The skinny on models

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It was pretty hard to miss this model’s ribcage — even amid all the blinding Pucci and Gucci prints — in the NYT style section today.
Spain’s decision to keep super-bony supermodels off the catwalk has been widely covered. But let’s face it– banning skeletal runway models won’t really have much effect. The truth is that most young women see images of disgustingly skinny celebrities and models everywhere– on billboards, in movies, in magazines and on television. And I don’t think we should be passing legislation that mandates a minimum body weight for any woman who appears in the media.
Symbolically, though, I do like the fact that the Spanish government has publicly recognized that it’s destructive to hold up this body type as an ideal. Now if only magazine editors and casting directors would agree, we might actually get somewhere.

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34 Comments

  1. Posted September 29, 2006 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    But isn’t the catwalk where fashion begins? Granted, one fashion show probably won’t make much of a difference, but if other fashion shows follow suit, it could butterfly into a really positive step for women. If designers have no choice but to design clothing for women who are not nearly killing themselves to stay skinny, they’re not going to waste time also designing clothing for people who are unhealthily skinny. And if the too-skinny clothing isn’t being designed, it’s not going to be featured in magazines or movies either. So even though right now it’s not huge, I think this is a major positive step.

  2. Posted September 29, 2006 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    wow. looking at that picture, i teared up a bit like i was looking at a starving ethiopian child.
    what high fashion is doing to these women (and all of us, to a lesser extent) borders on atrocity.

  3. Posted September 29, 2006 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I feel so bad for that model. The things is that she probably doesn’t even realize how unhealthy she looks.

  4. Posted September 29, 2006 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    The first part of the solution is recognizing there is a problem. I commend Spain’s recognition of the problem.

  5. catscosmos
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    “disgustingly skinny”
    Seriously, passing judgement on body weight is not cool, especially on a feminist site. Please remember that there are naturally thin people, people struggeling with anorexia, and people with illnesses that do not deserve to be called disguting. I’m just now gaining the weight back after finishing chemo, it’s nice to know that you would have found me disgusting just a month ago.

  6. Vervain
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    That picture is truly horrifying. The last time I saw anything like it was on one of those Animal Planet ASPCA shows, on a dog that had been starved–for which the owner was arrested for cruelty. I don’t suppose anyone will be arrested for the state of this woman, but someone probably should be.
    Banning too-skinny models is probably a step in the right direction, provided they have a means of measurement that doesn’t also exclude models who are naturally very thin.
    A better solution would be for the designers to acknowledge that models are human beings, not freaking coathangers–but I’ve noticed in the media coverage that the people who really need to change this attitude are the same ones whining about the ban and making excuses…so I guess it won’t happen.
    Sigh. That poor woman…

  7. Posted September 30, 2006 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Anorexia is definitely horrible, but I have to agree with catscosmos on one thing–I’ve seen women and men who were almost (not quite, but almost) as skinny as the model in that photo who didn’t want to be so skinny, who wanted to gain weight, but just were. Not that I see this as any criticism of Ann–it is horrific when women starve themselves like that–but I do feel the need to say, in conversations like this, that there are a small number of people who are just plain skinny and wish they weren’t.
    Some of the rhetoric I’ve seen in the past on other sites re: fashion shows has bothered me in this regard. For example, for a long time it was fashionable to refer to models as having bodies “like eight-year old boys.” I probably said that once or twice myself. But it isn’t literally true–they’re still women–and I know one or two beautiful and happy women who are short, really skinny, and do not have large breasts, and in my eagerness to protect the vast majority of women who don’t look like that from feeling like that’s the only way to be beautiful, I don’t want to say anything disparaging about people who naturally have a certain body shape.
    Speaking as a heterosexual man, I can say that if a man says “She’s ugly–she’s too fat” or “She’s ugly–she’s too skinny,” it’s sort of like if a man says he hates his vegetables or prefers beer to wine. But a true connoisseur, a true bon vivant, is not a picky eater but one who can enjoy a wide range of foods.
    And any heterosexual man who limits his standard of beauty–by excluding women above a certain weight, or excluding women who aren’t large-breasted, or what have you–is ultimately limiting the range of his experience, draining all of the joy that comes with beauty from his life and choking it, starving it, stunting its growth, to the point where it is so small and so neglected that only the tiny and increasingly artificial commodified woman can ever completely please him.
    And since that woman doesn’t exist in the real world, I think that’s tragic. Not as tragic for the man as it is for the many women who try to live up to that impossible standard…but still tragic.
    Cheers,
    TH

