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How the Modeling Industry Affects a Young Girl’s Perception

“Dude, her head’s bigger than her pelvis,” wrote Xeni Jardin, blogger for the Website Boing Boing. As inconceivable as this statement sounds, it was completely true. As I looked at the image plastered across my internet browser, I couldn’t help but notice how large this model’s head look compared to the rest of her body. It looked like a stick trying to hold up a boulder. Although it was very clear the image had been digitally altered, the ethics behind creating an image like this perplexed me. Why would a fashion mogul, like Ralph Lauren, want to create a photograph this damaging to a girl’s sense of self? The model in the photograph, Filippa Hamilton, is no stranger in Ralph Lauren advertisements. In fact, she had been working for the company since 2002. However, in April of 2009, Filippa was fired from the fashion company because they said “[she] was overweight and couldn’t fit in their clothes anymore.” Why was Filippa fired for being overweight, if the 5’10” model weighed only 120 pounds? In October, the distorted image of Hamilton accidentally appeared in a Japanese advertisement, where bloggers quickly got a hold of it and criticized Ralph Lauren for the Photoshop blunder and poor taste regarding a girl’s body-image. Ralph Lauren apologized for the image getting into the public’s eye before it was ready for distribution; but he never apologized for giving Hamilton a skewed body image.

Model Filippa Hamilton's head looks disproportionate to her body in this Photoshopped image from

The modeling industry gives young girls, particularly those under the age of 16, the pressure to acquire a perfect body type. This pressure has unfortunately caused many girls to develop eating disorders, like bulimia, anorexia, and dismorphia, to look like the models on the runway. I propose that the United States should begin to issue stricter rules on how models look in advertisements and on the runway, so young female audiences can be content with their body.

The negative impacts of a thin-ideal

Most girls that strut down a runway are between the ages of 14 to 19, 5-foot-10 and 11, with an average weight of 120 to 124 pounds. So if a young girl, still growing into her own body, looks at herself in the mirror and doesn’t see that, what exactly is she supposed to think? “The promotion of the thin, sexy ideal in our culture has created a situation where the majority of girls and women don’t like their bodies,” says body-image researcher Sarah Murnen, professor of psychology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.  “And body dissatisfaction can lead girls to participate in very unhealthy behaviors to try to control weight.” A research study performed by Todd Morrison and Emer Sheahan recognized that “sociocultural norms and values in Western societies, particularly those portrayed in the mainstream media, are often proposed as major contributors to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among women.” These researchers also concluded that the thin-body ideal, which refers to “the extent to which an individual cognitively buys into socially defined and unrealistic ideals of attractiveness,” has a correlation to girls developing eating disorders.

Karl Lagerfeld, a European fashion designer, recently issued a statement criticizing a German magazine for using regular, relatable women as models, rather than the stick-thin, sized-0 models that usually grace the advertisements. Lagerfeld claimed that magazine was “absurd, and driven by overweight women who did not like to be reminded of their weight issues.” He also called the non-models “fat-mummies who [sit] with their bags of crisps in front of the television.” Lagerfeld, who has been using stick-thin models for decades, claims that models “aren’t deliberately skinny because they want to be models, they’ve probably had family problems or suffered from other traumas.”

The designer also claims he has never seen any anorexic models, but only extremely slim ones. This criticism still comes with the fact that most models are 5-foot-10 and are a size 2, which means if you don’t fit this ideal you aren’t considered “beautiful.” Whether knowing it or not, the designer hit a painful nerve with many women and girls who trying to the change the modeling industry and how it affects a girl’s sense of self. Andreas Lebert, editor of Brigitte, the German magazine being scrutinized by Lagerfeld, said the average weight of a typical model was “23% less” than that of the non-models he is going to be using for his magazine.

