Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

OMG, I find myself writing about fashion week…

with 3 comments

Whoa. Interesting perspective on the whole ‘are models too skinny?’ issue from Lisa Hilton at The Daily Beast. Basically, she says that a) criticizing fashion culture for the harm it does to the models is patronizing to models, and b) criticizing models for being bad role models for women is  patronizing to women.

We rarely get hysterical about the weight qualifications required of male sportsmen. Jockeys, boxers, and wrestlers put themselves through torture to make weight. A survey published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine lists a range of weight-loss methods for jockeys that would make any model agency proud—69 percent skip meals, 34 percent use diuretics, 67 percent sweat off the pounds in the sauna, 30 percent regularly vomit and 40 percent use laxatives. So where are the angry headlines and government initiatives to fatten up our jockeys? Perhaps in sport, the sacrifices are viewed as noble, and the rewards (prize money or prestigious college scholarships) seen as secondary to the noble end of winning for its own sake. Shifting dresses is after all a frivolous little multibillion dollar industry. Or is it that men are considered psychologically robust enough to admire the buff beauties of GQ or Men’s Health without getting their tighty-whities in a twist? Women, it is implied, are too fragile to make a distinction between the Victoria’s Secret catalogue and their own closets.

What’s more, to say that eating disorders are caused by runway shows is insulting to people with eating disorders, Hilton says:

Women recovering from severe eating disorders consistently report that their illness was not induced by the desire to look like Gisele, but by far more complex psychological issues. Is it not demeaning to insist that such women were gripped by nothing more than vanity?

That’s a really good point. I had “disordered eating” habits once. I frequented eating disorder chat rooms and livejournal groups (oh, yes). I’ve talked to a lot of girls with eating disorders. And as cliched as it sounds, it’s almost always about control, or making up for perceived inadequacies in other parts of life, not about looking like ladies in magazines. Or, not just about that. When it is about looks, it’s tied up in deeper things, deeper symbolism imbued in extreme thinness; it’s signaling on a deep psychological scale.

So I kind of dig Hilton’s point.


Written by Elizabeth

February 9, 2010 at 11:33 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I used to work for a fashion show producer. One of the things I did was cast models.

    The young woman Hilton cited who made a million dollars before she turned twenty and put herself through Columbia is the exception. Yes, models can make decent money, but the number who work for top designers, get campaigns and make great money is small. Many can get steady catalog or commercial work and make decent money. And then there is the layer of the iffier jobs…car shows, being “guests” at parties, clubs, etc…. the underbelly of the industry. Outside of Milan is a town w/ strip clubs where the models who don’t make it (and who don’t have enough money to get home or have no home) find work work. There are similar places in many of the other cities. Some find sleazy “benefactors”. But this is a whole other story.

    The difference between these female models manipulating their weight and the male sportsmen is that MANY MANY of the girls are young………14, 15, 16, 17……….underage. And their bodies are still developing, so the cocaine, heroin and not eating damages their bodies while they are still developing.
    Many of the girls come from poor countries and/or poverty, unstable homes, and this is their way out. And many of them do not have a supportive and stable family to help them keep things in perspective. And if they don’t make it, they can’t go back. So, the pressure is on. And b/c they are so young, many don’t even have a basic high school education. They have their looks and nothing to fall back on.
    I don’t know if I can buy that starving oneself and using drugs to reduce weight/control appetite is empowering.

    Whether women w/ anorexia and other eating disorders are influenced by models or emaciated actresses and the images in the media on top of their inadequacies, daddy issues, control issues, etc….is probably debatable. There is not one unified reason for eating disorders, but, in a hyper-self conscious MySpace Facebook world where people “curate” their image online, looking good (in a generically acceptable way) seems to be more important than ever. I would imagine that conforming to an acceptable weight might be a factor for some whose bodies just naturally are not thin.

    I get why you dig Hilton’s point but I don’t think she really digs deeply enough.

    I researched models and the fashion industry in the mid 90’s for a documentary and eating disorders (not amongst models but the effect of models on regular people) was one of the topics…..I spoke w/ a clinic in the midwest and the director told me that many of the patients were obsessed w/ Kate Moss. This, I believe, was on top of their other issues. She was just their Body Goal.


    February 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

  2. I wonder if she realizes how many women who become overweight or obese later in life started out having eating disorders in their teens/20s? One often follows the other – flip side of the same disorder, and often, metabolisms are ruined by extreme dieting.


    February 15, 2010 at 1:45 am

  3. Franklin, I don’t think anyone’s saying it’s “empowering.” Just that it is a rational tradeoff for some. In a perfect world, no one has to make those kind of tradeoffs at all. But for your hypothetical uneducated 14-year-old eastern european orphan model, life is going to be no cake walk no matter what route she takes, and every way to earn a living is going to involve tradeoffs … I’m not (and I don’t think Hilton was either) saying that modeling, and its career hazards, are the best choice to make, even .. just that they can, even with their attending sacrifices, be rational choices, or at least as rational of choices as any …


    February 16, 2010 at 11:18 am

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