Rose & Willard introduced a radical new policy – but is it a step towards safeguarding the health of models or an example of the policing of women’s bodies?
The weight of fashion models has long been a topic of controversy. Recently there have been different instances of people trying to implement laws that safeguard the health of those working in the profession. France, for example, has just made it illegal for a model to work without a note from their doctor ensuring that they are eating healthily and not suffering from an eating disorder. A British brand – Rose & Willard – has taken matters into its own hands by introducing a new policy that requires models, as part of their contracts, to eat or forfeit their payment.
Writing in an impassioned essay for The Huffington Post entitled ‘Our Models Will Have No Choice But to Eat’, the brand’s founder, Heidy Rehman, explained more about the policy and her reasons for introducing it. “We are committed to protecting the models who work for us,” she says. “We are now at a crossroads with regard to whether we continue with professional models or our non-model models. If we do opt for the former we have decided that we will include a non-negotiable contractual clause with the model agency which will state that the model must eat a meal and in our presence. We will not allow her to only eat a tiny morsel and/or suggest she’ll eat later. The consequence of non-compliance will be that neither she nor her agency will be paid.”
“Yes, it’s a form of nannying but we feel we have a responsibility to protect these young women from an industry which we believe can leave them exploited and puts them under pressure to starve themselves and damage their health and wellbeing,” she goes on to say. While Rehman’s alleged intentions are clearly well-meaning, measures this drastic are in danger of being patronising at best and guilty of policing women’s bodies at worst.
“Yes, it’s a form of nannying but we feel we have a responsibility to protect these young women from an industry which we believe can leave them exploited” – Heidy Rehman
We reached out to Rehman who insists that her words have been misinterpreted. “We have no intention of imposing any form of draconian measures on anyone,” she said. “We shall certainly not be forcing anyone to eat nor placing them under scrutiny while they eat. We also are not going to impose any conditions upon what the model chooses to eat... Our only requirement is that she eats a meal in order to sustain herself.” She also highlighted the contractual nature of this policy, saying, “We are not applying any force. A contract is not force.”
When it comes to seeing change in this area, Rehman advocates for a self-regulatory approach. “We think this can be achieved by the public applying moral pressure to fashion brands,” she says in her essay for The Huffington Post. “Social media, in our opinion, is the perfect conduit. After all, we have seen how swiftly the ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ protest spread.” Stefania Ferrario’s #DropThePlus campaign and Charli Howard’s open letter to her model agency after they pressured her to lose weight are other examples of this. Whether Rose & Willard’s new policy proves effective or incites change on a broader scale remains to be seen.
Read Heidy Rehman’s essay for The Huffington Post here.