Jo Swinson supports size 6 model who was told she was “too big” for her agency

Last week model Charli Howard hit the headlines when she wrote an open letter to her modelling agency who had told her that at a mere size 6, she was too big to work. From the Independent:

“The more you force us to lose weight and be small, the more designers have to make clothes to fit our sizes, and the more young girls are being made ill. It’s no longer an image I choose to represent,” she wrote.

Howard’s letter made headlines globally and comes after a number of models have openly criticised the fashion industry for body-shaming by telling them they need to lose weight.

In yesterday’s Sunday Times (£) former Equalities Minister and Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson was quick to give Charli her support, telling the paper:

“Having been minister for women, I recognise that government has limitations on addressing these issues. You are working against centuries of ingrained inequality in society and the only way we can properly create the change that we need is if people in all different parts of society — bosses, colleagues in the workplace, parents, and consumers — use their power. I want to pull together the strands of the problem but also be positive about the actions — even the micro-actions — people can take to change things”.

The report added:

Swinson, who is writing a book on equality, believes people power will make the difference when government is unable to act. She says women should take “micro-actions” to force brands to ditch idealised images which she believes damage self-esteem and can lead to eating disorders. She has set up a company to help businesses to improve the diversity in their “talent pipeline”.

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  • I’m not sure about this one. The feeling from people I know in the modelling industry (including very politically involved feminists) is that this was about tone and skin condition. Clearly when you’re a model, having a good physical condition is important. “Size” generally refers to weight/ fat content which doesn’t appear to have been the issue here.

  • Ruth Bright 19th Oct '15 - 5:15pm

    Obviously it is sick to tell a woman who is a size 6 to lose weight. But I wonder where we draw the line with this? I have terrible acne. Portraits for my General Election leaflet were all retouched to give me perfect skin. Have I been oppressed by society’s pressure for a porcelain complexion? Probably not!

  • @Peter
    The modelling agency concerned has said as much.

    Of course the irony here is that if Charli Howard’s agency had actually managed to find her work, then Swinson would have been perfectly happy to be the one telling her that her size is unacceptable (by which I mean, too thin) and hence not suitable for modelling work :-

    The model in the story above is a size 6, like Charli Howard.

    Swinson is right that we need far more body diversity in the media, but her cure for this problem is profoundly wrong-headed. Encouraging women to “take ‘micro-actions’ to force brands to ditch idealised images” sounds to me like a green light for skinny shaming – which, all too often, is what the body confidence movement resorts to. Not only does this not work, but two wrongs never made a right.

  • Are we saying here that Charli Howard misled sections of the media (and hence, the public) over this? Or are we saying that the agency actually used both physical size AND skin condition as reasons for not continuing to employ her? It seems to me that there is a lack of the full story being told by various players in this. As a former Personnel Officer dealing with discipline and grievance matters, I am fairly familiar with this!

  • @Tim13
    “Are we saying here that Charli Howard misled sections of the media (and hence, the public) over this? Or are we saying that the agency actually used both physical size AND skin condition as reasons for not continuing to employ her? It seems to me that there is a lack of the full story being told by various players in this.”

    That’s what happens when journalists rely entire on Facebook posts for their stories! I wonder how much effort Swinson has made to get both sides of the story?

  • I think that if the Lady is not happy with the industry then do something else I think that this industry is like a meat factory it does not portray females or males in a good light and causes in some instances conditions like anorexia.

  • @Will
    The trouble is that while it might seem obvious to some that the fashion industry causes anorexia, actual evidence to back this up is patchy at best, downright contradictory at worst. In fact, anorexia is such a complex condition that it would be very difficult to even prove such a link in principle.

    The main gripe I have with the body confidence lobby is that they are regularly focussing on such an (unproven) link while paying far less attention to other factors which most researchers would say are far more significant. If somebody is suffering from a complex and potentially deadly mental illness, it’s not helpful to fob them off with simplistic and non-evidence-based explanations for it and encourage them to blame thin models for their problems. We’ve had years of this approach from the body confidence lobby now, and all the while the incidence of eating disorders has been rising alarmingly, while body confidence has been plummeting. It’s time for a foot-on-the-ball moment I think, because the current strategy is not working.

    A very sensible article here by a former anorexia suffererer :-

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