Laurie Toby Edison


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Skinny Male Models and Boy Scouts

Laurie and Debbie say:

We’ve recently had our attention called to two news articles. Ampersand at Alas! A Blog points to an extremely disturbing New York Times article on how skinny men have to be to be accepted as male models.

two super-slender male models

According to the Times, this is largely the work of designer Hedi Slimane.

George Brown, a booking agent at Red Model Management, said: “When I get that random phone call from a boy who says, ‘I’m 6-foot-1 and I’m calling from Kansas,’ I immediately ask, ‘What do you weigh?’ If they say 188 or 190, I know we can’t use him. Our guys are 155 pounds at that height.”

Their waists … measure 28 or 30 inches. They have, ideally, long necks, pencil thighs, narrow shoulders and chests no more than 35.5 inches in circumference, Mr. Brown said. “It’s client driven,” he added. “That’s just the size that blue-chip designers and high-end editorials want.”

When thin comes in (and remember, 155 pounds on a 6’1 man is really thin), muscles are considered undesirable. Not long ago, the muscular, buffed, gym-rat look was the male model look, but no more.

For models like Demián Tkach, a 26-year-old Argentine who was recently discovered by the photographer Bruce Weber, the tightening tape measure may cut off a career.

Mr. Tkach said that when he came here from Mexico, where he had been working: “My agency asked me to lose some muscle. I lost a little bit to help them, because I understand the designers are not looking for a male image anymore. They’re looking for some kind of androgyne.”

The fashion industry is always extreme; it’s about extremes. Ampersand has some choice comments on how this trend in male model looks relates to trends in female model looks:

… male models are still allowed to carry a lot more weight, proportionately, than female models. Which is probably why we haven’t yet had any young male models die of heart attacks (although if the thin trend continues, probably that will happen, alas).

Amp also points out that the weights men are being held to are at least “normal” by the absurd BMI standards we seem to be stuck with, at the same time that some countries (notably Spain) are still considering legislation requiring that models not be dangerously under normal BMI.

Nonetheless, this is a very disturbing trend. The fashion industry is effectively beginning to demand of men what it has long demanded of women: be either “normally” off-the-charts skinny or resort to anorexia and bulimia to get and keep these jobs. And, since the whole point of the modeling industry is that “regular” people try to look like models, the same message is going out to young men and boys everywhere, even while we are trying so hard to combat it in girls and young women everywhere.

Where might we turn for help in such a situation? Well, perhaps to the all-American Boy Scouts, that bastion of promoting health and good citizenship in boys (as long as they’re not gay or atheists, of course). But that won’t work:

According to new requirements set to take effect next January, Boy Scouts of America has decided that both children and adults must meet height and weight standards for outings in destinations where medical care is more than 30 minutes away. That means a six-foot tall scout or volunteer must weigh 239 pounds or less if he wants to visit the remote Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, for example.

The connection is completely obvious. The models, at 6′ or so, are expected to weigh 155-160. The Boy Scouts, at the same height, can’t weigh over 238 (a lot less if the volunteer parents are female, of course, because BMI is gendered). This is apparently based on some absurd theory that “overweight” people are more likely to need emergency medical attention, a theory borne out by no study that we are aware of.

The message is simple, and reinforced from the high-fashion runway to the old-fashioned camping trip: look right, or you can’t play.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for pointing out the Ampersand piece, and Alan Bostick for the Boy Scout piece.

19 Responses to “Skinny Male Models and Boy Scouts”

  1. Julia says:

    The Boy Scouts, at the same height, can’t weigh over 238 (a lot less if the volunteer parents are female, of course, because BMI is gendered)

    BMI isn’t gendered–it’s a simple (and fairly useless) mathematical ratio. A 6′, 200-pound woman has the same BMI as a 6′, 200-pound men.

    Perhaps you mean that the Boy Scouts’ BMI guidelines are gendered? Or are you thinking of the insurance company height/weight charts, which are gendered?

  2. lilacsigil says:

    My brother is 6’1″ and 155-160 pounds. That’s in the “healthy” weight range (though studies tend to indicate that the healthiest group by BMI is the “overweight” group). While this is certainly *part* of the ongoing onslaught of images, I don’t find it more disturbing than “models must be heavily muscled” – both are dictating terms of attractiveness to, in particular, vulnerable teenagers.

    The Boy Scouts issue is just ridiculous – I look forward to them suddenly realising how many of their scouts and volunteers they see as “normal” are in fact overweight or obese by unscientific BMI standards – particularly in the case of fit and muscular men. Weight says nothing about fitness or health. And BMI is not supposed to apply to adolescents or children anyway…

  3. Carla says:

    6’1″ 155 isn’t very very skinny. Its the analogue of a women who weighs 125 pounds at 5’6″. Thin, yes. “Off the charts skinny”? Not at all.

  4. chava says:

    The Boy Scouts thing probably has more to do with how hard it will be to evac you out if you weigh above a certain poundage and the site cannot be reached by a helivac. You could be incredibly “fit” by conventional standards and I most definitely would not want to haul your ass out of a canyon.

