The International Writers Magazine

Does size really matter?
Too fat, too thin, will women ever win?
Carly McClain

The female size issue is back more then ever, our culture is bombarded with image saturated magazines such as Heat and Reveal, hounding models and celebrities, and debating weather there size is ‘healthy’ and whether they’re portraying good ‘role models’ for our generation. It is no mystery that there is more pressure then ever to look good and stay slim.

The issue of size however has become more serious, with the death of two models Ana Carolina and Ms Reston, both succumbing to eating disorders; there is a tragic side of wanting to be thin. A recent article in Marie Claire delved deeper into eating disorders across the globe, primarily in America, where it’s now an epidemic. It is no surprise that being exposed to television, and indeed to all other forms of media, can be directly linked to eating disorders but, dangerous misconceptions still exist.

Marie Claire brought to my attention the extreme cases. Photographer Lauren Greenfield carefully exposed the starling truths about American women and eating disorders, which has now been publicised in her new book Girl Culture and exhibition of the same name. The study was based around a group of Fijian secondary school girls with an average age of 17, they were asked various questions about their eating habits and body image. Three percent said they had induced vomiting to control their weight and hardly any had dieted. When the researchers surveyed another group of girls, 69 percent admitted to experimenting with dieting. Many of the girls expressed how they wanted to look like Western women they had seen on shows like Beverley Hills 90210.

In Britain the crisis is very similar, we have more media publications, more television shows on the subject.. We are exposed to so much, the problem is universal but the consequences are still shocking. Previously, photographer Lauren Greenfield documented girls and women through words and images for her seminal 2002 book, Girl Culture. The images are disturbing and distressing, but it brings to light a way in which we can understand the disorder. It portrays the dark side of the illness with great empathy, and recognizes that it is a type of mental illness.

Lauren Greenfield’s new book, Thin, is based around a residential clinic for the treatment of eating disorders in Florida, one of the countries most well known clinics. It is now an epidemic in America, with anorexia nervosa the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females in the United States. Twenty-five percent of college-aged women engage in binging and purging for a weight management technique. It has reached serious levels, which we must address. It is a psychiatric disorder with an estimated 10-14% of people eventually dying from the illness.

In some way or another, whether we have dieted ourselves or had some experience with body issues, we can all relate to this image and peer-pressure of being ‘thin’. It’s a fact that all women and girls feel it is essential at a young age to look thin. Thin is good, fat is bad. Fat is associated with poverty and the underclass. It’s a sad and alarming state of affairs which will probably only increase because of the medias fixation with body image. It seems ironic that this article was taken from Maria Claire which is full to the brim every month, with thin women, and with the recent televised reality show ‘Make me A Supermodel’, it is hard to steer away from the ‘size’ issue.

The judges on the show admitted to preferring the painfully thin model to the ‘normal’ sized contestant. Jen Hunter, frequently telling her that she would never cut it in the fashion world, she was too big and she did not look good on the catwalk. She was, in fact, a wonderfully curvy size 12, which is however a rare occurrence in the modeling world, the judges feelings however were completely dismissed when she was voted, by the public, as the winner of of the show, broadcast on Channel Five. It was a win which would prove to the judges that women of her size, (not that big at all), can still look striking on the catwalk. Her rival, a size 8 Swedish teenager, has been defended as having a naturally boyish frame.

As stated in The Independent recently, these models are signed from a young age and put under extreme pressure, they are taught how to walk, how to dress, how to wear their hair or makeup, but they are left to their own devices when it come to their diet.

Although the recent winner of ‘Make Me a Supermodel’ triumphantly overcame the judges remarks and abuse, can she really break into the fashion world? There are still a number of well regarded model agencies who simply say that models need to be size zero for the clothes to hang well, Tandy Anderson, owner of Select Models and one of the show judges, said it was unfair to compare both the contestants, "Women simply have different bodies." If this is the case, then why is the catwalk so against including larger models?

High street shops have recently started to up their sizes, TOPSHOP in particular now stocks size 16 clothes which was a rarity in previous years. That size was regarded as unfashionable, whereas now it’s the national average size in Britain. Many more designer shops are also recognizing that women are indeed slightly larger than recent years and we can, (probably to their disgust), still pull off a designer look.

It was only a few years ago that the elegantly curvy, Sophie Dahl graced the catwalks, shocking and proving to the catwalk worshippers and the disturbingly serious fashion world that, yes, she was curvy and yes she still looked good in designer clothes. She was in fact a size 16 at the time, which caused such a media frenzy that, alas, she succumbed, as many models do, to the diet regime. I was mortified to find that under pressure by the media she finally gave in and shrunk to a size 8 in just over 6 months.

It’s a distressing reality that popular culture and media has formed this obsession with being thin, but we must also try to understand that eating disorders are not just about looking at models, its root and problem manifests much deeper in a more complex ways. We cannot simply blame the media for eating disorders but we can observe as a reader of fashion and gossip publications, and try to understand that women do come in different shapes and sizes. All women, whatever shape, can look and feel good, we have to take these magazines with a pinch of salt, (low-fat salt actually). They are for me, a form of escapism, I enjoy the fashion articles and appreciate them for what they are, just a mere aspect of the fashion world and not at all realistic.

I love my curves and appreciate others whatever their body shape may be. It is, however, an obsession which will never decrease. We will always have magazines, even more so in the near future, but maybe, just maybe we will start to see an increase in model size, Jen Hunter has paved the way for young curvy hopefuls, let's just hope that the fashion world of modeling will recognize the public needs to see more curvy women on the catwalk!
Image: Jen Hunter 2006

Joan Jacobs Brumberg, a professor at Cornell University, puts it in her introduction to Greenfield’s book: "This desperate, misguided search for perfection will continue to perplex our affluent society for time to come".

It’s a serious statement which we all, as women, can relate to, a desire, a dream, a fantasy of being thin, to be thin in the fashion world is to be beautiful and even moral! Fat in the fashion world is seen as disgusting and unheard of. The size issue needs to be addressed by all, the media, the modeling world and us, the victims of its constant exposure.
So who’s responsibility is it to make a change, the media or the fashion industry, YOU DECIDE!!
© Carly McClain December 2006

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