Excuse me, but your model needs to be hospitalized.

So I have to go to a cocktail party. I’d rather be beaten with sticks, but it’s not an option. My wardrobe choices are limited; I’m either dressing to work in the yard or go to court. So I browsed through some department store websites, just to see what was out there. Good grief, what a shock.

Isn’t anorexia understood to be a problem? I thought advertisers had agreed to be more responsible and not use models that encouraged teenagers to think their bones should protrude through the skin. Look at this poor thing! Click to enlarge, and check her elbows in case you missed it.


I’ve represented women who looked like this; they were usually charged with prostitution and possession of heroin or cocaine. I always offered to take them to the hospital. Like, before they died in the elevator.

The picture below was taken in 2006.  This is backstage at an actual runway event– the model being made up died soon afterward. I assume she wasn’t modeling the underwear, but even if she was about to put on an overcoat, the people in charge should have been shot for allowing her to work.


If the art directors at Bloomingdale’s think there’s nothing wrong with the girl in the pink dress, I’ve got to shop somewhere else.  Does LL Bean make cocktail dresses?

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

39 thoughts on “Excuse me, but your model needs to be hospitalized.”

  1. Check out Land’s End. I don’t know much about women’s clothing, but the models pictured look at least less unhealthy to my eye than I am used to seeing elsewhere. (I buy (men’s) clothing from them pretty regularly, but have no other conflicts of interest in offering this suggestion).

  2. We got a flyer in the mail today from the Dress Barn. The women all appear to have eaten something in the past four weeks. I think they are a national chain.

    I thought that they were supposed to be developing industry standards for a minimum BMI but maybe that was just my imagination. BMI under 18 and you don’t get to work–that might prevent some morbidity and mortality in this highly at-risk occupational group.

  3. It would be worthwhile to juxtapose the second photograph with images of concentration camp survivors.

    Maybe that would get the message across.

    1. That really is a remarkable photo. I have no idea what she looked like made up and clothed with the lights on her; maybe the audience couldn’t really tell. Still, anyone who could see her arm as captured there – and, yes, that’s including the photographer and the makeup artist – should be prosecuted for depraved indifference; it was their responsibility to call the cops. She apparently was 16 years old, so legally a minor; surely there must be issues regarding the duty of care, from her parents, her employers, her agent, etcetera?

      1. Correction: I misunderstood the results of a Google search. She was apparently a few months over 18 at her death, which might remove some legal issues, if few moral ones.

  4. Is there anything in the nasty theory or urban legend that the problem comes partly from the fact that the designers of women´s clothing are often gay men – whose sexual ideal is a skinny adolescent boy?

      1. Well, there´s sexual dimension to this abuse, and it clearly isn´t the rape or domination fantasies of macho males. Anorexia is in some part a pathology of sexual self-image: starving girls look in the mirror and think themselves unattractively fat. The designers may be gay men, but a lot of the fashion journalists are middle-aged women: what are they getting out of the abuse? In some strange way, the pathologies of the three groups feed off each other.

        Underwear models like Helena Christensen are several sizes larger than runway models. They also correspond much more closely to heterosexual male fantasies.

        1. Models are mobile clothes hangers, there to display the clothes, not distract from them. Wouldn’t want customers looking at curves instead of clothes.

          1. There has been some eating disorder prevention work in which the reactions of heterosexual males to such images are shown to heterosexual girls so that they recognize that the males they want to attract do not really want them to look like Dachau survivors.

          2. I doubt that the reactions of straight men to anorexic girls would make all that much difference to the girls. It is the opinion of the other girls that really counts.

          3. Then why not use mobile clothes hangers? Surely it’s not impossible to build a mannequin that would move down the runway, turn, etc., possibly on a treadmill arrangement.

            Alternatively, if you want people looking at the clothes rather than the women then use ordinary-looking women as models.

        2. I’ve heard that rumor and I’m not sure it’s that simple, but I do agree that there is a complex psychosocial gender-related something-or-other going on here (clusterbleep?), because imo, many many women go along with many many damaging fashions. I could go on about shoes to infinity, and it is actively promoted and defended by women (like FGM, no?), though no doubt many of the mfrs are male.

