In what sounds like the plot from a parody movie, one of Sweden’s largest eating disorder treatment clinics, the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders, has become the latest scouting ground for Swedish modelling agencies. The Stockholm Centre for Eating Disorders is the largest of its kind in Sweden, currently treating over 1000 patients, most of whom are young girls. Model scouts are reportedly visiting the Stockholm facility and approaching patients being treated for eating disorders about getting into modelling.
“They have been standing outside our clinic and trying to pick up our girls because they know that they are skinny,” said Anna-Maria af Sandeberg, chief doctor at the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders. “One of those contacted was in a wheelchair because she was so skinny,” af Sandeberg continued.
Although the Stockholm Centre has not issued names of the perpetrating agencies, Fredo Kazemi, director of international modelling agency Elite’s Stockholm board, has described the tactics as “disgusting and unethical. I do not think that any large, serious agencies would work in this way.”
The fashion industry is repeatedly criticised for promoting unrealistic body images. A recent study found that one in four people is depressed about their body and another study found that almost a third of women say they would sacrifice a year of life to achieve the ideal body weight and shape. Earlier this year, Israel banned models with a BMI (body mass index) level below 18.5 from photo shoots and advertising campaigns. The law is not without controversy. Some question this very narrow definition of ‘healthy body’ as it will exclude models who are naturally thin. Others have questioned what difference it will make. Israel has a model pool of less than 300 girls and is not exactly known as the epicentre of the fashion world. Unless the big fashion capitals like New York and Paris introduce a similar law it is argued that it will not have any major effect. While other countries have so far introduced non-binding professional codes of conduct, they do not appear to be widely adhered to.
In 2009, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman sent out letters to a number of fashion houses including Prada, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent accusing them of forcing magazines to hire models with “jutting bones and no breasts or hips” by supplying them with “minuscule” garments that have become “substantially smaller” for their photoshoots. The garments are typically sent to magazines six months before they appear in shops and editors have no choice but to hire models that fit the clothes or risk failing to cover the latest collections from leading designers, explained Shulman. “We have now reached the point where many of the sample sizes don’t comfortably fit even the established star models.” She also added that Vogue had to frequently re-touch images to make models appear larger.
Will this latest report from Sweden finally make designers sit up and take note?