Researchers Call For OSHA to End “Forced Starvation” of Models

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
S. Bryn Austin, ScD, Professor
Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Director, Strategic Training Initiative
for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and
Katherine L. Record JD, MPH
Massachusetts Health Policy Commission
Boston 

Medical Research: What is the background for this editorial? What are the main concerns regarding thinness in ‘Paris’ models?

Response: The fashion industry has long been criticized for promoting unrealistic and patently unhealthy standards of thinness for girls and women. Furthermore, decades of psychological research have documented the pervasive and pernicious harm caused to body image and sense of self especially for adolescent girls during a most vulnerable time of development. What is often left out of the discussion, though, is the immediate and sometimes deadly harm caused to the girls and young women working as professional models as a result of what amounts to coerced starvation as a condition of employment. Most models begin working in the industry in their early or mid teens — in other words, as children. We must ask ourselves, what other industry or employer in the United States would ever be allowed by our government to foster practices of coerced starvation of American child labor?

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Pediatricians and other healthcare providers working with adolescents and young adults must make routine screening for eating disorders part of their practice, and that means screening for everyone: both boys and girls, all race/ethnicity groups, and all shapes and sizes. The myth that eating disorders affect only thin, white girls is directly responsible for unnecessary and irresponsible delays in needed treatment for many affected youth who do not fit that misguided stereotype. When a clinician learns that a patient is working as or aspiring to work as a model in the fashion industry, then she or he must be especially alert to pressures the patient may be experiencing to lose weight in unhealthy and potentially dangerous ways. Appropriate recognition of a possible eating disorder and referral to treatment may in the end mean life or death for that young person.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for mitigating the effect of fashion thinness on women and girls?

Response:  The U.S. federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the health and safety of working conditions for tens of millions of Americans in all sectors of our society, from factories to agriculture to healthcare and beyond. In our editorial recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, we call for OSHA to similarly protect the health and safety of professional models. Too often, models working in our own country must endure inhumane conditions of coerced starvation and other forms of exploitation — and it bears repeating, many of them young girls. OSHA has the authority and responsibility to enforce regulations to protect models from these types of workplace conditions that would not be tolerated in any other industry. As a society, we can do better.

Citation:

Katherine L. Record and S. Bryn Austin.  (2015). “Paris Thin”: A Call to Regulate Life-Threatening Starvation of Runway Models in the US Fashion Industry. American Journal of Public Health. e-View Ahead of Print.

doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302950 Accepted on: Oct 11, 2015

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S. Bryn Austin, ScD, Professor, & Katherine L. Record JD, MPH (2015). Researchers Call For OSHA to End “Forced Starvation” of Models 

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