Fashion Magazines: The agony! The irony!

Yes, yes, I know. I've said it once, and I've said it again: fashion magazines do NOT cause anorexia.

So. Got that one out of the way.

I will, however, have you know that "out of the way" is NOT the same as "off the hook." They provide an unrealistic ideal, the provide plenty of triggers to start an eating disorder, as well as a guise under which it may flourish. Not only that, but they make dieting and anorexia and bulimia seem almost normal. Doesn't every girl diet? And want flat abs?

Courtney Martin addresses this in her new book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. And while she doesn't specifically take on magazines, she does take on the popular culture.

There's the debate of life imitating art or art imitating life. Frankly, it's a bit of both. The whole psychology of it (or at least my take on it) is rather long and involved for right now, so I'll save it. Every time a stick-thin model is featured on a cover, or a story about a model with an eating disorder is published, the publishing magnates are always quick to crow, "But look at the research! Anorexia is, like, totally genetic!"

True. Don't point so hard, there, honey- you might break a nail.

But because people with EDs don't pop out of the womb not eating and scared of food, there's got to be something in the environment as well.

And the really really messed up part is that I didn't realize how messed up everyone was about food until I dared to recover from anorexia.

I see it all over, every day, in almost every person I meet. The vet told me my cat had been gaining too much weight. I wanted to say, "Put her on a diet? I'll put her on a frigging diet! Don't tell me about diets!" This woman was very nice. She really was, and did seem concerned about my cat's health. Don't get me wrong. But my cat has very cute 'tocks and I'm not going to starve the poor thing because she's not on the proper weight chart.*

Which brings me to my point. You know those Google newsfeeds on the side of my blog I've referred to before? I found this gem in amongst them today: Fashion Magazines Don't Encourage Anorexia. Seeing that it was by the gossip magazine, Jossip, I braced myself.

I didn't brace myself enough. Because this, my friends, was the subhead:

If they did, why would they use chunkers like Jessica Biel?

Merciful God in heaven.

I'm not completely up to date on my celebrity gossip, but I looked at the picture of the Elle Magazine cover to which they were referring.

So...let me get this straight. The above image is "chunky"? What does that make me? The freaking Himalayas?

I don't think so. Curvy, yes. Chunky? Nope.

And, for the record, Jessica Biel isn't either.

Maybe the gossip columnist meant it tongue-in-cheek. If it did, it was quite distasteful. Disgusting, really. The headline of the article, though says it all: that magazines don't encourage anorexia. Ah, but they do. Sometimes under the outright blatant images that Thou shalt look like her or under the subtler aspects of "this is perfection" and "this is healthy." They then give you ideas for how to get healthy (check out any teen or woman's magazine/website. If there's not a diet on there, I'll pay you.) And so the cycle begins. Magazines don't cause anorexia, but they DO encourage it. They encourage the environment and the triggers, and all that goes along with it.

*If they develop those for cats, I'll scream. And then leave tuna scraps at the door.

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Nancy Lebovitz said...

It's not just that they show extremely thin women as attractive, it's that they never show even mildly plump women as attractive.

As for Biel, I suppose Elle should get points for having a cover model which doesn't trigger my "She's starving!" reflex.

Sarah said...

I was just reading that editor's letter in Elle last night. I thought my eyes were going to fall out of my head, they were rolling so much.

Willow said...

Chunker... puhlease. People are frigging stupid.

As for kitties, my sick one is just a furry sack of bones right now poor thing, but the other kitty just adores the prescription "gain weight" food. The vet admonished me not to let kitty #2 get into it, lest she become "too large". Yeah, well, if I want sick kitty well, I have to put the food out. Healthy kitty would have no part of not getting a dollop of the good stuff on her food, she'd just push sick kitty out of the way & take hers.

BTW, it is extremely triggering and ironic to have a kitty who is anorexic, medically speaking, and have to force-feed her b.c. she won't eat on her own. Ugh. I'm glad she's starting to eat a bit now. There must be a lesson of therapeutic value in that somewhere, right?

mary said...

It's not an accident that many of these garbage magazines are placed at the checkouts of supermarkets! I call them garbage because they are a business bent on selling us 'THEIR' ideas of what we should be.
Who do we want to be?
When I started gaining weight after having children it was WORK for me to learn to accept myself exactly as I am. I'm no different from you in that I didn't want to change. It was scary at first. I recall meeting a woman who was heavy and beautiful. Her beauty came from within because she seemed so comfortable with herself. I wanted that! If it comes down to it we can even learn to look at stretch marks as art! We are awesome in the way our bodies tell our story.

Now you may think you can never be comfortable with yourself if you go over such and such weight. You CAN be. I promise that it's your choice to accept and let go of what you look like COMPARED TO OTHERS. You aren't 'others'. You know this.Be your unique self in style and design of your OWN creating.

They even have the balls to tell us what we think. Sure, every year I want to lose 10-15 lbs. in order to put on my swimsuit. Ok, mister or miss you want to tell us what to look like and worse tell me that I'm too fat for your liking. I DON'T CARE! It's so gestapo to try to manipulate us. Almost cult like the way people follow blindly. Give me a recipe for the best damn brownie instead, thank you.
Don't follow blindly. Keep your eyes wide open and if you do I promise you'll start to see all the wonderful different sized people who've learned to just be. The world isn't broken. It's full of great diversity and many different ways. I know it's hard to see if your mind feels stuck in the culture where everyone's struggling. Take yourself out of the fight. Step away from the cults. The industry can't die unless we starve it! This means that focus must turn to what's essential now, not the old ways.
Believe in yourself.

carrie said...


I think that they don't show basically *any* body shape besides long and lean as attractive is actually the kicker. Thank you for pointing that out.


Glad your eyes stayed in tact


Many of my friends with AN also have anorexic cats. I did for a while. The poor dear didn't eat for a few days after I moved to a new apartment. I was just about ready to sprinkle catnip on her food because I was thinking "OK, if catnip is like kitty marajuana, then maybe it'll give her the munchies." ::rolls eyes::

Deal with cat #2 later. Him eating too much is much less life threatening. My kitty sends furry hugs to your kitties.


I hate that magazines tell us who we're supposed to be. Even look at the bottom of the magazine cover- a bikini ready body. The only way I actually need to prepare my body for a bikini is sunblock. Lots of it. Part of what is great about recovery is throwing everything back in their faces and being who I want to be and buying what I want to buy and embracing my flaws as well. Cheerio to you. /*****

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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