Friday, October 23, 2009

Food is for fat people: the saga of the size zero model continues

by Beth Zak-Cohen

Last week New York Magazine published an article questioning the firing of one of Ralph Lauren’s models. She says it was because she gained too much weight. She was 5’8” and 120 pounds! He says it was because of her “inability to meet the obligations under her contract”. Lack of denial much?

The model in question was in these crazily proportioned and obviously Photoshopped ads making her intensely and strangely skinny, adding to the debate.

Robin Givhan, Washington Post fashion editor, has an interesting take. She says fashion represents an ideal, its what everyone wants to be. Fashion models, she says, won’t get smaller until we do. She says our nation has never embraced being fat; we congratulate people for losing weight, even if that weight loss is unhealthy.

I read the article with an expectation that I would disagree empathetically. I do disagree (to the extreme) with some related statements like the one by Robert Verdi who said, in response to the controversy. He says: “I think food is for fat people and poor people.” Excuse me?

However, Givhan has a point. Our nation has a huge problem with obesity and consistently celebrates weight loss and thinness. This makes the criticism of ultra-thin models somewhat hypocritical. Givhan gives the example of Oprah. When she loses a ton of weight, we don’t question her health. Unfortunately, we probably should. Society’s obsession with thinness has led to epidemics of anorexia and bulimia and people who seem of totally normal weight, when they really have huge health problems surrounding self-image. Not all thin models are unhealthy, and models shouldn’t be criticized just for being thin. To fire a model for being too thin would be just as bad as firing one for being too fat. Theoretically. When thin is 85 pounds and fat is 120, it adds a slightly different dimension. Because most of these models are unhealthily thin and those considered fat are nowhere near unhealthily overweight, let alone obese.

So what’s the solution? The cliché is that we need to celebrate girls of all sizes but obesity and extreme thinness can have major consequences health wise. However, there’s no reason we have to make weight the center of the debate. Why don’t we make the debate a health-centered one? Whether a girl, or woman, is fat, thin, or in-between, she can be living a healthy lifestyle or an unhealthy one. Our society needs to glorify a healthy lifestyle and living up to one’s goals and potential. That is really the main thing, once you do that, size comes naturally. If it’s bigger or smaller who cares, if you’re healthy and happy that’s what’s important. It’s still kind of a cliché, but when society is giving us such conflicting messages, what’s a girl to do?

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