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The Beauty Advantage

2nd August 2010

The Beauty Advantage

by Rachel

I meant to post this the other week, but that pesky thing called life got in the way and I back-burnered it.  Newsweek has put together an awesome special feature on the advantages (and yes, even disadvantages) of being beautiful and how it can affect our lives, careers and health.  There are a lot of great multimedia links to follow, but here’s a few that caught my attention:

(And in my own addendum on the subject, I highly recommend Kathy Peiss’ Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture and — what I consider the definitive work on the history of American cultural beauty standards — Lois W. Banner’s American Beauty: A Social History…Through Two Centuries of the American Idea, Ideal, and Image of the Beautiful Woman.)

I think that most of us would agree that lookism is A Bad Thing, but surprisingly, in a survey conducted by Newsweek, only 46 percent of the public said they would favor a law making hiring discrimination based on appearance illegal.  Is this a case of a deluded public who’s bought the beauty myth hook, line and sinker?  Or could it be a pragmatic public realizing the practicalities of such a law difficult to enforce?   Your thoughts on this and the other columns and galleries in Newsweek’s special feature on beauty?

posted in Body Image, Fashion, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Pop Culture, Rachel, vintage ads | 4 Comments

22nd July 2010

Crystal Renn on skinny pics: “Don’t make me into something I’m not”

by Rachel

Plus-size model and body image darling Crystal Renn and blogger Leslie Goldman appeared on the Today show to discuss the recent airbrushing scandal of Crystal by photographer Nicholas Routzen. I found her to be extremely smart and eloquent in her response to the situation, as well as to the pervasive issues plaguing plus-size models.

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Renn also earlier spoke with Glamour about her reaction to the photos, explaining:

Well, I was shocked. When I saw the pictures, I think I was silent for a good five minutes, staring with my mouth open. I don’t know what was done to those photos or who did it, but they look retouched to me. And listen, everybody retouches, but don’t make me into something I’m not.

I look like me; I look strong. But in the new pictures…well, that body doesn’t look like my body. It doesn’t. Having had an eating disorder, I know what that very thin body looks like on me, and it’s not something I find attractive. It’s not something I aspire to.

I feel completely confident in my own health because I know I don’t look like that, but even to see it in an image was really disturbing to me.

Airbrushing a model beyond recognition is unethical in more ways than one, but given Crystal’s hard-fought battle against anorexia and her public campaign to raise awareness of the disorder, this act of virtually whittling her back to those dark days is especially heinous. Even more ironically, photographer Nicholas Routzen shot and altered these images to promote his nonprofit charity Fashion for Passion, which supports arts and music programs for children. Ehem, Nicholas? It may be a little difficult to inspire a passion for the arts in children who are too obsessed with looking like the unrealistic and unattainable airbrushed images they see in magazines and the media.

Your thoughts on the whole debacle?

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Fashion, Rachel | 15 Comments

25th May 2010

British “health” mag fattens up gaunt thin model

by Rachel

In a strange twist to the usual Photoshopped models debate, a British magazine has ‘fessed up to digitally manipulating an image of a shockingly thin model to make her look… heavier.

Jane Druker, editor of the ironically titled publication Healthy, admitted to airbrushing model Kamilla Wladyka’s cover shot on the April edition of the mag, explaining that the model initially *appeared* to be in good health, but had lost so much weight in the week between casting and shoot that airbrushing became necessary.   As the Daily Mail UK reports, editors added 2-3 stone, or 28-42 pounds, to Kamilla’s photo to make the 5-foot-10-inch, British size-6 model look “a little bit bigger, to make her look like she was a size ten as opposed to a size four” out of concern for the magazine’s commitment to promoting “health and wellbeing.”

‘There were plenty of clothes that we couldn’t put on her because her bones stuck out too much,’ Druker said.  ‘She looked beautiful in the face, but really thin and unwell. That’s not a reflection of what we do in our magazine, which is about good health.’

Good health?  Really?