  8. chase
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    Xylophone duet anyone?
    On a completely unrelated topic, what is with the whole ideal of having an ideal body type? Around the enforced minimum BMI in Spain, the emphasis on the move was that of avoiding promoting women that “looked unhealthy.” I’m rather a big fan of what is healthy, rather than what looks healthy. Granted, extreme body weights (ie very heavy or very light) are more likely to be unhealthy, but, my point is that healthy can look like anything. What’s the point in perpetrating this healthy body type fallacy?
    *smacks head* Oh, that’s right. There’s money to be made in making women feel less than about their appearance. Whole industries of it in fact. Silly me.

  9. nervous_aesthete
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty disappointed when I see hypocritical commentary like this on Feministing. Why oh why did you have to refer to very thin women as “disgusting”?

  10. Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen women and men who were almost (not quite, but almost) as skinny as the model in that photo who didn’t want to be so skinny, who wanted to gain weight, but just were.
    I know what you’re saying… speaking as someone who probably weighs about 20 pounds less than he should.
    Why oh why did you have to refer to very thin women as “disgusting”?
    Ann did no such thing. As far as I can tell, she said “disgustingly skinny,” which is very different from calling skinny women disgusting.
    It’s like talking about “disgustingly sexualized women” vs. saying that women who make an effort to look good are disgusting.

  11. Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I saw that picture, too, and it almost made me sick to look at it; however, I’m not sure that criticizing the underweight models about their body appearance is a good solution. In fact, I’m almost certain it isn’t. Doing so leaves the focus on body image rather than on health. It probably only hurts the self esteem of the under-BMI models. Isn’t self esteem something that is a problem in a lot of anorexic women and girls … and anorexic boys and men, too? After all, some of the other models are probably just as unhealthy while looking just as thin (i.e. skinny) and yet still have the acceptable BMI.

  12. Posted September 30, 2006 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    So far it’s just a coarse approximation for health, obviously – I still don’t think it’s a good idea to concentrate on it, but I don’t know if there’s a more effective indicator to zoom in on, either.

  13. Raging Moderate
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    If it’s acceptable to call someone “disgustingly skinny” is it also acceptable to call someone “disgustingly fat”?

  14. Ann
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m incredibly sorry to have offended any readers who are naturally very skinny, or very skinny due to illness, cancer, anorexia, etc.
    I do think it’s disgusting that this incredibly skinny body type, which few people are born with, is held up as an ideal over and over and over. I’m pretty sure that many, many female celebrities and models’ natural body weight is higher than the one they have to maintain in order to keep their jobs. This photo seeemed an extreme example of that. And that’s disgusting to me, not this body type in general.
    I’m sorry I didn’t makee that clear.

  15. dhsredhead
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me or is this “what about the women who are naturally this thin, isn’t this discrimination based on weight?” just an excuse to uphold our culture’s focus on this type of beauty standard? If a woman is below her BMI, she isn’t healthy, she may be naturally underweight due to some health condition, such as an overactive thyroid…but technically she isn’t “healthy” “average” or “normal”. I’ve always gotten alot of negative comments because I am a very petite woman. Yet many of the models I see on TV and in magazines are even thinner then I am and almost a foot taller then me. I’m seriously concerned about where our culture is going with this type of standard and what the effects will be. Also, many super-thin actresses and models have recently gone to rehab for drugs or eating disorders. I think its pretty clear that Kate Moss is “naturally thin” thanks to cocaine, not genetics.

  16. trueblue_ethel
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    oh, give me a break. I’m sure some women are naturally very thin, but it’s not as though modeling is the ONLY job a thin woman can do.
    The fact of the matter is, I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of models are not naturally as skinny as they are. They survive on a diet of cigarettes and diet coke, and they’re killing themselves. Let’s stop making concessions for an abusive industry, especially when it’s frivolous.

