Vogue's Health Initiative One Year Later: What's Improving, What's Not

It's been a while since we checked in on Vogue's Health Initiative, which officially celebrated its one year anniversary in June. Introduced last May, the initiative outlined six tenets which would work to promote health and well-being in the pages of Vogue's 19 (now 20) international editions. So how much progress has the Health Initiative one year later? We investigated.
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It's been a while since we checked in on Vogue's Health Initiative, which officially celebrated its one year anniversary in June. Introduced last May, the initiative outlined six tenets which would work to promote health and well-being in the pages of Vogue's 19 (now 20) international editions. So how much progress has the Health Initiative one year later? We investigated.
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It's been a while since we checked in on

Sarah Kees, age 15, in Vogue Italia September 2012

Sarah Kees, age 15, in Vogue Italia September 2012

, it wasn't long before we discovered a (then) 15 year-old Ondria Hardin in the August 2012 edition of Vogue China. The magazine's editor, Angelica Cheung, quickly apologized for the error and insisted that the young model was shot before the initiative started. Fair enough. Unfortunately, only one month later, an editorial appeared in the September 2012 issue of Vogue Italia featuring 15 year-old Sarah Kees.

Since then, though, we have not noticed any age violations. And we're happy to see that things are continuing to improve in 2013. The average model age in the June 2013 issues was 25.3 years, up from 24.1 in 2012. Not to mention that only about 10% of the models cast in those June issues were teenagers, way down from last June's 25%.

Brown & Medina Nutrition, James Scully, Sara Ziff, and Jennifer Starr at Marilyn New York's SS13 panel

Brown & Medina Nutrition, James Scully, Sara Ziff, and Jennifer Starr at Marilyn New York's SS13 panel

A cynic might say that Vogue's current favorites are aging out, soon to be replaced by younger models, and that these numbers are simply a reflection of that. However, an optimist might argue that Vogue is taking this age initiative seriously, and that the industry is listening. They could point to British Vogue's Equity models code, the triumph by the Model Alliance in New York state legislation, and the original CFDA health initiative.

According to one industry source, Vogue's Health Initiative "has, generally speaking, had good progress here in the US," and casting directors have been following through with ID checks, during fashion week and for magazine shoots, though "not everyone does it."

Vogue may have tackled the age issue, but the Initiative has several other stipulations about models' general well-being and health--and in those areas, it's harder to gauge progress.

A quick flip through any issue will show that models are still as thin as ever. But what qualifies as unhealthy, or a model "who appears to have an eating disorder," exactly? Who judges this and how?

At least backstage, conditions seem to be improving. Our industry source told us the CFDA "has been pretty active in the weeks before fashion week the last few seasons, and has encouraged agencies to hold agency-wide meetings as well as have representatives attend those meetings to help educate the younger girls about staying healthy."

The magazine, however, is another subject. Would it be fair to say that all the images appearing in Vogue's 20 international editions in the last year "promote a healthy body image," as the initiative dictates? Probably not. Editorials featuring plus-sized models are token at best, while "shape" and "health" issues and editorials typically only show up once a year, if at all.

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It's tough to find much correlation between the portrayal of healthy body image and the age of the average model used in Vogue magazines. If there was one, Paris would be considered the healthiest edition, with an age average from the past 12 months of 27.4 years, while Russia would be the least healthy at 21.9 years. Unfortunately it's not that simple or clear-cut, and casting older models is not the only answer to improving the industry's approach to body image. But it can't hurt.

The CFDA and Vogue both have the power to inspire change in the industry, but when it comes to curbing the prevelance of young models, as ever, the changes must begin with the age of recruitment.