Me, Models, and an Eating Disorder
Every time I have moved house, jokes are had about the volume of fashion magazines I insist on bringing with me. Teetering piles, stacked up like towers of a city skyline. I began buying the big glossy mags when I turned 15. Fascinated by the beauty, a million miles from my suburban existence in a sweaty polyester school uniform. I spent hours, HOURS, gazing at the slender girls and their utter perfection. And, I spent years, YEARS, suffering from an eating disorder, from the age of 16. There’s a link there.
Alexandra Shulman, ex Editor of Vogue once insisted that size zero models don’t give girls eating disorders. True, models themselves aren't to blame for instigating any eating disorders. Some are perfectly healthy, some have their own eating disorders, and some are simply at a very young and slender age. However, the fashion industry - in my opinion - is undoubtedly a trigger for those susceptible to this illness. I am living proof that images of very thin models in magazines fundamentally do play a role in eating disorders. A few years ago parliament discussed the idea of new laws on modelling and whether the ban of size zero models would help protect both models and viewers. Shulman declared that it would be ‘extremely unfair’ on the fashion industry to weigh and measure models for any new law, calling it ‘degrading and appalling’. But she was focusing only on the models, I’m thinking about the readers. Readers whom all magazine content is aimed at, after all they are basically trying to sell us something. Those readers who have low self esteem, the ones who look at the models believing that a skinny body will result in being loved and accepted. I’m thinking of the readers who go on to starve themselves day after day and make themselves vomit until their knuckles bleed, hoping to find happiness. I think that’s way more degrading and appalling.
My own illness began in the mid 90’s when the waif look arrived. A deathly limp and pallid aesthetic prevailed with an affection for slouched shoulders, jutting ribs and apathy. I adored that look. I adored it because it was presented to me in an aspirational way. I idolised Kate Moss. She was the ideal which my generation was presented with from the media of that time. I had the usual angst and self-doubt of any teenager, probably more-so than most, but I alone didn’t come up with the idea of not eating. I looked up to those models which were shown to me. I somehow figured if I could just look like them I would be loved and admired too. Looking back, I think I hoped I’d finally love myself, if only I could find that perfection. There’s more to it than that, there always is, but images we are constantly shown, well they’re crucial to how we view ourselves.
The vicious cycle of designers wanting emaciated girls to show their clothes, and the editors finding models to fit into those clothes is a murky one within an industry that rarely thinks about reality. Yes, fashion magazines are an escapism, a fantasy. The majority of us don’t look like that and will never buy those clothes. But there comes a point where the magazines, editors, and designers need to remember they are dealing with humans. They are trying to offer us something to desire, but that should stop at the clothes, not the body wearing them. That’s not fair. Trying to get that perfection comes at a way higher price than saving up for any designer dress. I wonder, If you visit a country where fashion magazines don't dominate, do you get as many girls with eating disorders? Probably not. The media is a massive influence, incomparable in its power, but with that power, they must also assume some responsibility. Here in 2021 we are FINALLY (but slowly) seeing a much broader range of (all beautiful) bodies in the fashion industry. The notion that we were sold, of beauty only existing in size zero models, is now thankfully becoming way less valid.
Parliament didn't go forward with the size zero model ban here in the UK, and I don't think that's a wholly bad thing. A model shouldn't be unable to work if that is her natural body size. What is needed more, is diversity and models of ALL shapes, sizes, genders, and ethnicities to be represented in equal measure by the fashion industry. Then we can all see someone to identify with; hence seeing our own bodies as accepted and included. Alongside this, the mental and physical wellbeing of models should always be attended to. In recent years, French fashion heavyweights LVMH and Verring (home to many including Gucci, Dior and Saint Laurent) have committed to stop using models with a worryingly low BMI (which would suggest that they are under their natural weight for their body size) to help improve the health of both models, and the female audience. To ensure any model is well, is the best starting point. SHOW US HEALTHY BODIES OF ALL SIZES.
When Shulman went on to say ‘the point I’m making is that in the main it’s not the generality of looking at a model that is the tipping point for an eating disorder', I disagree. It doesn’t alone create an eating disorder, but can it be the final force that pushes one to develop? Absolutely.
Thank you for reading, it means a lot. If you'd like to support my blog, you can always treat me to a nice mug of tea to sup on while I write. xx