90pc of fashion models dislike their bodies, study finds

Nikolett Bogár
Nikolett Bogár is a former fashion model, who modelled for labels including Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Dior - Nikolett Bogár/Facebook

A study involving 84 international high-fashion models, who have not been identified in the course of the research, found that nearly 90 per cent (89.3) had made negative remarks about their own bodies.

More than two-thirds of the models also tightly controlled the type and quantity of food they consumed, the research found.

The research was conducted by Semmelweis University, Hungary, between June 2016 and May 2021 and has been hailed as the first qualitative survey of this depth. Furthermore, 90 per cent (88.7) of respondents were found to be moderately or severely underweight, despite the rising popularity of the ‘plus size’ fashion movement.

Dr. Nikolett Bogár, a former fashion model who modelled for labels including Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Dior not only quit the industry aged 20, after becoming severely unhappy and hating her body, but has previously spoken out about the pressures to eat very little and to over-exercise, too.

She is now a PhD student at the University’s Institute of Behavioural Sciences and the lead author of the study, which was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

She said: “Young models who follow strict diets, exercise excessively, purge or use laxatives are facing serious health issues like digestive problems, hair loss, hormonal imbalances, osteoporosis, and heart issues”.

Victoria's Secret
Erin Heatherton (on the right, posing with Candace Swanepol in 2011) has previously spoken out about how she was pressured to lose weight by the fashion house - Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images North America

The research gathered data using a 23 open question, anonymised survey – with participants hailing from 17 different countries, including American, Canadian, Dutch, English, French, Hungarian, Polish, Russian and Spanish models (with an average age of 23 years) – through email and video interviews.

The survey also found that a significant proportion (78.6 per cent) mentioned they control their food intake, frequently skipping meals or eating very little. Additionally, 27.4 per cent ate minimal diets (such as three apples a day) – while 40.5 per cent exercised extreme calorie restriction.

Furthermore, about 22.6 per cent felt they had lost control over their eating and these individuals frequently experienced binge eating, self-induced vomiting, extreme dieting and excessive exercise. They also often mentioned eating disorders and were more likely to be in psychotherapy.

Dr Bogár added: “On top of these physical health concerns, the modelling world also presents significant mental and emotional challenges, including a higher risk of developing eating disorders which could be linked to traumatic experiences and a lack of emotional support. This situation highlights the urgent need for better health screenings and support systems to protect models from these severe risks.”

In 2016, Erin Heatherton, a former Victoria’s Secret model, spoke out about how she was pressured to lose weight by the fashion house. Despite exercising multiple times a day, she could not reach the company’s target weight.

More recently, in December 2023, Paloma Elsesser, an American model, became the first plus-sized woman to win Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. However, the fashion industry’s move to be more inclusive and diverse has also faced criticism.

According to an analysis conducted by Vogue Business, of spring/summer 2024 womenswear shows, major luxury brands and fashion houses lag far behind independent, smaller brands.

The report found that out of 9,584 looks across 230 shows and presentations in New York, London, Milan and Paris, just 0.9 per cent were plus-size (above a US 14 or UK 18) and only 3.9 per cent were mid-size (US 6-12 or UK 10-16). The findings marked a slight improvement on autumn/winter 2023, where 95.6 per cent of looks were straight-size, 3.8 per cent were mid-size, and just 0.6 per cent were plus-size.