“If these allegations are true, it’s despicable. Really bad behaviour,” psychologist Andreas Birgegård, chair of the Swedish Anorexia and Bulimia Society (Svenska Anorexi/Bulimi Sällskapet, SABS), told The Local.
“For people who have an illness centered around weight and looks, it’s catastrophic to throw them into a business that focuses on exactly those things.”
Birgegård’s reactions came following reports that patients at the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders had been approached by agents looking to recruit new models.
“We think this is repugnant. People have stood outside our clinic and tried to pick up our girls because they know they are very thin,” chief doctor Anna-Maria af Sandeberg told the Metro newspaper.
“It sends the wrong signals when the girls are being treated for eating disorders.”
The last incident took place a year ago, when the clinic was forced to change its procedures for the walks that its patients take. One of the patients who was approached by a scout was so ill she was sitting in a wheelchair at the time.
It remains unclear if one or several agencies were responsible for sending scouts to recruit models at the clinic.
In one incident, an agent with one of Sweden’s largest modelling agencies approached a 14-year-old girl and left a business card.
The girl’s mother and care coordinator Chistina Lillman-Ringborg later confronted the agent, explaining that the girl suffered from a serious illness.
“They claimed that they approach healthy, normally slim young people and that they never urge anyone to lose weight; that’s how they defended themselves,” Lillman-Ringborg told the TT news agency.
“I was so upset because this girl was so skinny.”
Many of the girls who were approached last year were in their teens. Some patients have a body mass index as low as 14. A healthy BMI for adult women is considered to lie between 18.5 and 24.9 on the scale, which is a measurement of a person’s height-to-weight ratio.
The clinic has room for 1,700 patients at any one time. The Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders cares for out and in patients with facilities to care for whole families and admit day patients.
The clinic, the biggest of its kind in Sweden, focuses at first on getting starvation, binge-eating and vomiting under control, before moving onto psychological care.
“Co-operation with the family and the social network is an important part of the treatment,” the clinic writes in a statement online.