The Size Zero Debate

I recently wrote a piece for plus-size.me about the size zero debate. I’m a size 12 but I’ve been everything from a size 10-18, and I understand the pressure young women are under to be slim. Pick up a copy of most celebrity magazines, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you can only be successful and beautiful if you’re slim. Some high street shops only stock clothing up to a size 12, and catwalks are flooded with tall, slim women. In the last few years there have been a lot of young celebrities, like Nicole Richie, and Lindsey Lohan, who have lost a lot of weight in a short space of time. For young women it can be incredibly confusing to understand what a healthy size is.

Whilst being a size zero is not necessarily a problem if this is your natural size and you’re healthy, it is a problem if young women are starving themselves to become what they believe to be the most attractive shape.

So who is promoting this image? Is it the media, the modelling agencies, or designers?

I had a chance to speak to Damian O’Connor, the MD of Models Direct recently, which gave me an opportunity to find out more about the modelling agency process and their views on size zero.

Could you tell me a bit about Models Direct?
We’re the UK’s largest modelling employment agency, working with models and clients nationwide. We’ve been in business for nineteen years, and we work with a huge variety of leading brand names – the BBC, Mamas & Papas, MTV and Nintendo to name just a few.

How do you find your models?
We receive most applications through our website. It only takes five minutes to complete the application form and upload photos for our consideration.

What kind of models are most popular – children, teenagers, young women, older couples? It depends entirely on what the client asks for! Every day, we get requests for dozens of different looks. Recent requirements have included ‘funky teens for product launch’, ‘twin girls aged 1-3 for production segment for a new comedy show’ and ‘female models aged 40+ f or a nightwear catalogue’. Our models can be any age – from newborn babies to senior citizens – and can have any look or shape. We can never predict what clients might want for their projects.

Is there a vetting process before signing a model up?
The Models Direct registration process is very straightforward. After an application is submitted, we get in touch with the applicant and chat to them about their expectations and interests. If both the potential model and the coordinator feel the application should be taken forward, the applicant will then be submitted to a panel, who then decide whether to offer representation.

Unlike many agencies, we do not require our models to spend money on photographs to promote themselves – we just need two clear photos, usually taken on a normal digital camera. We find our models work based on their submitted photos – the client usually just wants an idea of what someone looks like. The whole process of applying is simple and fast, and we aim to respond within a few days of receiving an application.

Have you found attitudes have changed since the ‘size zero’ debate kicked off? I wouldn’t say I’ve noticed an enormous change, but there certainly have been some shifts in the way models are perceived in recent years. Models Direct has always recruited a wide range of different models, and I think it’s clear that in the future, ‘real’ men and women are going to become increasingly relevant in the world of modelling.

Have you found a change in the types of models requested for campaigns now? It’s important to realise that we work for a huge range of clients. The vast majority don’t request six-foot women who are size zero. We’ve never been the kind of high fashion agency that will only represent a particular kind of model – we have a diverse array of looks, sizes and personalities on our books, and we have always maintained that you don’t have to be a size zero to try modelling. We are more of a commercial agency and try to encourage an open-minded approach to model selection among our clients, while still respecting their needs for a particular assignment. We get a good reaction from this and our clients are very willing to trust our judgement on the suitability of a model for a campaign, whatever the requirement.

What are your feelings on the use of size zero models – or plus-size models – on the catwalk? I think the key point is that everybody is unique – some people are naturally thin, while others have fuller figures. The vital thing to remember in all modelling is that people need models of lots of different sizes – because there are people of different sizes in the real world. It’s important to be in touch with your natural body shape: models should be healthy, and we have to consider the impact of negative body image on young people (both boys and girls). This is something that I think really concerns everybody in the modelling industry.

What influence do you think modelling agencies have on body image? Unfortunately, I think our influence is relatively limited. People – especially the young – take on opinions and trends from designers and the media. That can affect how they perceive their chances of succeeding as a model, which is a shame, because we need models of all sizes. Also, modelling as an industry is often badly misrepresented in the mainstream media, especially when it comes to body image. The result is that people have serious misconceptions about what modelling agencies want, or who they recruit. If people looked more carefully at the facts, and speak to agencies like Models Direct, they’d realise how broad and open we are in selecting models, and they’ll realise how important it is to us that we have a mixture of shapes, sizes and looks on our books.

How do you see the future of modelling? I hope we continue to see a broader range of models and looks entering the mainstream modelling scene, and people’s perceptions about what it means to be a model changing. For Models Direct, the size zero debate isn’t a consideration when we’re recruiting models, nor is it the main concern of the majority of our clients. It would be wonderful to see the media and leading designers recognise the lack of variety and to do something positive about it.

So what do you think? What is your opinion on the size zero debate? I’d love to hear from any designers or media people too to hear their point of view.

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4 Responses to “The Size Zero Debate”

  1. Jen Says:

    It's interesting to hear from someone in the mainstream industry. You tend to only think of Kate Moss and other catwalk models when you imagine modelling agencies and all that. How refreshing!! I might give Models Direct a look sometime.

  2. Siany Says:

    Really interesting post! Just curious, which high street shops only stock to size 12? I've never noticed it…

  3. Em Says:

    Ah! I though Jane Norman and Karen Millen only did up to a size 12 but just checked and they both do up to a size 16 now! Really pleased to see that, might have to take a little trip to Karen Millen now…I think some of the ranges House of Fraser stock are in small, medium and large, (which is usually a 12-14), but hopefully they will take the same approach as KM and JN.

  4. Anna Loughrey Says:

    Great post really good to hear from someone in the modelling industry who doesn't believe everyone hs to be really thin


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