The other evening I joined an interesting group of doctors, editors, models and lawyers in order to speak with Dr. Herzog, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital, about his work with the CFDA’s Health Initiative. Along with fellow model Doutzen Kroes, I had the chance to speak before the group.
Today I’ve seen some positive and some rather negative feedback regarding the parts of my speech that have been made public. With this in mind I have decided to publish my entire speech below - Coco Rocha.
I would like to thank the Harris Center for inviting me to speak today. I’m deeply appreciative of the research, education and advocacy you provide, as well as for your outreach program to the CFDA.
I’m sure to many in the audience, my industry - fashion - must appear to be something like the Wild West. Specifically within the field of modeling, a smaller part of that industry, we are essentially entirely unregulated and this is the way it’s been for a long time now. The models who make up this highly visual workforce are mostly teenage girls, many of whom are largely seen as disposable commodities. It’s no secret that there’s an immense pressure put on these girls to maintain a specific look and, for quite a while now, that specific look has been impossibly thin. Models know they have a shelf-life, and they know that if they can’t maintain the look, they will be replaced.
Often the pressure is very direct with some designers, stylists and agents in no uncertain terms, pushing these young girls to take measures that often lead to anorexia or other health problems in order to remain in the business a few extra seasons. I myself felt this pressure very early in my career as a fashion model. I recall being specifically told by someone of authority, much older and supposedly wiser than I, that the “look” that year was anorexia. He said to me, “We don’t want you to be anorexic but that’s what we want you to look like.” For a young girl of 15 you can imagine how confusing and disturbing that statement was.
A large part of the problem is that models come into this business at 13, 14 or 15, before their bodies are even close to being finished developing. Often they are the tall, skinny girls in middle school, with none of the curves that they will one day inherit. Within a year or two these girls are developing into women and they are not told that this is OK. On the contrary, they’re told that they are losing their edge, losing money, and losing favor in the eyes of their clients, and so they struggle to take measures that will please those they look up to. When I was younger, many miles away from home, I turned to diuretic pills to lose weight. One day, I took so many on an empty stomach that I spent hours doubled over and racked with pain. At that time I promised myself that I would never again take such drastic measures in order to please others.
To this day I question how anyone can justify an aesthetic that reduces a woman or child to an emaciated skeleton. Surely fashion’s aesthetic should enhance and beautify the human form, not destroy it.
Why should there be a difference between being healthy and being a model? In my mind, the two should be one and the same. We demand and we legislate that our sports stars achieve success without the use of dangerous drugs and supplements that would otherwise harm their bodies in the long run. Why should we not encourage and even require that our runway and editorial stars also hold themselves to a higher standard?
I strongly disagree with the argument that designers, art directors and casting agents are just giving the public what they want. Did the public want an iPad before they saw one? Make no mistake, the public is told what it wants and advertising is a multi-billion-dollar industry based on that very concept. If advertising set a healthy precedent, then the public would learn to accept the new aesthetic. Not only would this benefit the models, but also women in general, as it’s common knowledge that images reflected by the media often amount to a looking glass through which young women in America and all over the world view themselves.
As far as these images go, we can’t put all the blame on the model. I consider myself a healthy and well-balanced woman, but there have been times where I’ve been shocked at how I appear in print. In fact there are now clients I’ve stopped working with because of their overzealous use of Photoshop - essentially reconfiguring my body into an impossible ideal.
For this reason I partnered with a fashion brand this summer on an entirely Photoshop-free shoot. What I really admired was that the brand was attempting to balance out the scales a little by pulling so far back from what has been the current trend of total digital model manipulation. I don’t expect that all brands will jump on-board and cut out Photoshop use entirely, neither do I think that it’s necessary, but I do hope that the campaign might help some in our industry stop and think about what the public really wants or even needs to see before they shrink another model down to an impossible size. Whether this is a lasting trend or not, it’s a little too early to tell.
We have in our midst other champions of a better way in the form of the CFDA which has been a huge advocate of Health As Beauty. Though they are a council of fashion designers (not models), they have kindly allowed models to share their umbrella and have worked hard to protect the models that American designers work with. The Ambassador Program they instituted this last fashion week had veteran models from many of the major agencies speaking to the up-and-coming models about the issues they would be and were currently facing. We need much more of this. These girls need to know they have an entire army of support behind them. For this reason, the CFDA has encouraged agencies to work closely with nutritionists, trainers and doctors, providing the support a girl in that position really needs.
For so long the problem has been that each model is essentially an “independent contractor” and has had to fight a battle of negativity all by herself. Many of these girls are now thousands of miles from their homes, perhaps dealing with social and language barriers. The one thing they understand all too well is the looks or disparaging remarks they get when they don’t fit in the dress, and the feeling of being 15 in a room full of disappointed-looking adults. Up until recently, models have had few advocates and hardly any standards governing their working life, as we are one of the only industries who have not successfully unionized.
On behalf of the many models I know and love, I thank you for all your hard work and your time. I hope that through our continued efforts we can ensure a lasting change for the better within my industry.