Could the days of impossibly thin models in Vogue be numbered? A new initiative from the editors of all 19 international editions of the magazine might have you think so. June issues of Vogue have unveiled the Health Initiative, a “pact” between the editors to use healthier models and promote responsible body image within their pages.
The six items of the pact vow:
• To “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.”
• To ask agents to check IDs when they cast shoots, shows and campaigns.
• To arrange mentoring between older and younger models.
• To encourage producers to create “healthy backstage working. conditions,” including not keeping models unreasonably late.
• To ask designers to make sample sizes larger.
• To be “ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.”
As you can see, the items seem to be suggestions, rather than requirements. The pact is awfully vague, and puts a lot of the responsibility on Vogue’s “suppliers” — the casting agents, designers and producers — rather than on the magazine itself. And it says nothing about the advertisements that make up much of the magazine, which could still contain images of underage or underweight models. In addition, there is no mention of the consequences if any of these guidelines are violated. Would the magazine cease to work with producers and designers who do not follow the guidelines? There’s also no mention of BMIs or any other objective measurement of what is considered to be “healthy.”
Enforcement of such guidelines has been an issue in the fashion world before. When the Council of Fashion Designers of America banned models younger than 16 from Fashion Week runways this season, some designers, such as Marc Jacobs, simply disregarded them. Ford Models, which supplied Jacobs’ then-14-year-old models, told the New York Times that it would continue to represent underage models.
Readers aren’t buying the pact, either. “As long as Anna Wintour continues to eat nothing but air sandwiches, this is all moot,” said one commenter at New York Magazine. “Let's get real...how about something like no airbrushing or changing the dimensions of women via Photoshop images, showing models (women and men) as they are naturally,” said another commenter at Vogue’s UK edition.
Still, the magazine’s acknowledgment of its role in creating unhealthy ideals for women and girls is a good start. Vogue has recently showcased women with more realistic bodies, putting Adele on its March cover (though fans cried Photoshop), and embracing plus-sized model Crystal Renn in its pages.
There is little oversight over the images in fashion magazines, so the industry must self-police. While some nations seek to regulate the images as a health matter — Israel has banned underweight models, and Norway has considered placing warning labels on images of women who are too thin — that is unlikely to happen in the U.S.
It will be a long time before the magazine takes the next step toward realism: eschewing Photoshopping and retouching of photos. After a 14-year-old girl’s 25,000-signature petition, not even Seventeen Magazine, which is vocal on the topic of body acceptance, would explicitly agree not to retouch photos.