That’s what I think of when I read this NYT article about skinny male models, sent along by Pizza Diavola.
Wasn’t it just a short time ago that the industry was up in arms about skinny models? Little over a year ago, in Spain, designers were commanded to choose models based on a healthy body mass index; physicians were installed at Italian casting calls; Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, called a conference to ventilate the issue of unhealthy body imagery and eating disorders among models.
The models in question were women, and it’s safe to say that they remain as waiflike as ever. But something occurred while no one was looking. Somebody shrunk the men.
I realize that some men have eating disorders, but it’s quite unlikely that they’re looking to fashion models for inspiration/beauty standards in quite the same way that women — who, after all, are pushed to value themselves solely on how well they fit into prevalent beauty standards, which are right now extremely difficult for most women to pull off — are. Men aren’t exactly looking to the tents in Bryant Park for their inspiration. Nor is there — yet — the intense downward pressure for male models to get skinnier and skinnier, until they start dropping dead when they step off the catwalk.
Indeed, men who do have eating disorders often are athletes rather than models. Any sport that has weight classes, such as boxing or wrestling or horse racing, will produce athletes who are not only weight-conscious, but who will go to extremes to maintain a weight at the top of their weight class. My brother wrestled in high school and college (and my mother, who had few social outlets, got reallyreallyreally into being a Wrestling Mom). Weight was never really an issue with him, since he competed in the Heavyweight class, which more or less had no upper end. Though he did once try to get into the 191 class (he’s 6’3″). Fortunately, that didn’t last long, since it made him cranky as hell, not to mention weak and unable to compete as well as he wanted to.
But since our high school had a giant gym with an indoor track, we often hosted kids from New England for the Summer Olympics tryouts (the prize was a trip to the University of Northern Iowa in August! Woo!). Which meant that the Wrestling Moms were asked to host kids from around the region who competed in the tryouts. (In fact, I’ve already written here about one of the guys we hosted, who eventually became one of the first blind climbers to climb Everest — and who was identified as one of the first gay climbers to climb Everest on a local news program).
What got my mom was that these kids who stayed with us (there were two; Erik the blind guy, since we were willing to take his guide dog as well (though our dog wasn’t too happy with that, so Wizard stayed in our finished basement — not a bad deal, since it was the coolest place in the house) and Josh, who was fairly obsessive in his Iran-Contra hearings watching) were sucking weight, and all they wanted to eat was broiled fish and vegetables. Which did us all good, really, but it made all the stories my brother had told of guys running until they passed out (indeed, it seemed like at least one guy died in Iowa every summer), or getting put onto an exercise bike in the aisle of the bus to pedal all the way to the out-of-town match hit home.
Indeed, if guys have skinny role models, they’re likely going to be rock stars, who are not only rather notable for their thinness, but also notable for their drug use. But given the number of paths to acceptability open to men, it’s not seen as imperative for men to emulate male models *or* rock stars. That’s not to say that men don’t have looks pressure on them, but it’s not the same kind of pressure that’s on women. As I said, there are many paths that men have to acceptability, and if rock-star looks are foreclosed to them, they can choose another path.
So why all the fluttering about male models just beginning to slide down the low-body-fat slope? Perhaps it’s just that once a problem becomes one that men deal with, it’s suddenly a real problem, no matter how long women have been dealing with it.