NICKY: Models eat tissues to get thin.

Models are eating tissues to trick their stomachs into feeling full.

Models are regularly fainting from hunger before taking to the set for a photo shoot.

In fact, models are so starving they can’t function enough to keep their eyes open.

Brace yourselves. Because these anecdotes are just the beginning of the fairly horrific details about what goes on in the fashion and modelling industry, as recounted by the former editor of Vogue Australia.

At the helm of our country’s premier fashion glossy for thirteen years (before being unceremoniously dumped from the position), Kirstie Clements has spoken out against the use of skinny and anorexic models in her autobiography, The Vogue Factor. She wrote about one model who had scabs on her knees caused by falling on the ground from being so faint she could no longer stand up.

Clements recalled a trip to Marrakesh where she didn’t see the booked model – a Russian girl-  eat a single meal for the whole three days they were shooting there. By the end of the trip, Clements wrote, she could barely stand up. Yep, that’s right. The shoot didn’t get cancelled. No one intervened or took her to get help. The industry wheels kept grinding – the blatant starvation worked around – all to get “the shot”.

I feel like now I understand that vacant stare you so often see in fashion editorials; it’s the starving model dreaming about eating the photographer’s arm off. I feel horrified that I was unknowingly complicit in this. It makes me feel sick to know that I’ve bought magazines and poured over fashion editorial shots of models who were quite literally starving themselves to death. But I wouldn’t and couldn’t know what I was actually looking at because the tell tale signs of anorexia – the fuzzy facial hair, the sunken cheeks, the jaunty collarbones – are photoshopped out.


Sometimes we get to see how the fashion industry misrepresent the female form. Take a look at this gallery of photoshop fails:

In a radio interview with Richard Fidler on Conversation Hour yesterday, Clements spoke about how Vogue readers requested that a more diverse range of body sizes be represented in the magazine. And she obliged featuring model Robyn Lawley in Vogue Australia’s first ever ‘plus sized’ shoot inside the magazine – but not on the cover.

Robyn Lawley’s plus size shoot in Vogue Australia

“I think that the audience wants to see more plus size models but I do think what will be interesting to see is if they want to see them on the cover. Often want readers say they want to see, they don’t follow through and buy. And editors live and die by their sales,” Clements said.

A recent study has found that skinny models don’t sell products. When consumers are blatantly exposed to idealised images of thin and beautiful women they are more likely to use a defensive coping strategy – scorn – to boost their self-esteem by denigrating the model.


Another study reveals that most American women want to see a ban on size zero models used during fashion week. Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents stated the reason for this was because the models looked dangerously unhealthy, so it was unsafe to have them walking the runway. More than half of the respondents (57 percent) said the fashion industry should stop using size-zero models. Interestingly, when asked what size model they would prefer to see on catwalks and in magazines, most women said size 14.

So readers don’t want to see anorexic women. And many fashion editors don’t want to feature anorexic models. So why exactly are these models starving themselves to death?

Clements argues the conundrum surrounding body image in the media and in this instance fashion magazines is too complex to simply blame fashion editors (or misogynistic male fashion designers). But I disagree with that statement completely. In the radio interview one thing she said has stayed with me, Vogue’s mantra or at least the one she lived by during her time at the influential fashion magazine was this: “Vogue should never follow. It should always lead.”

Change has to start somewhere. And it requires a publication in the fashion and modelling industry – with the necessary clout and influence – to lead it. But given Clements’ unceremonious dumping from the publication, and the fact she is only speaking out about it now, we doubt it will be Vogue.

If this has raised any issues for you or you need help or support you can call the Butterfly Foundation support line on 1800 334 673.