  17. Posted September 30, 2006 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think anyone here is making concessions for an abusive industry, but “skinny chicks are gross” is not a sentiment I think we should be propagating. Isn’t it enough to say that it’s cruel to put women in a position where they feel like they have to starve themselves, induce vomiting, do drugs, etc. to fit these ridiculous whims? Do we really have to say the women are ugly, too? What does that accomplish? (And I accept that Ann wasn’t saying that, by the way.)
    The metaphor that would come to my mind is if the industry liked short women–if you had to be under 5’2″ to be a model–and women who wanted to get into the modeling industry responded to this need by cutting their legs off at the knees and using prosthetic feet. This would not make all 5’1″ women ugly, it would not make the women who had inflicted this injury on themselves ugly, but it would certainly make the process, the demands of the industry, ugly.
    We lose our moral standing if we say that models shouldn’t kill themselves because it makes them look unattractive. Uhm, no. They shouldn’t kill themselves because they shouldn’t kill themselves, and that’s plenty good reason on its own.
    And this is not an abstract thing for me. I really do know women, who I do not believe to be anorexic, who are skinny enough that they would fit right in on the catwalks of Milan.
    Cheers,
    TH

  18. Panic
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    TH,
    I was a bit disturbed at your comparing women to food. Though, while I’m sure you didn’t think of it this way, it is a bit apt, given the topic: women are starving; men devour them.

  19. Posted September 30, 2006 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Panic, that crossed my mind after I’d posted the message, too–that women are literally being consumed by this industry. When we’re talking about something as basic and biological as beauty, taste is the most obvious metaphor that comes to mind. But in retrospect, I kind of wish I’d gone with music instead.
    Cheers,
    TH

  20. EG
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    You know, this issue cuts close to the bone for me, too, because I am one of those women who are naturally skinny.
    But I think Ann was right. She wrote: “The truth is that most young women see images of disgustingly skinny celebrities and models everywhere…” And that’s true. She didn’t say that women who are naturally thin are disgusting, and it strikes me as naive to think that Hollywood celebrities and models just “naturally” look the way they do. I truly am disgusted by the photo in this post. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing that semi-starvation is ugly. It is a perverse culture that labels self-destructure of any kind beautiful. I am very thin (a little too thin for my peace of mind, actually–but that’s a stress/health issue), but you can’t see each individual vertabrae through my skin, and that’s because naturally skinny is not the same as half-starved. A naturally skinny person eats well but has a certain body type. A half-starved person–and that’s what most of these models are–is not getting enough to eat. I don’t see anything wrong with finding someone who is suffering from a disfiguring illness–say, anorexia–to be unpleasant to look at. The disfigurement isn’t innate–it’s one of the effects of the illness–and it doesn’t mean that people who are not disfigured but have traits similar to the effects of the illness are ugly.
    It is not, I think, comparable to disliking the looks of a given body type, or to calling people with scars, hernias, or deformities ugly, because it’s about the implications and associations of the looks. Being half-starved indicates terrible ill health and perhaps a nearness to death, and so it is truly disturbing to look at. But my friend with a disfigurement that is the result of an accident–well, that doesn’t indicate ill health or anything like that.
    This is, perhaps, not the clearest series of ideas I’ve ever posted. Really, what I want to say in a nutshell is that I don’t interpret Ann’s assessment of a half-starve model as “disgustingly skinny” to be at all applicable to those of us who are just, y’know, thin. Like, when my grandfather went through chemo, he lost all his hair and much weight–he looked terrible. He looked terrible because chemo ravages the body, and his ill health was reflected in his looks. But that doesn’t mean that all elderly men who are naturally thin and bald look terrible, because their looks aren’t a reflection of ill health.

  21. EG
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    And of course, all that about beauty being linked to health aside, I still find cigarette smoking terribly attractive! How messed up is that?

  22. Posted September 30, 2006 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Good stuff, EG, as always.
    I agree that the photo is jarring, but the woman in that photo is incredibly skinny–even by model standards–and it’s clear that she wasn’t just born that way. I suppose I’m referring to more general statements folks sometimes make about skinny models.
    And I reiterate that I don’t intend any of this as a criticism of Ann. I can tell what she meant and I think any open-minded person reading the blog entry can tell what she meant, especially after she has clarified it in this thread.
    I suppose my perspective is just that I want everyone to be accepted like they are. I certainly don’t want people to starve themselves, but I don’t want skinny, “flat-chested” women to go around thinking they look like 8-year-old boys, either.
    Cheers,
    TH

  23. Raging Moderate
    Posted October 1, 2006 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t see anything wrong with finding someone who is suffering from a disfiguring illness–say, anorexia–to be unpleasant to look at.”
    Neither do I (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all). But do you find anything wrong with saying “an obese person is unpleasant to look at”?

