This past fashion week, British "Vogue" editor Alexandra Shulman complained over Twitter about the "skeletal" models at Preen's show.
Frankly the girls didn't look any more skeletal than most runway models in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Some might argue they don't look much different than the models in fashion magazines either. So it might make sense that British Vogue just signed an agreement with British labor union Equity, agreeing to enforce ten specific guidelines when working with models. They include (and I paraphrase):
1. A work day of no longer than ten hours should include regular rest breaks.
2. Proper refreshments and meals should be provided on set.
3. Travel arrangements should be provided to within ten miles of the shoot location. Models kept working longer than 10 p.m. should get a cab back to wherever they're staying.
4. Models will be treated professionally and respectfully. The contract states explicitly: "No one will ask or impose upon the Model any action or activity which is dangerous, degrading, unprofessional or demeaning to the Model."
5. Models can't be forced into doing things that permanently alter their appearance. Like dying their hair/eyebrows.
6. Nudity or semi-nudity must be agreed to by the model before arriving on set.
7. Models will be provided with proper bathrooms and changing facilities.
8. The temperature of the studio hosting the shoot will be comfortable. Which means "reasonably warm in winter" and "reasonably cool in summer." In adjusting the temperature, what the model is wearing for the shoot should be taken into account.
9. Models must be provided with proper insurance coverage and paid promptly after the shoot.
10. Models under the age of 16 won't model adult clothes or be asked to do any nude or semi-nude posing.
British Vogue is a highly respectable magazine that probably already ensures excellent working conditions for the models it hires. Magazines like that shoulder the responsibility of setting an example for the industry, which is probably part of the reason they signed the agreement with Equity (which is not to say they don't actually care — not everyone in fashion is as heartless and soulless as stereotypes suggest).
What would be even more newsworthy is to see a much edgier magazine like Purple — or perhaps better yet, a raunchy photographer like Terry Richardson — sign this contract. But beyond the initial ooh-ing and ahh-ing over a move like that, one has to wonder what the use of these agreements and initiatives is anyway? Plenty of people have tried to set examples — but setting an example doesn't always lead to lasting impact as we've seen previously with this issue.
With the support of British Vogue, American Vogue spearheaded the launch of a "model health initiative" last year to publicly pledge Vogues around the world would not hire any models who were under the age of 16 or who appeared to have eating disorders. The initiative has obvious flaws like: what if a model has a fake ID? And what does it even mean to "appear" to have an eating disorder? (By contrast, British Vogue's contract says nothing about eating disorders and does not ban models under the age of 16.) Do Vogue models look any healthier or different at all since the initiative? Not noticeably.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America also has a "health initiative." Each fashion week, CFDA president Diane Von Furstenberg reminds designers to ensure their models are healthy, well-nourished at shows, and age 16 or older. Do the models look any different season to season? Not really. Do 15-year-olds end up in shows anyway? Yes. And besides, the New York shows comprise just one-fourth of fashion month. Over in London, the editor of British Vogue is publicly tweeting about how the models look "skeletal."
So if the industry and the world wants models to be treated better and fed more by the people hiring them, enforcing some actual laws would probably help. Because thus far, the industry has been incapable of regulating itself. And laws on the books in New York about working conditions for child models regularly go ignored (you can read more about these at the website of the Model Alliance, a group that fights for the enforcement of said laws). So magazines can go on signing pledges and publicizing "initiatives" about model working conditions but until someone makes the industry abide by actual laws, nothing is going to change.