Is the Vogue Vow More Hype Than Health?

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  • Lip service or sea change? Skeptics wonder whether Vogue magazine’s vow to ban models under 16 or those of any age with visible signs of eating disorders is more hype than health.

    The 19 editors of Vogue around the world made the promise Thursday, beginning with June issues and including editions in America, France, Britan and China. They also encouraged fashion designers to reconsider “unrealistically” small sample sizes that make ultra-thin models necessary in the first place.

    Vogue didn’t address the widespread industry practice of digitally altering photos that critics believe promotes an impossible standard of beauty.

    While the new initiatives are certainly good news for models, Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said Vogue didn’t go far enough.

    “If Vogue was really concerned about the well being of girls in terms of their health, then they would have done what Spain and Italy did and use only girls who have what has been deemed a healthy Body Mass Index.”

    The health of models, especially their weight, has been in the spotlight over the past few years, especially after the death of two models from apparent complications from eating disorders in 2006 and 2007, but the focus, until now, has been on runway fashion shows.

    The primary fashion organizations in Italy and Spain banned catwalk models who fall below a certain BMI level. Israel’s government passed an anti-skinny-model law earlier this year.

    The Council of Fashion Designers of America adopted a voluntary initiative in 2007 emphasizing age minimums and healthy working environments during New York Fashion Week. London Fashion Week designers signed a contract with the British Fashion Council to use models who are at least 16.

    Anna Wintour, Vogue’s U.S. editor-in-chief, was instrumental in crafting the CFDA’s guidelines.

    Still, there is persistent criticism that the fashion world creates a largely unattainable and unhealthy standard that particularly affects impressionable young girls.

    Audrey Brashich, a former teen model and ex-editor of a teen magazine, called the Vogue announcement a “tiny baby step of progress,” at best.

    “The cynic in me feels like they are simply grandstanding while really just throwing a bone to an audience that is getting ever more savvy and tired of the tricks of the trade,” she said.

    Linn agreed, adding: “It’s not going to help the millions of young girls who turn to these magazines to decide what they should aspire to look like.”

    Conde Nast publishes other magazines, including Glamour and Allure, but a spokeswoman said there are no current plans for these guidelines to be adopted across the company.

    Glamour said in a statement Friday the magazine’s policy already was not to book models under 16 or those who appear to have an eating disorder.

    The Hearst Corp., home to Elle, Harper’s Bizarre and Marie Claire, said in a statement that it supports the CFDA guidelines, adding:

    “Good health is something we strive to promote in our magazines, both in our fashion and beauty stories and in our features. We make every effort to educate our readers and present images that reflect strong, beautiful women.”

    Elissa J. Brown, professor of psychology at St. John University and founder of The Partners Program, a specialized therapy program for children and adolescents, said she was cautiously optimistic about Vogue’s attempt to prioritize health over weight.

    “I don’t think the shift will come in the next couple of weeks, and I don’t think the shift will come unless the entire industry participates,” she said. “I would like to see what comes next.”

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