In its defense, the magazine acted transparently and stated that they do not normally airbrush images of models to give the false illusion of health.  Yet if this model appeared to be so unnaturally thin and unhealthy that digital airbrushing was required, why wasn’t she sent home immediately and another healthier model used instead?  Oh, silly me… I forgot.  Healthy magazine, like so many others, determines health and wellbeing on almost the sole basis of appearance. And as everyone knows, thin=healthy but too thin=unhealthy, so instead let’s just made the model LOOK like she doesn’t suffer from raging anorexia, actual health be damned.

Yes, it’s a good thing that magazines and advertisers are beginning to take heed of the tragic and dangerous social implications of showing images, altered or otherwise, of super-skinny models.  But the solution is not to simply airbrush the same radically thin models into some slightly higher, but more socially-acceptable vision of conformity, but rather to actually seek out and hire models whose body shapes and sizes require very little to no airbrushing in order to meet these standards.  As eating disorder activist Susan Ringwood, who has campaigned for the use of diversely-sized fashion models, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph:

There’s a fundamental difference between using camera work to make someone look polished, and changing the shape and size of someone’s body in order to portray them looking differently, to conform to whatever ideal.  It’s just not helpful and puts huge pressure on people to keep up a hyper-perfectionism that isn’t real. If you can’t trust the health industry to be healthy, how can you expect the fashion magazines to put their house in order?

But, then again, what do we really expect from a “health” magazine that also advertises weight-loss advice on the same cover as the same gaunt-thin model airbrushed to look heavier?

posted in Body Politic, Eating Disorders, Fashion, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Pop Culture, Rachel | 14 Comments

29th March 2010

NAAFA announces scholarship for plus-size student fashion designers

by Rachel

Anyone who wears double digits knows that plus-size fashion can sometimes be a contradiction in terms.  Now NAAFA wants to help motivate student fashion designers to design for larger bodies by offering a $1,000 scholarship.  The deadline for submission is June 1 with an award date of June 15.  Applicants are asked to submit a PDF file with:

  • Three (3) drawings of plus-size designs (women’s sizes 16 – 32),
  • Proof of current enrollment in an accredited Fashion Design School
  • An essay (750 words or less) outlining why your fashion entries are unique/innovative and explaining your interest and motivation for a career in the plus-size fashion industry.

The scholarship recipient will be honored and have the chance to show off some of their collection at the 2010 National NAAFA Convention Fashion Show on Aug. 6 in San Francisco (travel assistance is provided).   Details and an online application are here.

posted in Fashion, Rachel | Comments Off

5th March 2010

Feel Good Friday: Sending a message to the message-makers

by Rachel

It’s Friday, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and I’m much too buoyant to dwell on frustrating and depressing news, so instead I’ll share some fuck-yeah! good news from the north. Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre has teamed up with Toronto-based advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo to creatively combat unhealthy body images promoted by the fashion industry.  The small-budget guerrilla-style advertising campaign involved sending fashion editors and brand marketing directors across the country a Hallmark-style greeting card which reads, “Thanks for helping to make me such a successful anorexic.” They also sent out T-shirts with an absurdly small waist featuring the message, “Please try this on to experience how your ads make us feel.” And an interactive transit shelter with a poster reading “Shed your weight problem here” currently functions as a garbage bin for fashion magazines, complete with a slot at the front which allows consumers to add their glossies to a growing stack of Glamour, Vogue, and Fashion magazines.  The campaign’s broader goal asks marketers and fashion leaders to “cast responsibly and retouch minimally.”

More than half of all Canadian women diet, according to NEDIC, and one in four teenage girls engage in eating disordered behavior (in the U.S., it’s estimated that three out of four women have disordered eating and as many as 10 percent may have a full-blown eating disorder).  The fashion industry often bears the brunt for instilling unhealthy body images in girls and women and while NEDIC director Merryl Bear acknowledges that “a range of factors” are at play when it comes to eating disorders, the organization’s goal, she said, was to “focus on different audiences at different times to look at a broad range of some of the influences on body image and disordered eating.  We wanted to show that both the public and some fashion thinkers are ready for change. It may look provocative and edgy, but it is a very substantive campaign.”