          Many say that women dress for other women but that is much too simple. I think it is more likely true that to be considered acceptable visually, even among or maybe even primarily among, well-educated prosperous white people means that for women, you have to be — not this bad off of course — but in that neighborhood. And many of them use “health” as a cover. I think that is called, orthorexism? Or perversion of same. And I maintain that since men obviously (I bet I’m starting a War here, but I don’t care…) still run society (because women mostly don’t stick together, but that doesn’t change the fact), they bear most of the blame. Sorry, but there it is.

          1. Oh, and I forgot to say, *mental* health is never considered. No one cares about that. Think of all the men you know who date crazy but goodlooking women, and then expect sympathy. Um, not so much.

  5. Sep. 11, 2013 — The largest DNA-sequencing study of anorexia nervosa has linked the eating disorder to variants in a gene coding for an enzyme that regulates cholesterol metabolism. The finding suggests that anorexia could be caused in part by a disruption in the normal processing of cholesterol, which may disrupt mood and eating behavior.

    New Genetic Clue to Anorexia

    1. What is your point? Do you have one? Lots of things have both genetic and non-genetic bases. It’s not at all surprising that some sufferers of anorexia are genetically predisposed to the condition; hopefully, our increased knowledge will aid us in diagnosis and treatment. But surely the issue here is not genetic predisposition to anorexia but its commoditization?

      1. I don’t understand the need to jump down his throat simply for pointing to research indicating a genetic predisposition. I wouldn’t hold my breath regardless, but if anorexia is “solved” I’d bet more on a pharmaceutical patch than on a complete overhauling of gender relations in society as the cause.

  6. I did click on the top picture and her left salivary gland looks a bit full; too hard to tell if this is true on the right. This is one of the signs of eating disorders and in addition to the elbows it does increase your index of suspicion for the diagnosis.

    CharlesWT points to an interesting article. I do not know who the second model was, but there were two sisters from South America who both died from anorexia after being fashion models. They shared genes and an environment; we look to the environment so much that we may want to also look at genes.

    1. This is the younger of those two sisters. Yes, it’s possible there was a genetic component to her anorexia – but far more importantly there were a bunch of people around her who watched her starve to death, and did nothing. I’m not especially interested in whether she had a predisposition to become anorexic; those around her had a duty to get help for her, instead of making money off of her condition.

      1. That is why there ought to be industry standards requiring a BMI of 18 or more, which would provide an incentive for all parties to see to it that the models get a square meal at least once a day.

    2. I’m no orthopedist, but there seems to be something seriously wrong with her knees as well. Malnutrition is only one of the common problems.

  7. To cheer you up after these depressing facts, a nice picture by Beryl Cook. I love the Queen Mum hats.

  8. I have to admit, I’m not quite clear about what you’re pointing to at the elbows.

    My own wife is 5′, 80lbs. No, she’s not anorexic, she’s actually got a little bit of a tummy on her, she just doesn’t have any body fat to speak of on most of her body. Her elbows look a lot like that. Monday she helped me move a piano, she carried her end of it. (Maybe she was bitten at some point by a radioactive spider?)

    Are you sure you meant the elbows on the top picture?

    Now, the BOTTOM picture, I certainly would urge any woman I met looking like that to check into a hospital; The last time a met a woman that skinny she had the chair opposite me at the chemo center.

    I think I’d probably endorse Charles’ theory: They don’t want you looking at the models, they want you looking at the clothes, so they want models who aren’t actually attractive. Which, agreed, is no excuse for letting somebody starve themselves to death in front of you.

    1. Brett’s being clueless as always. He probably sees eating-disorder prevention as some statist plot.

      1. Clueless? I’m simply saying that I know at least one healthy woman who looks like the upper picture, and was questioning whether we were really supposed to find something disturbing about the upper shot. There ARE women who look like that, and not due to anorexia. I’m married to one.

        The lower picture is just scary, and I agree that it was utterly irresponsible for the people who saw her looking that way to not urge her to get medical attention. It’s utterly creepy and repulsive that anyone would want a model like that modeling their clothing. It does say bad things about the industry that she’d be able to find employment, rather than a free taxi ride to the emergency room, in that shape.

