Experts have long suspected that one major influence in the development of eating disorders in some women is the exposure to exceptionally thin models in the media. Major media outlets have largely shrugged off any acknowledgement or responsibility, largely due to a lack of concrete evidence linking eating disorders with celebrity and model images.
The factors that lead to eating disorders are both complex and fluid, with each case varying from the next. A combination of genetic and environmental issues contribute to the development of eating disorders, but in many cases, patients cite pressure to be thin. The pressure, they say, at least partly originates from exposure to images of thin models and celebrities, which can lead to a comparison of one’s own body with the ones they see in a magazine or on television.
Now, a major news story is lending additional credibility to the charge that eating disorders have been making for a long time. At a clinic in Sweden, modeling scouts have been observed approaching patients to recruit them for modeling jobs.
The reaction from the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders has been disbelief and frustration. The modeling agency’s actions have undermined the patients’ work and the clinicians’ dedication to helping them get well.
Dr. Anna Maria of Sandeberg reports that the talent scouts are approaching exceptionally thin girls as they come out of the treatment center. The girls are being treated for a variety of eating disorders, including bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
In one case described by Dr. Sandeberg in an interview with the newspaper Metro, the scouts from the recruiting agency attempted to pick up a girl who was exiting the treatment facility in a wheelchair.
However, the wheelchair incident is not an isolated event. The staff at the treatment center report that the talent scouts have been prowling around their facility for the past year. They have targeted girls who are struggling with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 14.
Females with a BMI of less than 18.5 are considered underweight, with 14 indicating that an individual is extremely underweight.
The staff at the treatment center stresses that seeking out girls for modeling careers who are extremely underweight sends the wrong signals about the desirability of extremely underweight body types.
When a young girl is approached for a modeling career while she is trying to overcome an eating disorder, being flattered about their current body shape and offered a job is not an encouragement to get well.
In some countries, the problem of too-thin models is being addressed by the government. In Israel, for example, models must meet certain weight requirements to legally work as a model. The measures were implemented because Israeli politicians believe that exceptionally thin models encourage young women to develop an unhealthy body image.