7 Positive Steps The Fashion Industry Has Taken To Combat Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 26 to March 4.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness) begins this week (Feb. 26 to March 4), and sheds a necessary light on a physical and mental health issue that often goes unseen until it's too late. Though they may be difficult to spot, clinically significant eating disorders affect 20 million American women and 10 million American men at some point in their lives. In fact, anorexia nervosa has "the highest mortality rate of any mental illness." 

Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, nor are they the fault of the person who suffers from one. Sometimes, they are brought on by feelings of inadequacy informed by what someone sees in the media and fashion industry. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, "appearance pressures experienced by fashion models have been criticized as harmful to their health, as well as increasing eating disorder risk among youth by promoting ideals of extreme thinness." 

This week — and every week — the National Eating Disorders Association "supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care," but they can't do it alone. That's why it's important to recognize the powerful strides models, designers, and companies have made in promoting healthy body image to combat eating disorders in recent years.  While the fashion industry still has far to go, it's important to recognize these 7 positive steps toward health and inclusion it has taken:

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1. This New York Fashion Week, more than 60 models came together in an open letter urging the industry to "prioritize health and celebrate diversity."

At this year's New York Fashion Week, more than 60 models made their collective voice heard in an open letter to members of the American fashion industry, as well as an accompanying petition. Partnering with the National Eating Disorders Association and industry advocacy group Model Alliance, models of all shapes and sizes have united in an effort to "prioritize health and celebrate diversity on the runway." Notable models such as  Sara Ziff, Caitriona Balfe, Iskra Lawrence, and Emme all signed the letter and petition.

"Too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health concern and survivors often suffer irreversible damage to their health," the women stated in the letter. "Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to send the message that diversity is what makes us strong." 

2. After Miss Iceland was told she needed to lose weight for a beauty pageant, she not only dropped out, but used to her platform to speak out.

Miss Iceland, Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir, made a universally relevant statement in 2016 when she quit an international beauty pageant after being told that if she wanted to win, she'd have to lose weight. The owner of the Miss Grand International contest, Nawat Itsaragrisil, told Jónsdóttir to "stop eating breakfast, eat just salad for lunch and drink water every evening until the contest." This was considered the only viable way for her to increase her chances of winning. 

After pulling out of the pageant, she also spoke out on social media. "I truly hope the organization opens their eyes because the year is 2016 and if you are gonna hold an international pageant you have to be able to see the international beauty," she wrote in an Instagram post. "... my bodyshape [sic] is perfect. And that's what I'm gonna remember. No one will ever tell me anything else." 

3. ModCloth has continued its tradition of inspiring body positivity with its inclusive 2016 swimsuit campaign.

A positive pioneer in the fashion industry for years, ModCloth has continually showcased its commitment to healthy body image by signing The Heroes Pledge For Advertisers, which eliminated their use of Photoshopped images in 2014 and removing "plus size" designations from its website to create a more inclusive space for shoppers of all sizes in 2015. 

Most recently, the online retailer conveyed a particularly powerful message in its 2016 swimsuit campaign. Both employees and community members modeled the new collection in unretouched photos, showing that every body is a "beach body." In a blog post, ModCloth affirmed the campaign's goal "to represent women for who they are — confident, intelligent, and fun." In addition, they wrote, "We strive to continue to positively portray women by recognizing their capabilities and contributions, regardless of their size, and inspire body positivity across the spectrum." 

4. Through Aerie's "Show Your Spark" campaign, the brand created a safe space for young women to express self-love through healthy body image.

Aerie is another brand notable for its body positivity with its commitment to never retouching its models as a continuation of the #AerieREAL movement starring Iskra Lawrence. This past year, the brand continued that movement in exemplifying a new kind of industry standard with its "Show Your Spark" campaign

By bringing together a group of models, bloggers, social fans, and people who had never modeled before, the lingerie company encouraged everyone to not only feel comfortable in their own skin, but to feel comfortable showing it off. In the commercial's voiceover, Iskra Lawrence says, "Half of the girls had never been on a photo shoot, yet all of these women proudly bared their real selves to share their spark with girls everywhere." 

5. France passed a law mandating companies only employee models who possess a doctor-approved "health certificate."

In 2015, the French government passed a bill mandating that designers hire models who possess a "medical certificate" approved by a medical professional. The law intends to prevent the use of "excessively thin" models and also requires the proper labelling of digitally altered images as "touched up." 

Companies are now forbidden from employing any model deemed unfit to work, and any that do can be fined more than £50,000 and receive a prison sentence of up to six months. While this is a step in the right direction, many French model agencies believe a more pervasive and fair way to legislate would be to regulate and increase the industry standards of sample sizes. 

6. A former model published a new book about her experience overcoming anorexia to share the lessons she's learned with readers.

Victoire Dauxerre was scouted in the street when she was 17 and quickly became one of the most "in-demand" supermodels in the world. To many, her life seemed like a dream, but the pressure she felt from fashion executives and photographers to become ever thinner soon resembled a nightmare. To maintain and keep her career, Dauxerre became anorexic, eating only three apples a day. 

This past month, she published a memoir, Size Zero: My Life as a Disappearing Model, an "unflinching, painful expose of the uglier face of fashion." Through Dauxerre's experience, she describes firsthand how the toxic culture of glorifying thinness drove her to the point of suicide. However, the young woman came out the other side stronger and healthier than ever before — and with a compelling story to share as both a cautionary tale and source of inspiration to others. By exposing the fashion industry, Dauxerre is doing what she wished someone had done for her — changing it. 

7. We Speak is the first modeling agency to "health approve" its models.

Founded in 2013, We Speak has blazed a revolutionary trail for all modeling agencies with its mission to represent only "health approved, drug free" models and emphasis on "progressive body ideals." To meet We Speak's health standards, models must pass a holistic health assessment that takes their physical, social, mental, and familial health into consideration, as well as a traditional health assessment filled out by the model's doctor. 

The agency acknowledges that "female models are often pressured into uncomfortable situations and unhealthy habits ... [that] have been interconnected with prevailing body image issues everyday women experience." Because We Speak puts a "focus on health, not size," it's not a "plus size" agency simply because We Speak doesn't consider models over a certain size to be "plus size." As they state on their website, "You can be healthy at a size 2 as well as a size 20." 

If you're living with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association offers multiple resources, ways to get help, and an instantly accessible support network.  

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