Thin, Thinner, Impossible

Laurie and Debbie say:

There’s been a certain amount of rejoicing around the size acceptance world at the news that the Madrid regional government has banned ultra-thin models from a major fashion show on the grounds that “they could send the wrong message to young Spanish girls.”

We’re all for sending good messages to young Spanish girls, and young girls everywhere. What’s more, we agree strongly with the government’s reasons for making this rule. We just don’t think banning models of any size is, overall, a good message. We got the link from a variety of sources, including Sabyl, who says:

I agree that many models are thin to the point of being unhealthy. But some people are naturally very thin as well. I have known a number of women who were a size 4 without much effort and looked good as a size 4. But they would not have been allowed to model in a bridal show according to the article. I think women should be celebrated in all shapes and sizes and I don’t think it is healthy to promote self-hatred among the thin either. I think a diversity of sizes on the catwalk would be a better idea …

We couldn’t agree more. Whatever may be true of ultra-thin models on fashion catwalks, like this one from a 2005 Spanish fashion show, they’re real people.

Spanish model

We haven’t yet achieved the technology to photoshop live appearances. Maybe she starves herself for beauty, and maybe she just looks that way. If she were surrounded by a variety of women of different sizes, all in clothes designed to fit their bodies, as happened here, she’d look just fine … and she and the girls who admire her would all have fewer reasons to starve themselves.

We always say that “giving” the concept of beauty to fat women doesn’t have to take it away from thin women, and this is a prime example. “Health at every size” means just that.

On the other hand, the downtown San Francisco BART stations are papered in Gap ads for the “skinny black pant.” (Never mind that the posters are so badly designed that Debbie keeps reading them as “the skinny black ant.”) These models are not walking live down catwalks, and it’s just about guaranteed that they’ve been “photomanipulated” to have about four extra inches of leg and no curves whatsoever. What the photographs don’t show is the litter-bearers they would need to carry them down fashion catwalks.

Clearly, some people find this look attractive. We’d much rather see a variety of Spanish models.

fat, women, feminism, fashion, size acceptance, health at every size, body image, models, modeling, Body Impolitic

14 thoughts on “Thin, Thinner, Impossible

  1. What amuses me the most about the positive reactions I’ve seen is that they’ve all been from relatively large women, many of whom consider themselves to be a part of the size acceptance movement. If the ban had been on models with a BMI of over 30, most of the same people would have been extremely offended. It’s easy to imagine the cries of, “I can be fat and still be healthy! Who are they to judge what’s healthy and what isn’t?”

    Of course, it would have been a completely theoretical exercise, since runway models are almost always thin.

    I honestly wish that the cultural ideal would shift more toward an athletic body type, but I don’t think runway models will have a huge influence on that.

  2. So much about this post that is worthy of comment, but I have to respond to Patti’s comment about how the size acceptance movement would be outraged over an official ban on models with a BMI over 30. There already is such a ban. It’s so universal in the fashion industry that it doesn’t need to be imposed from outside. And yep, we’re outraged, pretty consistently outraged.

    Clearly ban this was a clumsy official effort to combat the ultra-thin role model that now defines what a young woman “should be” and breeds eating disorders. The higher the status to which a woman aspires, the thinner she is expected to be. I’ve heard that anorexia and bulimia in particular are around 40% in Ivy League colleges where there is the most pressure to meet an unrealistic standard of thinness.

    Health at Any Size is a great idea, but seriously, health is not what most young women aspire to.

  3. I had pretty much the same reaction to the announced ban myself. I just wanted to say that that skinny black pant model may have been manipulated, but may not have been too. Says the woman who is 5’3″ with a 31 inch inseam.

    I am reminded of a sighting in DFW of 2 women in full cowboy regalia from hats through shirts and jeans on to boots. The were the exact same height, but the waist on one was 4 inches higher than the other.


  4. Please note I am not posting this to argue that there are no naturally thin people–I know several.

    I love Audrey Hepburn’s movies and admire her accomplishments in the real world in later life, and the animated “skinny black pants” commercials, do capture Audrey Hepburn’s charm. But when I searched for “audrey hepburn thin” I found an interesting site dedicated to those who struggle from eating disorders, where the web page owner is very angry at those who point to Hepburn as a naturally thin person, when she maintains that Hepburn was known to have suffered what might have been called an eating disorder if it had been well-known in those days.