“This unnatural thinness is a terrible message to send out, because the people watching the fashion shows are young, impressionable women,” said Frederique Van der Wal, a former Victoria’s Secret model. Van der Wal is certainly right, with runways getting much more attention from younger audiences, girls are starting to get a perception of what it means to be “beautiful.” Some of these girls are turning to eating disorders, like anorexia, refraining from eating, to bulimia, binging and purging, to dismorphia, becoming so obsessed with one’s appearance to where is interferes with one’s life, in order to look like these women.

Unsettling statistics

There is no doubt that a young girl thinks very differently than an older woman. So when advertisements are bombarding young girls with images of what constitutes the perfect body, how are these children supposed to analyze that ideal archetype? A recent study was published by researchers who asked 12 girls, between the ages of 11-13, and 12 young adults, between the ages of 22 and 30, about their popularity and their academics. These women and girls were asked about whether phrases such as “I am popular” described them, and whether others would agree.

“Compared with the young adults, the study suggests that the teen’s self-image is largely based on how she believes others see her,” said Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology in Oregon. Pfeifer continued on to say, “If you ask them what they think of themselves, they can’t separate that from what other people think of them…whenever you ask them about themselves, they immediately engage in thinking about what others think of them.” This is the biggest supporting argument to why young girls are so heavily affected by the modeling industry and what they see in the media. Because young girls are extremely likely to base their opinion of themselves because of someone else’s judgment, they are particularly likely to engage in negative behaviors to help achieve that figure. Many times this includes losing weight, and the quickest way to do this is through anorexia or bulimia. The Eating Disorder Foundation in Denver, Colorado, reported that in 2009, 27 percent of girls 12-18 show significant symptoms of an eating disorder; that’s about one in every four girls in middle school and high school.

Nada Stotland, professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago and Vice President of the American Psychiatric Association, has done a great deal of research on the effects of models and young viewers’ developing eating disorders to look like those models. “We know seeing super-thin models can play a role in causing anorexia,” she said. “And because many models and actresses are so thin, it makes anorexics think their emaciated bodies are normal, but these people look scary.” If every little bit of fat is erased in magazine advertisements, every commercial is edited for cellulite, and every fashion show reveals size-0 models, then girls begin to establish the perfect advertising body as a normal body. To change this, a few years ago the Madrid fashion show prohibited overly thin models from the runway in order to portray a healthy image. These models had to have a body mass index of 18, meaning, for example, a 5-foot-9 woman would have to weigh at least 125 pounds.

Psychologist Sharon Lamb, author of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’  Schemes, is afraid that the image of the “perfect woman” will begin to affect the minds of even younger girls. “Some really sexy clothes are available in children’s size 6X,” says Lamb. “Girls are being taught very young that thin and sexy is the way they want to be when they grow up, so they’d better start working on that now.” Lamb is afraid that if girls start to focus all of their attention on looking perfect, it can “rid them of other options.” A study surveyed several children, ages 5 through 10, and take the  Children’s Eating Attitude Test (ChEAT). These children were asked questions about perceived body image, obsessions and preoccupation with food, and dieting practices. The study concluded that disturbed eating attitudes and behaviors can certainly begin earlier than adolescence: “approximately 11 percent of 9-year-olds surveys and 7 percent of 10-year-olds scored in the anorexic range.” If the media keeps blasting the size-0 image at teenage girls, and even younger girls, there can be severe consequences if these females begin to believe this vision. It has been shown that although some girls may reject that “perfect body” image, it is a very small percentage: about 18 percent. Sarah Murnen, body image researcher, found that “those who were exposed to the most fashion magazines were more likely to suffer from poor body images.”


Although there are obvious claims for “how altering a photo to make the body slimmer” or by “only hiring size-0 models” can negatively impact how a young girl thinks about her own body, there are still many women and organizations that support these trends. Katie Ford, owner of the Ford Modeling company, doesn’t believe that fashion models play a role in the cult of thinness in America: “the biggest problem in American is obesity…both obesity and anorexia stem from numerous issues, and it would be impossible to attribute either to entertainment, be it film, TV or magazines.” Ford hires women and girls who aren’t what she calls “super-skinny,” but still resemble a thin body type.

