Life / Health

‘They told me I was disgusting’: A former model's experience with being directed to lose weight

Ex-model says ban of size 0 by French fashion giants will benefit the health of talent

Madison Schill during her modelling days.


Madison Schill during her modelling days.

If major French fashion companies are serious about their new promise, zero will no longer be the runway sample size.

In the words of a former Canadian model, “It’s about time.”

Oshawa, Ont., native Madison Schill, who once wore a double-zero as a talent with international agency Ford Models, is thrilled that French fashion giants Kering and LVMH have established a charter pledging not to cast models who wear a size zero.  

The charter also contains a wholesale ban on under-16s modelling adult clothing, restricts teenage models’ work hours, and requires that models of all ages have access to a therapist.

Together, the two conglomerates own the biggest brands on the globe — Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and Dior, to name a handful — and the charter will be enforced worldwide.

Its effect is bound to be felt in Canada, Schill said, because our modelling and fashion industries act as a feeder market for Paris and New York. And if the demand for scary-skinny models dries up there, Canada can be expected to follow suit.

“I’m so happy to see them creating a charter that will comprehensively address an issue that is threatening lives,” Schill said.

She speaks from experience. When she was starting her career, at 15, her agency directed her to lose weight.

Madison Schill today.


Madison Schill today.

“They told me I was disgusting. I was motivated in a fear- and anger-based way to lose weight to prove them wrong,” Schill said.

She dropped 20 pounds from her six-foot frame, eventually hitting a “life-threatening” double-zero size.

A size zero corresponds approximately to a 24-inch waist; and many runway models stand six feet or taller. The average Canadian woman has a 33-inch waist.

“I know there are some girls who are a natural size zero, and you never want to tell anybody what size to be,” Schill said, adding, “Size zero is not a healthy size for me. I was dying.”

Erika Wark, who is a stylist for CTV's The Social and Your Morning, explained the strong business argument for size diversity. When it comes to teen-tiny runway fashions, "It’s hard for real women to envision themselves in the clothing,” she said. "Fashion should be inclusive — everybody has to get up in the morning and put clothes on.

By committing to eliminate size zero, LMVH and Kering are responding to a sea change in the fashion and beauty world: Consumers are demanding to see more diversity, and magazines and modelling agencies have started to respond by portraying a greater diversity of sizes, ages and ethnicities, Wark said — although there's still a long way to go.

Schill retired from the industry at 19 to study at the University of Toronto. Now, as a 23-year-old new grad, she’s back at her pre-modelling size: A four to six. She grew an inch last year — apparently her body rebounding from years of sustained starvation.

Schill, who is now working on a consultancy startup that will focus on inclusive beauty, was careful not to describe the charter as a panacea for the fashion industry’s problems. She’s concerned it puts too much onus on models to speak up and complain, and wants to see other reforms too — a union to advocate for models, and education and training standards for modelling agents who have vulnerable young girls in their care.

Looking back now, she imagines she would have been angry if a size-zero ban was implemented in her modelling days.

On the other hand, “If this had been in place when I was modelling, I think I would still be modelling,” Schill said.  

More on