How Do Supermodels Stay Thin?

Occasionally we are asked if we will help someone become “super-thin” or “thin like a supermodel.” We will decline to participate when someone wants to drop below a healthy weight. The habits developed by many supermodels trying to become or stay super-thin lead to very unhealthy lifestyles.

Having said that, I will answer your question by excerpting a selection of articles going back to the early sixties.

In 1962, “How to Look Like a Seventeen Model,” informed young women that even a model as slim as Susan Van Wyck, measuring 32-20-33, was told to lose ten pounds at the beginning of her career. Van Wyck told teens, “It was agony dieting … because I love to eat. But I finally made it!” Other popular models also shared their secrets with eager readers, such as this tidbit from that much adored prom-queenesque brunette Colleen Corby: “Even though I love pork chops and steak … I’ve been eating lots of fish … and seafoods [which] are low in calories.”

Perhaps the only 1960s model who reportedly didn’t have to jump through diet and exercise hoops to keep her slender figure was also the skinniest: Twiggy, the icon of Mod at five feet, six inches, and 89 pounds. She admitted to eating “anything, absolute rubbish,” including the ice cream and chocolate sauce piece de resistance “Bananas Twiggy” whipped up especially for her at her favorite London restaurant. Her irreverent eating habits aside, Twiggy set a standard that most models found impossible to reach.

In his book Models, Michael Gross quotes Gillian Bobroff, a British model in the 1960s, as saying, “It was dreadful…. [Twiggy] started a trend, and you had to be just the same. I … started killing myself, taking a million slimming pills. I never ate. I had bulimia. It was a nightmare, trying to keep up.”

Even though the 1970s brought us larger, more healthy-looking images, models still had to diet with Herculean effort to keep their shapes. Cheryl Tiegs, the most highly paid model of that decade, wrote The Way to Natural Beauty, which became a hot seller among young women in 1980. At five feet, ten inches, and 120 pounds, Tiegs offered a variety of dieting tips, including:Weigh in every morning. As soon as you’ve gained a pound, cut back on your food consumption…. I don’t let another morsel pass my lips after 6:00 pm…. I always ask the waiter not to serve me potatoes, rolls, or creamed vegetables if they come with a meal. When I need to drop a pound in a big hurry, I skip dinner, breakfast, and lunch the next day and eat a small dinner the following evening. Tiegs also gave some interesting advice on how to start a diet, which likely reflected her own ambivalence toward such a limited regimen: “Before you go on a serious diet, I recommend that you eat all the food you can manage for three solid days. The point is to overdo it, knowing that you will never overeat again.”

Model/actress Brooke Shields, touted by Calvin Klein in the 1980s as being “the most beautiful girl in the world” came out with her own book, On Your Own, in 1985. A model since she was a baby, Shields, now in her early thirties, admits that she has dieted since she was eight, when she “decided to give up soda pop and pizza.” In On Your Own, she confesses, “I have to diet constantly to keep my weight down” and shares her appetite-squelching bag of tricks, such as eating half a grapefruit and drinking a glass of warm lemon water one-half hour before meals. She is apparently scared to death of her sweet-tooth: “Do whatever you have to do not to indulge in … sweets. Run in place, do sit-ups, sit on your hands – but don’t eat those cookies!”

To Kim Alexis, one of the most sought-after models of the 1980s, looking back on a hugely successful modeling career revives some especially painful memories. She told People:I remember trying every fad diet … starving myself for four days in a row. I remember trying the Atkins diet, which was low carbohydrate, high protein. If I didn’t drop ten pounds in a week, I was on to another diet. I think I was a normal person before I started screwing around with all these diets. My metabolism got screwed up. I lost my period…. I cried for the first year of my career. Now in her mid-thirties, Alexis admits that she’s suffered “long-term health effects from the crazy diets.” Today she eats healthy, low-fat meals and insists, “I’m a big, strong girl.” The only apparent residue from her model dieting mentality is that she reportedly takes CitriMax, a natural appetite suppressant that she has also endorsed.

Supermodels may be enjoying a bigger piece of the beauty-industry pie in the 1990s, but the standards by which they are judged by agents and clients have also escalated. They must model fashions that, according to Vogue’s May 1995 “Point of View”, “demand a body at its personal peak. Hard work is one way to get there; counting calories is another…. A well-honed physique is worth any price.”

Articles and books proclaiming the strenuous diets and work-out schedules of models – 1990s’ style – are ubiquitous in bookstores, on newsstands, and in grocery store checkout lines. In Glamour’s “The Secret Life of Models,” we learn that fewer than 5 percent of the supermodels have a stick of butter in their refrigerator. Diet & Exercise magazine tells us that Vendela, the Swedish-born supermodel, works out one-and-a-half to two hours every day with a personal trainer. Nadja Auermann’s fitness regimen includes swimming, riding a stationary bicycle, aerobics, and weight training with elastic bands. Linda Evangelista admits to spending all her free time on maintenance: “Every day is a battle….”I’m talking about dieting. I’m talking about working out. I’m talking about health and skin quality.”

Actresses also deserve some recognition for the suffering intrinsic to their profession. Like models, they’re under the gun. If they’re considered fat and unfit, they’re considered unattractive – which spells failure in a field overflowing with one “perfect”-looking woman after another. According to an article in Longevity, Pamela Anderson Lee had a contract with “Baywatch” that strictly forbade her to gain weight. The article says that Anderson Lee “follows a mind-boggling fitness regimen. Even during non-working months, Anderson keeps to a rigorous program of 25-mile mountain bike rides or one- to two-hour athletic walks, plus 50 lap pool swims or more strenuous ocean swims.” The Redbook article “Take It Off Like a Star” described Oprah Winfrey as having “a maniac exercise routine” that includes two daily four-mile runs, plus 45 minutes on the Stairmaster and 350 sit-ups. The article reported, “In an eight-month period, [Winfrey] walked, climbed, biked, and hiked about 2,260 miles – the distance from her own Harpo Studios in Chicago to Eureka, California.”

In January of 2007, The Academy of Eating Disorders, an International Doctors’ Organization reported that they would release a series of recommendations for the American Fashion Designers to follow when selecting models. They would like the Fashion Industry to take responsibility for the health of their models and not promote unhealthy eating behaviors and an unhealthy image by the models.