YSL ad ban: Scarily thin women are indefensible – even to ambitious models

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An extremely skinny girl lies, prone, on the floor. Her body looks passive, her expression uncomfortable. Her ribs are visible and her thighs appear to be the same circumference as her shins; she is all angles and jutting bones.

Yet this isn’t a scene from a developing country, plagued by famine or disease. It’s fashion.

And, as a model, I find it truly shocking.


Thankfully, so did the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) who have just banned the YSL advert pictured above. It features 18-year-old model Kiki Willems, a Dutch native who has walked exclusively in the brand’s Paris Fashion Week catwalk shows for the past two seasons.

They called it ‘irresponsible’ and criticised its promotion of ‘anorexia chic’:

‘The ASA considered that the model’s pose and the particular lighting effect in the ad drew particular focus to the model’s chest, where her rib cage was visible and appeared prominent, and to her legs, where her thighs and knees appeared a similar width, and which looked very thin, particularly in light of her positioning and the contrast between the narrowness of her legs and her platform shoes.

‘We therefore considered that the model appeared unhealthily underweight in the image and concluded that the ad was irresponsible.’

The French fashion house has responded by saying that it does not believe the model was unhealthily thin and has thus far not offered any further justification.

Rebecca Pearson (photo: Samin Ghiasi)

Well, I agree with the ASA wholeheartedly. I can’t believe someone ever thought this would make a good campaign image.

Frankly, to me, it is indefensible. Especially on a day when the NHS has revealed that hospital admission for UK teenagers with eating disorders have nearly doubled in the last three years. And when you consider the supposedly tough new laws France brought in earlier this year to clamp down on models below a certain BMI appearing on catwalks and photo shoots.

Looking at this as a customer, I don’t feel empowered. I don’t find it ‘edgy’ and editorial – and I definitely don’t want to buy any of the clothes she’s wearing.

And, as a model, I’m horrified. I don’t see an image of a naturally skinny model, still heading out of puberty and who hasn’t grown into her looks yet. I merely see someone who appears unhealthily thin and uncomfortable.

I have thought for some time that action needs to be taken against the increasingly skinny frames that models in high fashion are expected to maintain.

Houses such as YSL are incredibly powerful taste-makers. So if their sample sizes get tinier every season, those models looking to succeed have no choice but to follow suit.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Kiki Willems on the catwalk for Saint Laurent, walking in the brand’s spring/summer 2015 show

The ASA ban is being welcomed by body image campaigners. Samantha Arditti, head of the Be Real Campaign, the UK’s national movement for body confidence, said:

“This is a prime example of advertisers selecting models based on the outdated premise that the only way to sell products is by presenting an idealised view of the female body – in this case showing a model who is so thin that she is deemed unhealthily underweight.

“We need media, advertisers and publishers to use images that show a diverse range of models to reflect what we really look like so we can feel more confident about who we are, which in turn will not only lead to a healthier attitude to our bodies but a society that values health above appearance.”

I disagree that the YSL picture shows an ‘idealised form’ of the female body. I spend my days surrounded by models and this girl is not typical of the lean figures I see in the commercial modelling world.

This image is of one extreme body, in an industry that increasingly embraces extremes as the ideal, or desirable.

Take Tess Holliday, a size 24-6 supermodel and another darling of the fashion world – with an enormous and devoted Instagram following and who recently graced the cover of People Magazine.

Tess Holliday (photo: Instagram)

Diversity on catwalks and in magazines is great. But it seems that, to succeed, models have to take these body extremes to the furthest limit (risking their health in the process) in order to have serious clout in their careers.

Someone recently joked to me that if I wanted to make it big I should either become really skinny or incredibly fat, as merely being healthy and normal looking would get me nowhere. We laughed, but the sad fact is: there was a grain of truth in it. This is not diversity.

It’s why I was surprised (although pleasantly so) to hear that the ASA had actually taken the step of banning the YSL ad.

It has sent a very clear message to powerful fashion houses: they must consider the consequences of those images they choose to sell their wares.

With a few more rulings like this, maybe just maybe, we could see a move towards using models whose only shock value is how much they look like the rest of us.

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