Wasp Waists and Anorexia

The cover of Vogue Italy’s September issue–timed to appear during the Sept. 21-28 Italian fashion week–featured Stella Tennant, the striking 40-year-old super model and mother of three.

She’s wearing a posh dress and a nose ring.

But it’s not her clothing or her accessories or her arresting expression that stand out. It’s her absurdly tiny waistline, measuring just 13 inches, cinching her roomy gown.

Cases of anorexia and bulimia in Italy have been rising in recent years, according to an August 2011 study by Eurispes, an Italian statistical institute. It reported 3,500 new cases of anorexia during 2010 compared to an annual average of 3,000 in 2008. For bulimia, there were 6,000 cases in 2010 compared to 5,400 cases in 2008. Anorexia and bulimia were also the leading causes of death for young Italian women between 12 and 25 years old, Sisdca, the Italian society for eating disorders, found in a study published in June 2011.

“It is the worst way to attract readers with outrageous sensationalism,” said Fabiola De Clercq, founder of ABA, Anorexia and Bulimia Association, an Italian association based in Milan that helps anorexic girls resume a healthy life. “This picture mortifies women’s bodies.”

She said the common sense of Vogue Italy editors has been replaced by Photoshop, the software program widely used to enhance digital graphics.

“Anorexia is such a widespread psychological disorder because, nowadays, thinness corresponds to women’s power,” De Clercq, a survivor of 20 years of anorexia, said. “Exaggerated slimness is byword of a woman in total control over her life, someone who is even able to renounce a vital need: eating food. … Vogue understood this deviant trend and showed it yet again.”

Dr. Raffaele Ruocco, the head of research on eating disorders at the University of Perugia, says that fashion’s idealization of thinness is a major trigger of anorexia, and retouched images are often assumed to be real-life women.

Vogue Italy has drawn criticism in the past for excessive retouching of models’ photographs, but many of those controversial images also helped spur sales.

Carlo Ducci, executive news director of the magazine, said he wasn’t personally involved in determining the September cover, calling it stunning and harmless. He said Tennant’s picture was inspired by Ethel Granger, an English woman who died in 1982 and was married to a corset maker. Her 13-inch waist was the smallest ever, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

“Our magazine drew on reality. If this reality is perceived as bad, this is not our problem,” Ducci said. He said the image was too unusual to inspire other women to try to imitate it.

If one woman could achieve a 13-inch waistline, might not others  be tempted to outdo her if a fashion magazine suggests that’s desirable? Emulation is also suggested by the use of “avant-garde” as caption wording for the photograph of Tennant, aka Granger. Avant-garde, after all, means someone in the vanguard, or leading a trend.

What do you think?

Excerpted from Women’s eNews. Read the full article at womensenews.org.

Photo of cover of Vogue Italia’s September issue.