NEDIC is collecting digital signatures for its petition, which asks fashion leaders and marketers to “broaden their definition of beauty and inspire us with looks that are beautiful and attainable.”  Watch highlights from the campaign below (beware: the video contains potentially triggering images of emaciated models).

posted in Body Image, Eating Disorders, Fashion, Fat Bias, Rachel | 9 Comments

2nd February 2010

What We Missed

by Rachel

A new study of 1,000 American girls between the ages of 13-17 by the Girl Scouts finds that 9 out of 10 girls say they feel pressure from the media and/or fashion industry to be skinny.  More than 80 percent of the girls polled said they’d rather see natural photos of models than digitally enhanced or altered photos.

Specialists calculate life expectancy for people with anorexia to be 25 years shorter than average.  Patients who recover however, may expect full lifespans.

A Chicago mom and grandmother shares her story of finally overcoming anorexia after 25 years of battling the disorder.

Remember the mental health parity law that passed in 2008? The The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury jointly issued new rules this week governing the law.

The Website Realself.com tracked cosmetic surgery trends by region and even city with some surprising results.

New “groundbreaking” study shows abnormal brain function in people with body dysmorphic disorder.

Eve Ensler: Girl power can save the world.

The New York Times reviews Michael Pollan’s new book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.”

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Book Reviews, Eating Disorders, Fashion, Food Culture, Mental Health, New Research, Pop Culture, Rachel, Recovery | 8 Comments

11th December 2009

Join the online boycott of Ralph Lauren

by Rachel

Remember the Ralph Lauren shrinky-dink hack job of already underweight supermodel Filippa Hamilton?  Followed by them firing the same underweight supermodel for being too fat?  Now the producers of America the Beautiful are waging an online boycott of the unrepentant fashion house.

On behalf of all the girls who feel ugly, overweight, and just not-good-enough;

On behalf of the parents who worry, cry, strive to help their daughters, and shell out $20,000 a month and above for eating disorder treatment centers;

On behalf of all the Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, women everywhere who have ever been made to feel insecure by the magazines, billboards, ads, and television commercials;

We are calling for the Boycott of Ralph Lauren products.

No more insincere Apologies, no more tiptoeing around the seriousness of this matter, we need a FIRM COMMITMENT from Ralph Lauren and his company that he will put an end to this egregious type of advertising forever. Please join the Boycott and help stop the suffering of women everywhere!

They’ve reached 5,000 Facebook supporters in just two days.  Lend your support by signing the online boycott here and becoming a fan of the boycott on Facebook here.

posted in Eating Disorders, Fashion, Rachel | 10 Comments

12th November 2009

Cindy Crawford on super-skinny models and eating disorders

by Rachel

Supermodel Cindy CrawfordSupermodel Cindy Crawford opened up to the Guardian’s Hannah Poole on super-skinny models and eating disorders.  Check out the audio clip here.

The audio clip starts mid-conversation, so based on the response, I can only assume the first question is on super-skinny models.

I think the girls that are models now, that’s just their body. Did fashion celebrate thinness more? That’s a different question. And you can’t fault the models for that.Those girls are just thin girls. Like, Kate Moss is thin. She eats. I’ve seen her eat. She’s thin. I think that fashion though is all about extreme in a way and it also has to change; it’s constantly in flux. It’s just fashion.  It’s just fashion.

But fashion does get blamed often for encouraging eating disorders…

I think that’s a little bit of a stretch. I don’t know; I’m not an expert. I’m certainly not one of the people they’ve ever blamed because I’m not super-skinny. I think that people want to find something to fault. I think an eating disorder is way more than a girl looking at a magazine and seeing a picture of a skinny model. I think maybe that’s one tiny piece of the puzzle, but I think it’s a lot more about self-esteem.

