Back in 2006, there were 5 fashion models who died from eating disorders in rapid fire succession, and the world took notice. It’s an unfortunate fact that in today’s society, the terms “eating disorder” and “fashion model” seem to go hand-in-hand due to an industry that covets tragically thin women. The fact of the matter is that the fashion industry is like any other business looking to make money, and unfortunately for these girls, they’re in the “business of thin.” With a younger, skinnier, prettier girl behind you at every turn, the modeling industry is also highly competitive. That and a zero tolerance policy for anything less than perfection is what makes these young models resort to harmful behavior such as extreme dieting, starvation, purging after meals and even illegal drugs to shed pounds. Is it any wonder that models are dying of eating disorders when the average designer clothing sample is a size double zero; the same waist size of an average seven year old? So who were these young models who gave their lives to their eating disorders?
- Ana Carolina Reston. A successful Brazilian model and muse for designers such as Dior and Armani, Ana Carolina Reston was only 21 years old when she died as a result of her several year battle with both anorexia and bulimia on November 15th, 2006. In short, she starved herself to death to the point of kidney failure, having survived on a diet consisting of just apples and tomatoes. At 5'8”, she weighed a mere 88 pounds at the time of her death, putting her body mass index (BMI) at 13.5, whereas a BMI of 18.5 is considered underweight for someone her height.
- Maiara Galvao Vieira. Aspiring model Maiara Galvao Vieira was only fourteen when she succumbed to her anorexia via cardiac arrest on January 10th, 2007, weighing in at only 84 pounds at 5’7” tall. According to the Rio de Janeiro Globe, her disease went undiagnosed for several months despite her parents protests that she was too weak to even walk up the stairs.
- Hila Elmalich. Hila Elmalich was an Israeli fashion model who died of heart failure relating to her 21 year battle with anorexia on her 34th birthday on November 14th, 2007. She reportedly only weighed 60 pounds at the time of her death, and on her 5’6” frame this would have put her body mass index at only 9.7. Her battle with anorexia began around the same time as her modeling career, at just thirteen years old.
- Eliana and Luisel Ramos. In perhaps the saddest instance of young models dying from their eating disorders, Uruguayan models Luisel and Eliana Ramos were 22 and 18 years of age respectively when they died from complications resulting from their eating disorders. They were also sisters, and their deaths—just a mere six months apart—have undoubtedly devastated their family. Luisel died on August 2, 2006 after completing a pass on the catwalk at Uruguayan Fashion Week. She complained of feeling ill, and passed out only to subsequently die of heart failure. Her father claimed she hadn’t eaten for several days beforehand. Eliana died a short six months later on February 13th, 2007 from a heart attack believed to be the result of malnutrition.
Perhaps the scariest figure of all is that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The public outcry from the death of these five young models is putting the fashion industry in the spotlight. People want answers, but more than that, they want change, and the fashion industry is starting to listen. Immediately after the models' deaths, Madrid Fashion Week stated their refusal to allow anyone with a BMI of less than 18 to participate in runway events. London and Milan Fashion Weeks have imposed similar statues. In Brazil, models now require medical certificates proving their physical health to take part in catwalk events. While it’s unfortunate that it took the death of these five young women to bring national attention to eating disorders, hopefully their deaths will not be in vain.