Me, Models and an Eating Disorder

Every time I move house, jokes are had about the volume of fashion magazines I insist on moving with me. Teetering piles, stacked up like towers of a city skyline. I began buying the big glossy mags when I turned 15, fascinated by the beauty, a million miles from my suburban existence in a polyester school uniform. I spent hours, HOURS, gazing at the slender girls and their utter perfection. And, I spent years, YEARS, suffering from an eating disorder, from the age of 16. There’s a link there. So, when Vogue’s British Editor, Alexandra Shulman said ‘Size zero models don’t give girl’s eating disorders’, I wanted to voice up and give testament. I am living proof that images of very thin models in magazines fundamentally do play a role in eating disorders. The fact that parliament are meeting this week, to discuss new laws on modelling and whether the ban of size zero models would help protect both models and viewers, is a really great thing. Shulman though, thinks it would be ‘Extremely unfair’ to weigh and measure models for any new law, calling it ‘Degrading and appalling’. But she’s focusing only on the models, I’m thinking about the readers. Those readers who have low self esteem, the ones who look at the models believing that a skinny body will result in being loved and accepted; that a perfect appearance will give them the happiness they can’t find. I’m thinking of the readers who go on to starve themselves day after day and make themselves vomit until their knuckles bleed, hoping to find perfection. I think that’s way more degrading and appalling.

My own illness began in the mid 90’s when the waif look arrived. A deathly limp and pallid aesthetic with an affection for slouched shoulders, jutting ribs and apathy. I adored that look, I adored it because it was presented to me in an aspirational way, and I idolised Kate Moss. She was the ideal which I was presented with from the media of my generation. I had the usual angst and self-doubt of any teenager, probably more-so than most, but I didn’t come up alone with the idea of not eating. I looked up to those models which were shown to me. I somehow figured if I could just look like them I would be loved. Looking back, I think I hoped I’d finally love myself too, if only I could find that perfection. There’s more to it than that, there always is, but, images we are constantly shown, well, they’re crucial in how we view ourselves.

The viscous cycle of designers wanting emaciated girls to show their clothes, and the editors finding models to fit into those clothes is a murky one within an industry that rarely thinks about reality. Yes, fashion magazines are an escapism, a fantasy; the majority of us don’t look like that and will never buy those clothes, but there comes a point where the magazines, the editors, the designers, need to remember they are dealing with humans. They are trying to sell us something, offer us something to desire, but that should stop at the clothes, not the body wearing them. That’s not fair. Trying to get that perfection comes at a way higher price than saving up for any designer dress. I wonder, If you visit a country where fashion magazines don’t prevail, do you get as many girls with eating disorders? Probably not. The media is a massive influence, incomparable in its power, it needs to own it’s responsibility and offer us a variety of models. All sizes, all ages, all ethnicities and, all of them healthy. When Shulman says ‘The point I’m making is that in the main it’s not the generality of looking at a model that is the tipping point’ for an eating disorder, I disagree. It doesn’t alone create an eating disorder, but can it be the final trigger that pushes one to develop? Yes, absolutely.

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