Skinny versus healthy is a debate that has been raging on incessantly in the media, and the minds of women, for not only the last few months, but subconsciously forever. However, the increase in eating disorders over the last few years can not be entirely disconnected with the message coming from the catwalk that emaciation is somehow beautiful.
Women are capable of making their own choices, but images and advice promoting the ideal that being thin will lead to a perfect life are impossible to avoid. Despite being constantly told that curvy is back in fashion, the media presents a very confusing picture. Flick through any women’s magazine, and the chances are that on consecutive pages you will see an article criticising Victoria Beckham’s weight, a photo ridiculing the size of a celebrity’s thighs, and a double page feature promising you the secret of long term happiness if you follow their plan to lose half a stone in three days. Watch an advert break on television and you will see a refreshing campaign by Dove to use ‘real women’, followed by a Weightwatchers advert, or impossibly thin girls promoting a new perfume.
Of course the media can not be solely to blame for eating disorders. No one know what will motivate a girl or woman (male eating disorders are on the increase, but the size 0 debate is generally, if not correctly, confined to a focus on women) to punish their bodies to such an extent that they are unable to have children, their bones are at risk of crumbling due to osteoporosis, muscle eats away at itself, and they are at risk of heart failure. However, neither can it evade any responsibility. The point of the media is to influence people. The constant diet tips, pictures of scrawny celebrities, ‘real life’ tales of how weight loss led to happiness can not be unrelated to the fact that 97% of women now think a size 12 is fat, a third have tried to eat fewer than 500 calories a day in order to lose weight, and 75% constantly watch what they eat.
What does the term ‘healthy’ on the London Fashion Week certificates actually mean? The girls’ bodies may be functioning, therefore they are ‘healthy’, but is it psychologically healthy to be subsisting on lettuce; is it a healthy environment in which anything over a size 6 is seen as huge; is competitive under eating a healthy relationship to have with colleagues?
The message that the models are sending out certainly isn’t healthy. Reports of models such as Ana Carolina, who died due to multiple organ failure, septicaemia and a serious urinary infection caused by anorexia, are in constant opposition to the all the more prevalent message that you can never be too skinny.
However, where does the blame stop? Should websites such as Facebook stop pro-anorexia groups? The site’s owners argue that if they are to do this it would be infringing on people’s rights to make their own decisions. But if these people are psychologically and physically ill (anorexia is both), should they not be guided. Facebook may not get as many hits, but ultimately pro-anorexia groups take lives.
Ironically, the publicity the size zero debate has created may in fact be detrimental. Programmes putting journalists on regimes to get them down to the low weight trivialize the health of these women – suggesting that it is something that can be played about with, leading to no real harm. Sufferers of eating disorders admit that they watch these programmes looking for tips.
Runway models are not to blame themselves for the rise in eating disorders. The surroundings they are in has meant that to work they must be tiny. This environment and the media are influencing women, who are bombarded with the idea that skinny is best. Unfortunately, most women are happy to buy into this image. The relationship with the media is a two way process – if putting clothes on skinny models didn’t make women buy them, they wouldn’t. If women didn’t spend a fortune on dieting books, such as the heavily criticized yet widely read ‘Skinny Bitch’, publishers wouldn’t print so many. London Fashion Week has taken steps to trying to dispel this image, but Madrid went further by banning models with a BMI of under 18 – yes, these prepubescent girls may have been healthy, but a grown up woman with a real life to lead is likely to find living on such low calories diets to be thin more difficult. The media must take some responsibility, as they are creating an unhealthy nation, even if they claim the girls on the catwalk are fine.