        Now, a serious issue is that, if she had reached the age of majority, you could ask her to check into a hospital, but could you force her to? Maybe not.

      2. There’s at least one other person here making the same observation. ISTM you pretty much saw the comment writer’s name and decided he must be making a “clueless” point before actually reading.

  9. I’m probably biased[1], but what’s the issue with the top model?

    1) Biased because my mother is extremely slender (5’11”, 9 children, long-term stable weight about 125 lbs) and I have a sister who works as a model (short hair in the picture).

  10. @SamChevre: Good point. The top picture looks to me like a teen who has shot up but not yet put on the body fat to match. Or like someone from my family, who are all perfectly healthy but on the long and lean end of the scale despite eating like horses.

    1. And that’s another problem — teens (as young as 13) modeling clothes that are being sold to adult women. It screws up the teens because they have to watch their weight so closely while still growing, as well as shoves them into a demanding career working among harried, often drug-abusing folk, and adult women because we receive constant subliminals reinforcing an impossible-for-most body type.

  11. You should try a local boutique near you. Clothes should never be purchased online unless they absolutely have to be. Clothes are made by hand and generally have a manufactures spec tolerance of .5″ on the seems. So that means while mediums from the same company will fit generally the same, there can be batches of mediums that run a bit big or a bit small. Sizing within a brand also varies slightly by textile. And this doesn’t even get into variants of sizing between brands. The idea that ‘medium’ is a unit of measurement or some set size is just wrong. It’s a relative term, as in this size is in the middle of the size range offered by this particular brand. I’m usually a medium in brand x is an accurate statement. I’m always a medium in all clothing would not be.

    Find a local store with a staff or owner you trust and let the help you. Try stuff on. Why do you care what it looks like on a model anyways? I’m in the industry (Multi-brand showroom) and could definitely help you find an appropriate smaller company to shop from and that likely carries clothes designed for the non-anorexic. The type of skinny your railing about is predomanantly high fashion. While high fashion gets the press, it is relatively minor part of the clothing industry.

  12. Regarding the second image of the clearly anorexic girl in the bikini and boots, assuming the photo isn’t a fake, then surely we are lacking some context here. She appears to be getting final touches before walking out on the runway with her ridiculously malnourished bones exposed. Can anyone provide more context with the image?

    1. For this reason, I am inclined not to believe the explanation for the second image. Though the fashion industry promotes extreme thinness, it’s in the service of making the clothes look good, not making them appear appalling, nor the industry look cruel. I can’t believe that any designer would actually request a wasted-away model like that. (Or am I wrong?)

      1. You can do an image search for this particular model, and you can see at least one image of her in a runway appearance in a garment that shows her starving to death. You can also see other glamour shots of her with prominent ribs but not so obviously at deaths door; other shots show her with incredibly thin arms, but not the skin-stretched-over-bone appearance of the above picture that a layperson like me can recognize as alarming. And there’s a picture of her in a very thick turtleneck sweater. In that last one in particular her sharply defined, well made-up face is striking and shows off the sweater to advantage – and you can’t see whether she’s about to faint because she hasn’t eaten in a fortnight.

        She had some sort of successful career as a model, and the picture above was taken not long before she finished starving herself to death. It is quite possible that on the day that picture was taken she was hired on the basis of her earlier work and her earlier, less alarming appearance. It’s also possible that the clothing she wore on the catwalk on that day did not reveal her starvation; in the above picture I can’t recognize anything alarming about her face, though another commenter noted swollen salivary glands.

        My main points, though they didn’t wind up really making anything shorter:
        1) This very model definitely did appear on the catwalk wearing clothing that flaunted her starving-to-death appearance; her morbid appearance did not deter fashion show organizers from using her. It could even have been exactly the look they sought.
        2) On the other hand, she had some success as a model, and doubtless had been starving herself at least in part because she believed it enhanced or was necessary to her career as a model. It is possible that she was hired on the basis of her earlier work, by people who knew her appearance from before her regimen of starvation had fully taken its toll – but even if she was hired by people unaware of quite what she’d done to herself, the people who encountered her in the state captured in the photograph above had a duty to get her into an ambulance.

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