I’m sure there are naturally-slender women in the modeling business, but I have a hard time believing that a BMI four points (or more) below what the WHO deems underweight to the point where the model doesn’t have enough body fat to support menstruation is “just their body.”  And certainly the latest wave of models to die from complications related to eating disorders indicate that not all are “just thin girls.” But, as I’ve written before, I am with Cindy in that the relationship between super-skinny models in the media and eating disorders isn’t as directly causal as we’d like to think.  Your thoughts?

posted in Eating Disorders, Fashion, Rachel | 20 Comments

4th November 2009

New biz markets fashionable clothes for fat girls

by Rachel

While still sadly lagging in both range and affordability, plus-size clothing has come a long way from the shapeless elastic pants and sack-like tops usually reserved for fat teens and women (find great plus-size fashion tips and reviews at Pretty Pear or Young, Fat and Fabulous).  Yet there still seems to be a relative dearth of similar fashionable options for the 6 million overweight kids in the U.S. who are too large to fit into mainstream youth offerings.  According to one report, the girl’s plus-size apparel market is a $3.2 billion market that is only 16 percent served!  Capitalism, it would appear, is no match for fat-stigma.

Now a new company hopes to fill that gaping void in the children’s clothing market with fun, age-appropriate designs and sizing to fit both average and plus-size girls ages 5-12.  The mission of RealKidz Clothing is to “enhance girl’s self-esteem by providing them with age-appropriate clothing they look good in and are excited to wear.“  RealKidz founder Merrill Guerra was inspired to start the business after experiencing frustration in finding clothing for her own plus-size daughter.   Just check out some of these adorable designs:

RealKidz PLus-Size clothing for girls

I normally dislike the labeling of “real” in describing women because it all too often dismisses naturally slim women, but in the case of RealKidz, it’s entirely appropriate.  The RealKidz K-I-D-Z Sizing Model is designed to fit Slim (K), Average (I), Above Average (D) and Plus (Z) girls ages 5-12.  This system ignores industry standards and takes a much more granular approach to sizing, which, according to Guerra, “moves as close as you can find in the industry toward tailor made.”  And because the clothes are primarily sold in home-based parties (and online), girls are able to see and try on clothing in the comfort of their own or a friend’s home.  The pieces are pricey for children’s clothing, ranging from $24 for a pair of capris and $34 for a flare top, but not unexpected for a new and independent clothing line.  RealKidz is also developing an online social network group that would allow parents to “share their challenges, suggestions and joys” and also provide information from experts in fields that affect childrens’ health.

I’m sure this start-up will have the lunatic MeMe Roths of the world picketing at its virtual doors for somehow “promoting” obesity by allowing fat girls to wear something other than a potato sack, but I’m betting that it’s met with more positive reception than negative.  Even if childhood obesity is the raging public health and national security crisis it’s purported to be — despite statistics that show it hit its plateau years ago — fat kids need clothes too and othering them with a lack of options and styles only serves to further erode what are often already fragile self-esteems, which can not-so-ironically lead to even greater weight gain and health problems.   Bravo, RealKidz, bravo.

posted in Body-Affirming, Fashion, Fat Acceptance, Rachel | 13 Comments

14th October 2009

Underweight supermodel too fat for Ralph Lauren

by Rachel

Supermodel Filippa Hamilton has reportedly weighed in on the “shrinky-dink” hack job of her by Ralph Lauren.  According to the Examiner:

“I was shocked to see that super-skinny girl with my face,” says Hamilton, who’s a size 4. “I think [the Ralph Lauren company] owes American women an apology. I’m very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy.”

Hamilton also told the NY Daily News that Ralph Lauren fired her for “being overweight” and not being able to fit into their clothes.  The fashion house confirmed that Hamilton was released “as a result of her inability to meet the obligations under her contract with us.”

Uhh.. Ralph Lauren?  If a 5-foot-10, 120-pound, size 4 supermodel with a BMI considered to be underweight by WHO standards* is too fat to fit into your clothes…  how exactly do you expect to remain in business?

*Hamilton’s BMI is 17.2.  The World Health Organization considers any BMI under 18.5 to be underweight.

posted in Fashion, Fat Bias, Rachel | 18 Comments

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