Fashion Week in New York has spawned all kinds of conversations about models, thinness and anorexia — including this op/ed in the New York Times urging the fashion industry to promote healthier bodies. The paper makes the important point that the thinness seen in many models isn’t natural, and that these women are being pushed to dangerous extremes:
If the industry needed a wake-up call, it got one last month, when Luisel Ramos, an Uruguayan model who had been advised to lose weight, died of heart failure after taking her turn on the catwalk. She reportedly had gone days without eating, and for months consumed only lettuce and diet soda.
I don’t think anyone expects industry standards to shift immediately. But Madrid has given us some hope, although I’m not sure they go far enough — as Aimee Liu points out in the LA Times, these women need help, not rebuke. While the best-of-the-best fashion models are making a lot of money, the majority of runway models are relying on their bodies for simple survival, and generally aren’t going to be able to check themselves into a treatment center when doing so is expensive and may damage their career. There must be incentives for models to strive to reach healthier weights, and there must be structures in place to help them with disordered eating.
These structures must also be put in place for “regular” women with eating disorders. The vast majority of anorexics and bulimics are not models; they certainly deserve access to treatment as well. But too often, treatment is expensive, inaccessible, not covered by insurance, or only partially covered.
Conversations around this topic are important, but they can be frustrating, as they often devolve into judgmentalism about which bodies are beautiful and shaming women who don’t fit a particular standard — who aren’t skinny enough, or who are too skinny, or who risk their health in order to keep their jobs. Critiquing the systems and social expectations that drive women to this behavior is fine (and when talking about eating disorders, that should obviously also be balanced with discussing genetics and psychological issues). So to preempt any of that, I’ll ask that in the comments section, we focus our discussion on the broader issues, without making comments about our personal opinions about the physical attractiveness of runway models, or skinny women, or fat women, or our ideas of what anorexic women look like.
All that said, I’m at least glad that a paper like the New York Times is covering this issue, and deeming it important enough to editorialize.