  24. sojourner
    Posted October 1, 2006 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    But do you find anything wrong with saying “an obese person is unpleasant to look at”? No I don’t find anything wrong with that should I?! The thing is that I don’t see pictures of obese people all over the place being sold to me as ideal and beautiful.

  25. EG
    Posted October 1, 2006 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I hear you, Tom. I do. And I guess I’m of two minds. The first mind points out that thin women get all kinds of cultural and social support and approval for their looks, so we should be able to take a few potshots for the team, and recognize that those shots are reactions to the frustration and suffering that dominant beauty ideals have caused in most, if not all, women.
    But the other mind takes a larger view, and notes that all women, skinny, normal, fat, tall, short, curly-haired, straight-haired, big-nosed, whatever, are subjected to unrelenting barrages of “you’re ugly, you’re not good enough, your worth is based on how your looks correspond to a certain ideal,” and that the result is that none of us end up feeling “good enough” looks-wise without a struggle and/or extremely supportive families and friends. And that, as Naomi Wolf pointed out in The Beauty Myth, that female hunger, not female thinness, is the point–that I don’t know a woman, regardless of skinniness, who’s never dieted or worried about being “too fat.” And/or having a “bad nose,” or “unmanageable” hair, or being flat-chested, etc. And when I look at it with that mind…I take your point.

  26. Posted October 1, 2006 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this, EG. And thanks for helping to keep me grounded on this issue. I can definitely see how the “you’re worthless” barrage is aimed more squarely at some women than others, and I don’t mean to dismiss that.
    And Naomi Wolf is so much a voice that our culture still needs to listen to, and doesn’t. The way our idea of beauty is tied into space and scarcity and relative worth–oh, she’s so beautiful, she doesn’t eat much and she doesn’t take up much room, where the perfect woman would be a goldfish with boobs–is probably more relevant to the whole model-weight discussion than I’d previously acknowledged…
    Cheers,
    TH

  27. Scarlet
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    I read recently that most catwalk models have a BMI of 16. “Naturally” thin or not, this is dangerous from a medical point of view. We regularly see images of suddenly very skinny female celebrities pop up in the media, their body types don’t change overnight… I’m a bit tired of people who claim they feel offended because women criticize skinny body types. The problem is that that particular type of beauty is shoved down our throats ALL THE TIME as being THE one and ONLY beauty standard. Hence the frustration that some of us can feel. It’s not about passing judgement on people’s bodies, it’s about being fed up with unrealistic demands regarding all women’s bodies (naturally very thin people being a very small – and lucky – minority).

  28. poeslygeia
    Posted October 5, 2006 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    This gives new meaning to the phrase “a rag, a bone, a hank of hair.”
    How sad. I guess with so many beautiful women nowdays, in order to seem “different” and somehow “worthy” of being a model, women have to starve themselves.
    Now I understand why Milanese officials wanted to ban overly thin models on the runway.
    I had no idea until I saw this picture, just how bad it was, although I have read Internet postings stating that what may have caused the ban was an anorexic South African model who dropped dead backstage immediately after walking the catwalk.

  29. Posted May 12, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    While there are women who starve themselves to be skinny, you need to remember that there are also women who simply have a fast metabolism. I, for example, am 16 and 92 lbs. I eat A LOT. I’m sick of taking heat for being thin when I really can’t help it.

  30. Posted May 12, 2007 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    While there are women who starve themselves to be skinny, you need to remember that there are also women who simply have a fast metabolism. I, for example, am 16 and 92 lbs. I eat A LOT. I’m sick of taking heat for being thin when I really can’t help it.

