Model size matters more if you're black

Are black models under more pressure to be skinny than white models? Yes, says a recent research paper published by the Perception Lab at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Entitled African and Caucasian body ideals in South Africa and the US, the paper finds that black models in South Africa are skinnier than their white counterparts and links this to "research in South Africa showing that female African university students report significantly more eating disorder pathology than female white students".

The researchers, led by Vinet Coetzee, head of genetics at the University of Pretoria, collected weight and height data on 572 black and white models working in South Africa and the US.

It was concluded that black models were heavier than white models in the US but the situation was reversed in South Africa.

According to Coetzee, locally, black models are significantly skinnier than white models, "indicating that some groups of African women in South Africa might be experiencing more cultural pressure to be thin".

Last week, Durban model Carol Makhathini told The Mercury newspaper that because black models are automatically assumed to be larger than the "other girls", the pressure to be thin is even greater than usual.

She added that when she started modelling she was "probably a [size] 34 and needed to be a 32 or 30".

Makhathini's booker, Tiffany Prior of Ice Model Management, says that though Makhathini is not naturally lithe, she works hard at exercising and maintaining a fit body.

"She most certainly has felt pressure during her career as she is not a naturally skinny girl, but most South African women aren't."

That Makhathini has been booked on many shoots this year is a testament to the fact that, in the fashion industry, "healthy is in".

Carl Heunis, a director of G3 Models in Johannesburg, says the country's fashion industry doesn't go for skinny-skinny girls.

"There is a standard model size," he says. "If you're a model you have to be . a size 32 to 34."

In other words, don't even entertain ambitions of being a model if you don't fit in this size range.

"At O Magazine in South Africa, we have worked with many black models for our fashion pages who are not strictly sample size as their hips and general bone structure is larger," says fashion editor Robyn Cooke.

"That's the way we like them - healthy, in proportion and beautiful. But many stylists, producers and designers in our industry don't want to have to work a bit harder to accommodate their natural physique, so many of these girls have been encouraged to slim down to super-skinny size, just to squeeze into samples.

"We have an editorial industry voraciously hungry for experienced, good, black models. There is room for beautiful girls of all sizes in it."

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