Like Ford, Kelly Cutrone, owner of People’s Revolution, doesn’t believe that the modeling industry should bear the blame of the media affecting the body-images of young girls: “Women shouldn’t be comparing themselves with these girls…[they] are anomalies of nature and are naturally thin and have incredibly long legs compared to the rest of their body.” However, Cutrone tends to use the same tall and thin girls for her fashion shows. “If we get a girl who is bigger than a 4, she is not going to fit the clothes,” Cutrone says. “Clothes look better on thin people, the fabric hangs better.” Cutrone hasn’t noticed a change in how thin the girls on the runway are over the past years: “When they bend over, are you going to see the rib cage? Yes, they are thin naturally.” The owner of People’s Revolution doesn’t believe that girls are going to necessarily look up to models for the ideal body image either; rather, she believes, girls are going to look up to actresses and singers instead.

Several magazines are also showing support for Photoshopped images, and believe they help sell magazines and promote an ideal that women should strive for. For instance, the editor-in-chief of Self magazine recently retorted several claims that her magazine did an unethical job by shaving several inches off of Kelly Clarkson’s figure. “This is art, creativity and collaboration. It’s not, as in a news photograph, journalism. It is, however, meant to inspire women to want to be their best. That is the point,” writes Lucy Danziger, the editor-in-chief of Self. Danziger informed her readers that she even had her own image Photoshopped after she ran a marathon. She personally was proud of her triumph, but apparently her hips looked a little large for print on the editorial page: “When I wanted to put one of them on the editor’s letter in Self, I asked the art department to shave off a little. I am confident in my body, proud of what it can accomplish, but it just didn’t look the way I wanted in every picture.”

Margaret Hartmann, a blogger on the women’s website, criticized Danziger for her inability to recognize the need for change regarding images that are photo shopped to look thinner: “If magazines actually ran unaltered photos of celebrities, women may stop hating their arms because they look fat compared to Kelly Clarkson’s. If we saw a few dimples on a healthy woman’s thigh in a magazine, then tabloids might stop running photos with giant arrows pointing to the tell tale signs that celebrities are nothing more than normal human women. Danziger was right: the point is that magazine covers ‘inspire women to want to be their best.’ And the best way to keep women reading Self‘s workout recommendations and buying the useless beauty products advertised on its pages is to inspire them to keep chasing after a version of themselves that doesn’t really exist,” said Hartmann.

Although Hartmann is certainly right, there are several industry executives who are against trying to change the modeling and advertising industries. Just because Milan, India, and Britain all applauded the change in the Madrid fashion show to hire regular women, doesn’t mean that change will happen in the United States. The USA will just have to demand fuller models in order for the change to happen here.

Need for change

The United States should begin to change some media policies to give girls a better idea of what a real woman looks like, especially when she hasn’t been Photoshopped. Recently, the United Kingdom has proposed several strategies to help girls get a better sense of self. One of these strategies is to ban ads directed at girls under the age of 16 from being airbrushed and photo shopped. This stems from several controversies in advertisements, where girls are being shown unattainable body types. Recently in United States advertisements, several celebrities have been scrutinized for allowing such photo shopping to occur. For instance, on the December 2009 cover of W magazine, Demi Moore’s hip had been digitally removed, leaving her with a lot less skin than what looks normal. Jo Swinson, who is heading up the “body image” campaign in the UK, believes that young girls are under more pressure now than five years ago. Swinson would like to see advertisements portray a classic type of beauty, rather than the altered images that make their way into magazines and commercials. “Airbrushing means that [advertisements] contain completely unattainable images that no one can live up to in real life,” said Swinson. The leader would also like the Advertising Standards Authority to draw up new rules so that advertisements aimed at adults should indicate if images have been airbrushed.

W magazine received a lot of criticism from this Photoshopped image of one of Hollywood's leading ladies.

