It has been the world’s fashion bible for decades, its pages adorned with beautiful clothes – all too often modelled by painfully thin women.
But in a groundbreaking move, Vogue has pledged it will no longer use photographs of dangerously underweight models.
In a statement published across all of its 19 international editions yesterday, the magazine’s editors promised not to picture models under the age of 16 or those who they believe have an eating disorder.
They said the six-point pact, called ‘The Health Initiative’, aims to encourage a healthier approach to body image within the fashion industry, which has been lambasted for promoting anorexia.
Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, said: ‘As one of the fashion industry’s most powerful voices, Vogue has a unique opportunity to engage with relevant issues where we feel we can make a difference.’
The magazine also promised to take more measures to look after models, including protecting their privacy and giving them healthy food and drinks backstage at shoots and fashion shows.
Editors agreed to be ‘ambassadors’ for a healthy image and ‘not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder’.
They added: ‘We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.’
Girls under the age of 16 have already been banned from catwalks in London and the US, but this is the first time a magazine has issued its own standards.
In 2009, Miss Shulman spoke out against the practice of designers providing tiny sample sizes.
She sent a strongly worded letter to fashion houses saying she had been forced to hire girls ‘with jutting bones and no breasts or hips’ so they could get into the clothes.
The letter also revealed Vogue regularly re-touched pictures to make models look healthier.
And in yesterday’s statement, Vogue editors said they would encourage designers ‘to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.’
The magazine will also ask modelling agencies not to send underage girls, and for them to check models’ ages when they are photographed for shoots.
The health of catwalk models was brought into the spotlight five years ago, when two young South American models died from what appeared to be complications related to eating disorders.
Their deaths lead to the British Fashion Council banning the use of models under 16, but they are still used in magazines.
Proposals for medical checks were shelved because they were seen as too intrusive.
And Britain has not gone as far as countries including Italy and Spain, which ban catwalk models whose body mass index is below a certain level.
Sara Ziff, 29, a former teen model and the founder of The Model Alliance, a US union which aims to improve working conditions in the fashion industry, welcomed the move.
She said: ‘Most editions of Vogue regularly hire models who are minors, so for Vogue to commit to no longer using models under the age of 16 marks an evolution in the industry.’
In a survey, Miss Ziff found more than half of models start working between the ages of 13 and 16.
Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Vogue’s publisher, Condé Nast International, said: ‘Vogue believes that good health is beautiful.
‘Vogue editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the wellbeing of their readers.’
Mary George, of Beat, an eating disorder charity, said: ‘We would like to see this at the forefront of a change in attitude across the fashion industry worldwide, which is very influential as far as young people are concerned.
‘Because of the standing Vogue has, it will hopefully send a message to the fashion industry from designers through to retailers that these people, who are often very young and vulnerable, need to be protected.’
In addition to agreeing not to knowingly work with models under 16 or with eating disorders, the Vogue pact says the magazines will help ‘structure mentoring programmes’ for younger models and raise awareness of the problem of model health.
The publisher of Vogue, Conde Nast, is also responsible for several other magazines, including Glamour and Allure, but a spokesperson said there are no current plans for these guidelines to be adopted across the company.