Is the Vogue Health Initiative actually making a difference in the UK so far?

Three months in, how much difference is the Vogue Health Initiative actually making?
Publish date:
July 31, 2012
healthy, eating disorders, vogue health initiative, skinny models

[Three months after the Vogue Health Iniative was announced in the June issue of the British magazine, I've asked two of our writers to look at how well it's actually working. First up, Grace looks at how effective the initiative's pledges actually are... --Rebecca]

In her editor’s letter in the June issue of Vogue, Alexander Shulman made a six-point statement in which she introduced British readers to the Vogue Health Initiative.

This new pledge, signed by all 19 international Vogue editors, promises to only work with healthy models, and in the process attempt to change the cycle of sample-size-equals-skinny-model. In essence, it’s telling us that they’re making a step in the right direction.

Here I am contemplating the Vogue Health Initiative

It’s easy and almost instinctive to be cynical about this initiative. Making practical steps to end the Skinny Is Beautiful myth is a fantastic PR coup for a glossy magazine like Vogue, or any brand.

But if we do take it at face value, what has the Vogue initiative changed so far? There were two points that particularly caught my eye. The first centered on age:

‘We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.’

Making a point about a model’s age seems like a controversial road to go down in the first place. Age in the fashion industry can be pretty elastic, with lots of agencies lying about the age of the girls on their books, and many scouted when they’re 12 or 13 years old.

In my mind, aiming to only work with models who are over 16 doesn't go far enough to address, or shed any light on the pretty shocking young age in which some are picked to be models.

However so far in the UK, this rule has been adhered to. The average model was 24 in the June issue of Vogue, and no model fell below the 20 year old line. So far, so good.

But a quick flick through the August issue of Vogue changed my mind. There was no great change in the models used. They all looked exactly the same age, size, height and colour to me. While these models may in fact be 25, they still look 16 - editors can continue to book women who look incredibly young.

The second point that stood out centered around sample size clothing.

‘We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.’

This is a huge issue in the constant use of very thin models. It’s a point that keeps being raised, and one that Shulman herself addressed in 2007 when she wrote to all major fashion houses asking for them to stop making their clothes so small.

But why are we still tackling this issue five years on?

Along with statements such as the Vogue Health initiative, magazines like Vogue should be working alongside model agencies as well as the rest of the media in order to change the way in which women are visually perceived in magazines.

Simply ensuring us that the picture perfect, re-touched girls we see in magazines are in fact women in their 20s just doesn’t feel enough to me.

Conde Naste’s international chairman Jonathan Newhouse claims that ‘Vogue believes that good health is beautiful, Vogue editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the wellbeing of their readers’.

When countries such as Israel ban models who are under a certain weight and enforce rigourous health tests before shows, it doesn’t feel good enough to simply state that good health is beautiful, especially when the images we see in magazines haven’t changed at all.

We don’t need a statement that assumes the concept of modelling is completely fair, that girls even over the age of 16 should be used as models. We need a proper enquiry into the nature of modelling in itself. Will that come from Vogue? I doubt it.

What do you think? Will the Vogue Health initiative make any difference? Have you noticed any changes in the industry as a whole? Let me know!

Meanwhile, Olivia looks at how effective the initiative is from the perspective of someone recovering from at eating disorder, here.