th, 2007, Sarah said:

    If the fashion industry would listen to consumers, they would be surprised:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSL31818318

  15. 15 On November 26th, 2007, Claire said:

    Thanks for this great post. We wrote about Hila’s death on our blog, too. Eerily, she passed away almost exactly one year (to the date) after Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died from anorexia.

    I work with model Magali Amadei to advocate for positive changes in the fashion industry. Magali was on the covers of all the major fashion magazines while she was also suffering from bulimia. She would have met the proposed BMI criteria because she was never underweight. But she was dangerously ill. That is why we believe that mandatory health exams and eating disorder screenings would be the most effective way to protect the health of all models. And according to a survey we conducted of our own colleagues, fashion and health professionals agree with us. The big question is how the exams can be regulated and covered when models have nothing resembling a union:

    http://5resolutions.blogspot.com/2007/09/new-york-fashion-week-special-9-out-of.html

  16. 16 On November 26th, 2007, Heather said:

    Great title to your post, I wrote about this as well. We better hope the world stops yawning because all of this is translating to a generation of proana girls, who make it their goal in life to be thin. Not smart, or wise, or happy- but thin.

    It’s pathetic really. I’ve been working my blog for over a year now, honing in on this topic since I was a model at 16 in Paris. I quit 5 years later due to this pressure to be thin, to be anorexic really. Now the standards are worse, deadly actually and no one seems to notice. What will it take?

    Keep up your great writing, and stop on over to my blog to weigh in on our debates, I’d like to see your voice added to the perspective.

    Take it easy,
    mamaV

  17. 17 On November 27th, 2007, Pat said:

    Rachel,

    Thanks for posting this news of Hila Elmalich’s death and the info on where to write. I’ve got letters going out today! Keep up the great work.

  18. 18 On November 27th, 2007, Jenna Reeves said:

    Its incredible to think that millions of women compare themselves to these rail thin girls on the cover of magazines. The perception women have of themselves is an enormous social isue. Thats why the A&E show Intervention is so important. I work with A&E so I can attest to the number of people the show affects. Demontrating the difficulties of those who face addictions such as drugs, alcohol, and anorexia. The show is an incredible window into the pyche of those who are affected by addictions and the road to recovery. You can see for yoursleves on Dec 3rd 9pm, or take a look at http;//www.aetv.com.intervention to learn more about the show. I’m glad to see that there are people who care for the severity of these illness’, especially ones like anorexia that get overlooked.

  19. 19 On December 16th, 2007, kaitlyn said:

    Recently i was assigned a research topic on anorexia and bulimia, along with the affects that barbie has on our children these days. your choice to spread this news really helped and has given me a solid base to start from when writing my research paper. thank you very much and i hope you continue to show people what we are doing to ourselves. =]

  20. 20 On May 4th, 2008, Pushca said:

    “Write the Council of Fashion Designers of America and contact members of its board and urge them to adopt and embrace BMI regulations.”

    YOU don’t embrace measuring health by current BMI standards, but the fashion industry should? That’s ridiculous. I think BMI is fucked, and I thought you thought it wasn’t a reasonable way to measure health, but I guess that only applies to the overweight. Obviously the current state of affairs isn’t OK, but that doesn’t mean ignoring all your beliefs about what is an acceptable way to measure a woman’s health and what isn’t.

  21. 21 On May 4th, 2008, Rachel said:

    It’s somewhat of a contradiction, Pushca, and I understand your indignant response. But though I believe BMI to be seriously flawed, I feel its flaws most lie at the high end of the spectrum, not the low. This is primarily because BMI doesn’t discern between muscle mass and body fat, nor does it factor in one’s frame size, musculature or ethnicity. On the converse, I believe BMI is more reliable than not in defining those classified as underweight. And I also recognize the need for some degree of standardization, however flawed it may be at either end of the spectrum, to protect the health of workers who are now, more than not, overly exploited and pressured into maintaining BMIs that are not healthy for them nor most people.

  22. 22 On April 14th, 2009, Britain’s Next Top Model: From anorexic ideal to openly anorexic » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] the one topic rarely mentioned is that of eating disorders. This is, despite the fact that at least three top models have died from eating disorder-related causes in the past two years.  This is, despite the fact [...]

  23. 23 On July 15th, 2009, Openly anorexic BNTM wannabe gets the boot » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] In the end, I think getting the axe might have been the only way Jade could truly “win.”  The show was filmed months ago and since then Jade reports that she has put on another stone (14-pounds) in weight — bringing her weight to 114 pounds on a reported 5′9″ frame** — and that she feels much stronger physically and mentally.  As much as I am hopeful for Jade and wish her continued success in recovery, I’m also wary for her.  In an interview posted on her MySpace page, Jade says that she’s still “determined to make it as a model, no matter what it takes.”  I just hope that what “it takes” isn’t her health or her life. [...]

  24. 24 On November 13th, 2009, Micco said:

    Are you familiar with this study?: http://newsrelease.uwaterloo.ca/news.php?id=4885

    There are a lot of reasons I could give as to why I don’t think adopting a BMI standard is the answer, but I think that study is a semi-compelling one. Also, my own experience confirms that the flaws of the BMI extend in both directions because, according the BMI, I’m at an absolutely ideal weight, but my actual fat percentage indicates I’m borderline overweight. If I were to get down to a recommended fat percentage, I’d be anorexia-level underweight according to the BMI. And yet, that’s an ideal weight for my frame! (And it’s not a matter of needing to gain muscle, either, because muscle accounts for nearly forty percent of my weight. My bones are just very slight.)

  25. 25 On March 29th, 2010, SHIT I HATE: Models as the Face of ED Survivorhood « Pocochina’s Weblog said:

    [...] these narratives.  I’m also focusing on those women who have made it to tell their stories – though we know many will not make it, and we do not forget them.  I’m talking specifically about media portrayal of ED [...]

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