Building a Straw Model

I think the author of this column is taking the evidence quite out of context. On one hand, I do have to agree with the title:

Which is true- models don't cause eating disorders and there's basically no evidence that they do.

I've said before that the point of banning Size Zero models won't prevent eating disorders. And neither do I think that because it won't prevent eating disorders doesn't mean that it shouldn't be done.

The author of this column in the Times Online holds that, essentially, the main "the lardy rest of us" oppose unhealthily thin models is that we're jealous. In the second paragraph, she says:

On Tuesday morning the Today programme got Professor Susie Orbach on to warn us about something she called “beauty terror”, a concept that seems to work like this: models are very slender young women. This is a state of affairs that is probably bad for them, and a terrible affront to the lardy rest of us. Observing their ethereal beauty, we wish that we, too, looked like a wood-nymph in PVC leggings. Realising that it will never be so and feeling discontented with our lot, we reach with a sigh for the chocolate biscuits. In extreme cases, we may sick up the biscuits we have just consumed, or eschew biscuits altogether, thus compounding our discontent with an eating disorder. Worrying, certainly – but terror? Really?

You know what causes me terror? People who think they know the answer to everything without really knowing anything.
Ms. Shilling proceeds to build a straw man (straw model?) by saying that since athletes and dancers aren't required to be weighed and measured, neither should models. After all, "fashion, like other branches of the entertainment industry, is a confection of fantasy. Lucrative and important as the construction industry is, I don’t think its most passionate advocate would argue that much is expected of builders by way of fantasy."

Ah, but the whole point of ultra-thin models is, as far as I knew, that they wore the clothes better. So that really doesn't get us anywhere. Because "wearing the clothes better" doesn't quite seem like fantasy. And just because there isn't health monitoring of atheletes and ballerinas doesn't mean there shouldn't be- it just means there isn't. They are having hearings on steroids in baseball at the moment. So obviously this issue is relevant, and not just among creators of fantasy.

Even if model and fashion were an industry of fantasy, the health effects of starvation aren't a fantasy. Anorexia and bulimia aren't a costume you can just take off as soon as you exit the runway.

There is a nugget of truth to Ms. Shilling's essay: she says that it's wrong to blame eating disorders and body image woes on models themselves.

If the Government and the press, which reports the “beauty terror” debate with such gusto, really believed that models were responsible for the huge rise in eating disorders they could stop it at a stroke, by agreeing a ban of editorial and advertising images of emaciated girls. But although “blame it on the waif” makes a good soundbite, it is more complicated than that.

Which is all too true. I don't agree with her assessment of the actual problem, but it wrong to blame models and fashion on eating disorders.

Her ultimate assessment, however, consists of truly award winning stupidity:

Guiltiest of all is the vicious late 20th-century trend in food marketing that persuaded (mainly) women that they were “too busy” to cook. Delia Smith’s How To Cheat at Cookingis a perfect example of this wicked vogue. A reprise of her 1971 publication of the same title, aimed at people who “don’t want, or don’t have time, to cook”, the current volume recommends a variety of expensive, processed ingredients, and is already a bestseller.

So if we are really worried (and we should be) about our uneasy relationship with our bodies, the first step towards recovery would be for us as a society to stop blaming our collective disease on the fashion industry and admit that the problem lies not with a handful of unusually attenuated and beautiful young women, but with ourselves: our idle and stupid eating habits, and our idiotic self-delusion in believing that we could all look like models (if only models were a bit fatter and a bit uglier).

Here's a smooshy-faced kitty award for you, Ms. Shilling.

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marcella said...

I have to admit that Ms Orbach didn't come across particularly well on the interview. On the other hand I thought it was a pretty good overview of the subject in general given the time constraints and the lack of background information available to the general public. I've been searching for the clip so that you can have a listen, but I can't find it. I'll go and have another look and I may be back!

carrie said...

To be honest, I didn't see the interview. I only read the article that was probably written at least partially in response to the interview. I don't agree with Ms. Orbach that models cause eating disorders, but the response by Ms. Shilling was just as wrong. I think both women have forgotten the middle ground- that just because models don't cause eating disorders doesn't mean that it's healthy and productive for the majority of images of women to be essentially unattainble for 99% of the population.

If you do find the clip, pass it along.

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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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