    The site is pretty interesting too. The woman who maintains it is quite passionate about reaching out to women and men of all sizes struggling from eating disorders.

  5. There is a lot to talk about here.

    But right now just a quick comment to Mary Kay.

    These posters are in a BART station I go through often. There are many body builds but then there are photoshop bodies. The photo shopping in many of these photos is truly scary. One of the models has a hand that’s almost as big as her thigh. Sometimes my aesthetic outrage and my body image outrage are almost equal.

  6. Quite frankly I think the fashion industry and their insistance on thin, thin and thinner are as bad as those people (feeders as they are known) who enocourage their partners to pile on weight to satify some weird sexual craving of theirs.

  7. I agree in principle … but … in practice, while I know and care for some naturally thin people, with the situation right now, where extreme thinness is held up as the ideal to be aspired to, some “affirmative action” for non-thin people is needed.

    I had trouble reading the Gap ad too. When I finally made it out I was irritated at its illiteracy — does this “pant” cover only one leg and one butt cheek? It’s a pair of pants, gorramit!

  8. I hate to see them use extremely skinny models because so few real people are that thin & so few of the models themselves are that thin without very unhealthy practices & as long as those are the women whom young girls see, those are the women they will aspire to look like. I would also like to comment on Patti’s desire to see a more “athletic ideal.” I would like to see there be NO “ideal”, but to live in a culture where all of us are respected & celebrated & where each person is acknowledged to have the “ideal” body for himself or herself. We do not need people who are supposed to be somehow “prettier” or “better” than we are to tell us what we should look like, we need support to know that we are beautiful just as we are.

  9. I totally agree that no body size/shape should be baned or outlawed:



    I, too have “issues” with the GAP’s skinny black pant ad, but I also used to be a size 4 (small-time) model who was just naturally thin. Becuase of many things, age, pharmaceuticals, etc., 10 years later I am a size–well, anyhwere between 10 and 18, depending on desinger/brand.

    My BMI reading renders me “overweight,” but I feel good because I make healthy choices in my diet and exercise regularly. I can’t say that all the skinny girl magazine ads and screaming stories about obesity and ads for diet this & diet that–and having been thin for most of my life—don’t get me down about not being “beautiful” or “desirable,’ but that is the point of fighting the fight against size (and all other) hegemony.

    The focus of energies on this subject (since there are so many places to focus our energies) should be on getting and staying healthy, making healthy lifesyle choices, NOT on size–fat or thin–or anywhere in between. Making thin the default is just as wrong as making fat a fault.

  10. Stephanie, we had seen that Australia link, and plan to blog about it (or at least link to it) within the next few days. Thanks for reminding us.

    And yes, it’s about health, not size. If those Gap pant models weren’t so vastly out of proportion in other ways than their thin-ness, we never would have mentioned them. As Laurie said upthread, seeing them at 12 feet tall in the BART stations reinforces how physically implausible they are.

  11. Too thin, too fat – it’s all about keeping women hating or at least being dissatisfied with their bodies. “You starved yourself down to a size 0 like we said you should? Too bad, now you’re TOO thin, you’re a bad influence on young girls.” “You weigh 300lbs? Start starving yourself immediately or you’ll DIE.”

    The diet industry needs the skinny models and actresses and celebrities as aspiration/envy objects and it needs the obesity hysteria that feeds on people’s moral outrage. If people (especially women) didn’t hate their bodies they’d have to spend so much more on advertising … but all this obsession over weight that we do to ourselves, it’s free marketing for them. This is not just the likes of commerical diet clinics, it includes pharmaceutical companies that sell prescription diet pills, and bariatric surgery chains. $$$$ and keeping women under control.

  12. I am a bulimic i have been that way for almst 13 years now. I am 24 years old. I have seizures, a heart murmur and have been in therapy that has failed numerous times. Yet I am going to try again. I read about models who are the same height as me (5’8′) and weigh 120 pounds i can only achieve this through starvation and vomiting. Yet, I want it more than anything it is all I think off it is my dream as I write this I know that the ED is going to kill me but in my twisted reality I hope that at least i will finally be thin enough for awhile before I die. That is what is wrong with the world, I hope you article will help someone before they get to as far as I am.

  13. Rachel,

    Your story is so sad. I know your body is beautiful at all sizes, and especially at the sizes where you are healthy and can enjoy your food. I hope you keep reading our blog, and keep in touch.

    (posted and emailed.)

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