Project Runway: Lightweight Division

There are plenty of empty celebrities in the world. Actors and actresses are paid to look good while they recite memorized lies in an appropriately convincing fashion. Singers are paid to look good while belting out popular songs in key. And models, logically the laziest of the glamorous, are simply paid to look good.

Recent tragic events have swiveled a microscope to this fascinating profession. One model, Ana Carolina Reston, died after weighing only 88 pounds, and another, Luisel Ramos, died after living on lettuce and diet Coke for three months. These deaths prompted the industry to take a sharp look at how to prevent these deaths from occurring in the future, and also how to otherwise replicate their penultimate results.

The world of fashion modeling is a notoriously cutthroat one. Literally, in some instances, since cutting one’s own throat is a known way to lose weight, along with ingesting syrup of ipecac milkshakes and voluntary beheading. Gaining weight is a certain forbidden activity in modeling, one that can be countered with about equal doses of strict dietary discipline, regular exercise, and cocaine.

Spain’s fashion organization, increasingly embarrassed at the obvious unhealthiness of their otherwise famous models, was the first nation to codify the behavior of runway models. Models with a body-mass index of less than 18 are not permitted to participate in shows. (For the record, the World Health Organization, bless their hearts, considers anyone with a body-mass index of 18.5 or less to be clinically underweight. Then again, they are part of the same organization that considers any nation who has defaulted on more than 85% of their yearly GDP to be more than fit for a loan, so take that for what it’s worth.) Italy, always mindful of their Catholic brothers, followed suit with similar crackdowns on rail-thin models. An outraged Harrison Ford, of course, is boycotting these nations.

The glamorized life of the model seems painfully disproportionate to what one might originally think. Models primarily exist, and get paid, to look good, but aside from some walking up and down a runway and perhaps some playful sprinting down the beach while someone replicates it on a reproducible medium, they don’t have too many physical demands. Is there really a need for stimulants and other illegal activity to release this otherwise remarkably stress-free profession? There doesn’t seem to be any logical reason that a photo shoot would be any more dangerous than shopping for groceries or applying for a loan, assuming your photographer isn’t Roman Polanski. Even professional wrestlers, who seem to be under a similar level of stress for the same reasons and pretty much for the same amount of social good, manage to get by with their only vices being anabolic steroids and dying at age 35.

The United States has also plunged into the regulatory abyss, though with one suspects a bit less enthusiasm. Unlike Europe, America has utilized a combination of partially hydrogenated oils and after-school specials to arrest the anorexia epidemic. While the new rules for America seem a little bit stricter, they’re also voluntary—currently, there’s no enforcement policies in place, putting how rules impact the modeling industry roughly on par with employing illegal aliens or campaign finance reform.

The rules, in part, require that all models under the age of 16 are taken off the runway, presumably to simulate fellatio in Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs instead. Those under 18 aren’t to be kept on a photo shoot after midnight, making sure they’re able to get underneath their agent’s desk before they need to get to the closing shift at the Burger King. Those models that have an identified eating disorder are put through therapy and counseling, and their eating habits are monitored to make sure they’re eating enough diet wheat thins and low-fat water. These guidelines are meant to keep models healthy and balanced for at least two years, since once a model turns 20 she’s either relegated to become a mule, a member of an escort service, a cast member for the Dutch version of Big Brother, or starring in local car dealership commercials in exchange for a brick of hash and parking validation.

In a way, it’s important for modeling to clean up its image. Many young girls aspire to be models, much like children crave to be astronauts, rock stars, actresses, or, depending on your various inclinations, fashion designers or actuaries. Making sure that young girls don’t get trapped in a seedy, dangerous profession at a young age is a responsible thing to do, just like encouraging them to devote all of their time and energy into a pursuit with which they have an effectively zero chance of producing any positive impact on society whatsoever, such as being a veterinarian or Speaker of the House.

Still, the pressure for ordinary citizens of the world to watch their figure is pretty high, and for those where it is an occupational necessity one can imagine the lengths they’ll go through to keep things thin and beautiful. Watching what a model looks like to the exact detail is clearly the responsible thing to do. Some of us will be keeping a closer eye than others.

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