Another strategy Swinson would like to propose in the United Kingdom is to change curriculums in schools to include lessons on body images, health, and well-being. The United States already has several programs in schools that teach these lessons about eating disorders and how to live healthy, but to really be effective American schools really need to add a media literacy program to curriculums that teach children, especially young girls, how to analyze the information they absorb and asking about how it impacts their lives. It is impossible to believe that in order to protect young girls, parents have to completely shelter them from all media. And although we can hope that one day airbrushing and the pressure to be a size-0 will dissipate, it is impracticable to expect this change in the next five years. For now, it is important to teach girls to comprehend that these models and advertisements are portraying an unhealthy and unrealistic self-body image.

There are some examples of ways society has began to fight back against the pressure to be a size-0. The website is an online organization that warns users to not fall for the “media circus,” on the homepage. The site’s mission is to “equip girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect self-esteem and body images.” The website includes a “gallery of winners” and a “gallery of offenders” with advertisements, clips, music videos and commercials all directed with helping or hurting a female’s body image, respectively. The site is exactly what America needs to help young girls realize what the media is telling them to think about their bodies.

Advertisements in the “gallery of offenders” include the bikini-clad Audrina Patridge commercial for Carl’s Jr., and the Marc Jacobs advertisement featuring Victoria Beckham—actually just Beckham’s legs—popping out of a bag. Despite the offensive material of both of those advertisements, and the negative images they give to young girls, the ad that bothered me the most was for Treetop “Trim” apple juice. The poster read, “Happiness is a full belly – with no belly at all!” I feel that the advertisement could definitely be misread by young girls who drink apple juice to stay healthy. If they know that having a flat stomach can equal happiness, this can drastically affect their perceptions of themselves, and what they choose to consume. However, even with the incessant pressure from the media to keep thin, was able to congregate a few examples of positive portrayals of women and girls.

The “gallery of winners” includes the “Miss Independent” music video from Kelly Clarkson, and an Asics shoe advertisement, telling women to be happy with “their side of the fence.” If girls have access to this website, they can view positive and negative portrayals of females in the media, and understand what really constitutes a healthy and positive body image.

The social networking site for girls AllyKatzz and the advertising corporation AK Tweens have also done a great job giving younger girls a positive sense of self. In the beginning of October 2009, these two corporations put on a National Tween Girl Summit in Washington, where 250 girls, ages 9 to 14, were encouraged to have a healthy attitude about their weight.  “Every single person here wonders whether they’ve got the right body or the right look,” a body image columnist for Seventeen magazine said. The week-long event allowed girls to talk about their passions, challenges, tween girl power, community activism and what they are going to do to change their world.

The Future

Ultimately, this skewed vision of what it means to have the “perfect body” is affecting how young girls view themselves. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many young girls developing body disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, and dismorphia, to try and attain the ideal body image. Audrey Brashich, a former teen model, believes that “The most celebrated, recognizable women today are famous primarily for being thin and pretty, while women who are actually changing the world remain comparatively invisible.” Brashich believes that it is not solely up the these girls to know that these models are giving them a bad sense of self; she believes that the “idolizing of models, stars and other celebrities is not going to change until pop culture changes the women it celebrates and focuses on,” (Hellmich). Jo Swinson also recognizes that the focus on women’s appearance has gotten out of hand. “Since no one really has perfect skin, perfect hair and a perfect figure,” said Swinson, “why do women and young girls increasingly feel that nothing less than thin and perfect will do?

Obviously, there is still the need for change in the media and modeling industries. However, it is important to realize that people and organizations are already speaking out about the unattainable physical goals the media places on women, and how that needs to stop. If society continued to create websites, events, and issue proposals about advertising strategies to Congress, girls will hold more-self confidence and hopefully stop taking part in harmful body disorders.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tayla permalink
    April 30, 2014 11:24 pm

    Thats great information !

  2. March 23, 2016 6:48 am

    Heavily indebted to you, I needed this information so badly

  3. March 13, 2017 9:40 am

    It really bring to light what the magazines are doing to young girls minds


  1. 6 Ways Society Continues to Body Shame Girls, and What We Can do to Stop it. – Vox Populi

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