  31. tina
    Posted May 15, 2007 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    This is probably the one topic that bothers me the most. I am 17 years old and while I am not going to say my weight on this website, I will say that I am very thin–but I am not anorexic. However, I hear this all the time. Even my friends and family comment on how skinny I am, saying that I need to gain weight, and all I can say for it is “Don’t you think I’ve TRIED?!” Gaining weight is not an easy thing for me, and I’ve been trying for as long as I can remember.
    Which pretty much brings me to another point: isn’t the kind of pressure I’m put under to GAIN weight, the same sort of frowned-upon pressure that is put on even slightly overweight people to LOSE weight? You never hear anyone say ‘You need to lose weight because you’re too fat,” anymore, because it is considered as mean and hurtful, however, it isn’t very rare at all to hear someone say something along the lines of ‘You need to gain some weight–you’re really skinny!’
    Comments like that are just as hurtful to people who really can’t help how skinny they are. Comments like that seriously upset me because even though my BMI is under the suggested minimum of 18, I know that I am not anorexic or bulimic, I LOVE FOOD. I could eat my house if I wanted to, no lie. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holdiays, BECAUSE of the food.
    I really could go on about this topic for ever, as it is one that I am extremely passionate (is that the word I’m looking for?) about, but the more I write, the angier I get.
    I just wish that people would identify specifically who they are talking about when they say skinny is disgusting. I’m really tired of hearing I’m anorexic when I’m really not.

  32. tina
    Posted May 15, 2007 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    This is probably the one topic that bothers me the most. I am 17 years old and while I am not going to say my weight on this website, I will say that I am very thin–but I am not anorexic. However, I hear this all the time. Even my friends and family comment on how skinny I am, saying that I need to gain weight, and all I can say for it is “Don’t you think I’ve TRIED?!” Gaining weight is not an easy thing for me, and I’ve been trying for as long as I can remember.
    Which pretty much brings me to another point: isn’t the kind of pressure I’m put under to GAIN weight, the same sort of frowned-upon pressure that is put on even slightly overweight people to LOSE weight? You never hear anyone say ‘You need to lose weight because you’re too fat,” anymore, because it is considered as mean and hurtful, however, it isn’t very rare at all to hear someone say something along the lines of ‘You need to gain some weight–you’re really skinny!’
    Comments like that are just as hurtful to people who really can’t help how skinny they are. Comments like that seriously upset me because even though my BMI is under the suggested minimum of 18, I know that I am not anorexic or bulimic, I LOVE FOOD. I could eat my house if I wanted to, no lie. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holdiays, BECAUSE of the food.
    I really could go on about this topic for ever, as it is one that I am extremely passionate (is that the word I’m looking for?) about, but the more I write, the angier I get.
    I just wish that people would identify specifically who they are talking about when they say skinny is disgusting. I’m really tired of hearing I’m anorexic when I’m really not.

  33. tina
    Posted May 15, 2007 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    This is probably the one topic that bothers me the most. I am 17 years old and while I am not going to say my weight on this website, I will say that I am very thin–but I am not anorexic. However, I hear this all the time. Even my friends and family comment on how skinny I am, saying that I need to gain weight, and all I can say for it is “Don’t you think I’ve TRIED?!” Gaining weight is not an easy thing for me, and I’ve been trying for as long as I can remember.
    Which pretty much brings me to another point: isn’t the kind of pressure I’m put under to GAIN weight, the same sort of frowned-upon pressure that is put on even slightly overweight people to LOSE weight? You never hear anyone say ‘You need to lose weight because you’re too fat,” anymore, because it is considered as mean and hurtful, however, it isn’t very rare at all to hear someone say something along the lines of ‘You need to gain some weight–you’re really skinny!’
    Comments like that are just as hurtful to people who really can’t help how skinny they are. Comments like that seriously upset me because even though my BMI is under the suggested minimum of 18, I know that I am not anorexic or bulimic, I LOVE FOOD. I could eat my house if I wanted to, no lie. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holdiays, BECAUSE of the food.
    I really could go on about this topic for ever, as it is one that I am extremely passionate (is that the word I’m looking for?) about, but the more I write, the angier I get.
    I just wish that people would identify specifically who they are talking about when they say skinny is disgusting. I’m really tired of hearing I’m anorexic when I’m really not.

  34. tabitha91
    Posted May 15, 2007 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    No, tina, when your chubby, you do hear all the time that you need to loose weight, usually cloaked under “health” concerns. That said, it is wrong for people to feel that it is okay to comment on your body. you defintely should be free from that pressue.

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