Today marks the last day of “Love Your Body Week,” and the blogosphere has been actively posting useful tips on how to love one’s own body even if it does not live up to the marketed ideal. Of course many women find it hard to love their bodies when they’re “overweight,” even though the fashion-model body used as a standard of beauty is possessed naturally by less than five percent of women. Indeed, “overweight” is a term rejected by the fat-acceptance movement, especially since some studies have shown that women who are slightly “overweight” actually tend to live longer than people with a “normal weight” or who are underweight.
If we look at those fashion models through a different lens, instead of seeing only ideal beauty we can also see the reflection of starvation and ill health. Consider this:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) says that a BMI under 18.5 is below the normal range. As the WHO investigates health issues in poverty-stricken areas and countries, this number is considered a goal that the international community should attempt to promote for impoverished people suffering from chronic hunger and starvation.
- The average BMI of a supermodel is approximately 16–a measurement WHO defines as severe thinness.
- In the last few years, at least four models have died from anorexia-related causes [Warning: Links may be triggering to people attempting to recover from an eating disorder.] These models include Uruguayan sisters Luisel and Eliana Ramos, ages 22 and 18, Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, 21, and Israeli model Hila Elmalich, 34.
- When Photoshopped images of models from industrialized/economically “stable” countries have flooded media in nations where eating disorders were not previously a problem, the incidence of eating disorders exploded.
- Italy, Israel and Spain have all adopted measures to require minimum BMIs for fashion models. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, however, has refused to install minimum BMI requirements because such a rule would “limit the freedom of the designer.” (Based on my personal interview with model suggests these laws are flouted on a regular basis through tactics such as hiding weights underneath their clothes or drinking lots of water before being measured.)
- Britain and France have both considered adopting a law that would require any image that has been Photoshopped to make a model look skinnier bear a warning stamp.
An estimated 8 million people in the U.S.–mainly women–suffer from an eating disorder, and the mortality rate for anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate from all causes for young women ages 15 through 24. While it is true that not everyone who is exposed to these images will develop an eating disorder, studies have shown that exposure to ads featuring idealized models lead to negative body image, which can factor into the development of eating disorders.
We shouldn’t forget the empowering message of this past week: “You Are Beautiful as You Are.” Instead of seeing eating disorders as something that can only be confronted on a personal level (i.e., love your body more), we should also see the problem as a public health issue that can be confronted through collective action. Other nations have already taken steps, at least in monitoring the images promoted by fashion models. It’s time the U.S. joined them.