    Of course, given their gay bashing, I’m probably giving them too much credit. But there are reasonable expectations of fitness that can and should be imposed on groups going trekking for long periods in the backcountry–I’ve never heard them directly correlated to weight before, though.

  5. lilacsigil says:

    @chava – if the evac was the problem, they’d have an upper weight limit, not a BMI requirement. I remember hiking as a (large, fit) teenager – my small, thin mother (then in her late 30s) volunteered to come on one expedition and I ended up carrying everything heavy from her pack as well as carrying my own things – so I was carrying two tents, two sleeping bags, my food, her food and the first aid kit while she carried some clothes. She just couldn’t keep up and carry her gear as well. And yet I would have been the one excluded for my weight. I have no problems with them doing a fitness assessment, but that’s not what this is.

  6. Debbie says:

    Julia, you’re correct that BMI isn’t gendered; that was sloppy. It’s simply used in a gendered manner, by setting different “normal range” BMIs for men and women.

    Lilacsigil (and Carla), all bodies are different. The men in the photograph look unhealthily thin to me, and they’re in the same weight range as lilacsigil’s brother. He may very well (probably does) carry it differently than they do. The underlying point, I think, is not where the “healthy weight” line is drawn, but that it is being drawn at all, and drawn to the detriment of many healthy and conventionally handsome men.

    Chava, that takes us back to the football player issue and (as lilacsigil says), if it were the case then simple weight would be the point. Since BMI is a height/weight ratio, a short person can have a very high BMI without weighing much compared to a tall person with a mid-range BMI. Also, if you were right about the underlying point, I don’t think they’d be framing it with BMI, which is virtually always used in conjunction with the faith sentence about how being “overweight” is dangerous to your health.

  7. lilacsigil says:

    The men in the photograph look unhealthily thin to me,

    Let’s all say it together: you can’t tell someone’s health by looking at them, fat or thin.

    You’re right about a weight line being drawn, though – and it really wouldn’t matter all that much that some designers (or even all high fashion people) like thin, tall models if it didn’t spill all over into popular culture – actors, musicians, aeroplane seats, businesspeople, clothing sizes, childhood bullying, the US President…

  8. Patia says:

    I’m too tired to formulate a cogent response, but just, wow. There is so much wrong with this. Here I was tempted to blame the gays (I say that tongue in cheek) for the skinny male models; then along come the anti-gays with their bizarre Boy Scout rules.

    Naomi Wolf’s early ’90s prediction that men would increasingly suffer from the same body-image pressures that women did certainly has come to pass, hasn’t it?

  9. chava says:

    Mmm, it wasn’t clear to me before whether it was a BMI req. or a weight req. Yeah, I’m less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt now.

  10. Edd says:

    being 6ft1 and weighing 155 is no problem at all..thats how i am.. i eat regularly and just excercise regularly also. there is nothing wrong being that skinny, in fact ive been trying to gain weight but its hard. I drink protein shakes and workout to see how it works. maybe i should be a

  11. Laurie says:


    We weren’t saying that here’s something wrong with being skinny.

    I’ve also always been naturally thin. But I’m very aware of the fact that “naturally thin” is a very small portion of the population and since it’s genetic there’s no “virtue” in it.

    Most of this kind of model thin skinniness is produced
    through great effort, much of which is seriously damaging to the body.

  12. John says:

    I’m 139 pounds, and 6 foot. I’d consider myself healthy, but after reading these comments, i’m wondering…..

  13. Alina Farace says:

    If any personal say’s very heavy body so that time only one sentence to say it naturally body and god gift for some person.

  14. Jim says:

    155 lbs at 6 feet 1 is a LOT healthier than 238 lbs at 6 ft 1. Unless you are a football player with 7% body fat or are a weight trainer, I think these weight restrictions are a very good idea for the Boy Scouts.

    The US Army has weight restrictions for soldiers, age 21-27 at 6 feet: 140 to 195 lbs. Let’s see, that makes an average of 167.5 lbs! “Painfully thin”? Not according to the army.

    The “absurd” BMI standards suggests an average healthy weight of 160 lbs for 6 feet tall– which is pretty close to the US Army standards.

  15. B says:

    I’m 29 years of age, 6 foot tall and weigh 56 KG or about 120lb. Is that skinny or what?

    I need help gaining weight, can anyone help on the matter?

  16. Harry says:

    I’m 18, 6′, and 150lbs, and i don’t consider myself as unhealthy at all. i eat like a horse but none of it stays on, some people are just naturally smaller than others, just like some are more prone to be overweight. i’m pretty new in the industry and have been moved to new york, and i am regularly told that i am too skinny at many castings. so i don’t think this ‘issue’ is as prevalent as u think it is. there are some clients that prefer that look but to say that is it a problem is untrue. a standard that entails an overly muscled physique to me is a bigger problem, then you start to encounter the issue of steroid use which is an issue for guys in my age group.

  17. Chicco says:

    i’m 5’7 and i’m 124 lbs .. that gave alot of hope ! lol i thought i’m too skinny