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Catherine B

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Don't blame fashion for eating disorders [Sep. 14th, 2009|01:29 pm]
Catherine B
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 It’s London Fashion Week, and with that comes the inevitable return to what has become known as ‘the size zero debate’. The question posed by most journalists when naively attempting to cover a story on the subject is whether or not the fashion industry is to blame for the rise in cases of Eating Disorders, more often than not lazily jumping to the conclusion that yes, this constant bombardment of skinny ‘role models’ forces girls and women to ‘become’ anorexic. If only life were that simple.
As a recovering Anorexic and Bulimic, I can tell you quite simply (if you ask me directly, quite abruptly) that no, the fashion world is most definitely not, nor has it ever been the sole cause of the development of an Eating Disorder. Just as Marilyn Manson was the scapegoat for the Columbine shootings, the media points the finger at what to them is the most likely explanation – or with regards to size zero, sells the most copies of their magazine. The tired conclusion that stick insect models and rake thin celebrities are behind the huge number of people suffering with Eating Disorders only perpetuates the stereotypical belief that Anorexia is a lifestyle choice – a diet gone too far. This presumption angers me beyond belief. Throughout years of treatment being an inpatient, outpatient and using internet support forums, I have not met one single person who claims that images in the media have played a part in them forming an Eating Disorder. I can assure you that nobody makes a conscious decision to become so ill that they have to spend months or years in hospital away from their loved ones, be force fed through a naso-gastric tube or observed around the clock with not an ounce of dignity to their name. I would not wish any aspect of this illness on my worst enemy (not that I have any, but a saying is a saying): to generalise it to the point of accusing catwalk models belittles those who fall victim to it and completely dismiss the sheer complexity of Eating Disorders as a whole. 
Returning to Fashion Week, it is important to observe where the interest now lies. In comparison to years gone by, the vast majority are more concerned and more familiar with the names of the designers – Luella, Balmain and Christopher Kane are acknowledged and recognised above the models who walk the runways. Of course, there are still big names such as Agyness Deyn and Lily Cole, but their popularity pails in comparison to the supermodels of the 80s and 90s – the emphasis and praise now tends to lean towards the talent, the brains behind the season’s collections rather than the walking coat hangers. Models are chiselled, robotic, zombie-like and expressionless – to see a smile on the catwalk is sadly a rarity and their often shocking thinness is certainly a worry and I do feel that it should be compulsory for agencies to take more care of the models they sign up (health checks, nutritionists and strict rules to prevent overworking), but their job is to be a blank canvas on which to demonstrate the skill of the designer, nothing more, nothing less. 
Despite my passionate views against the notion that images of these women causes Eating Disorders, this is not to say that they are not damaging. Seeing models as unnaturally thin as those used on runways and printed in magazines certainly has a negative impact on what women regard as acceptable, and possibly due to how often we are confronted with the ultra skinny look, it has unfortunately become something that many women aspire to replicate in their own Weight Watchers and Special K filled lives. It seems that the gossip magazine culture in which we live has almost forced women to become impressionable and vulnerable, believing that the utterly unrealistic pictures of airbrushed models are attainable. We are pressured into thinking that we should do what we can to mirror that false ideal, forgetting that those we idolise have personal trainers, nutritionists, stylists, makeup artists and more importantly, that the average size for British women is a 14 – 16. Using fad diets in a desperate attempt to achieve such extremely unreachable ideals is a load of codswallop. Again, although they may not be dangerous with regards to the development of Eating Disorders, this obsession with wanting to be thin and fit in with a certain kind of appearance is dangerous in that it can and does perpetuate a worrying lack of self esteem amongst women. Magazines plastered with models with washboard stomachs, ribs sticking out all over the place and tips on how to lose a stone in ten days may not be to blame for Anorexia (although they may help perpetuate the illness), but they are to blame for promoting the message that we should work against what nature has bestowed upon us and that an unhealthy weight is more acceptable and admired than a natural, womanly figure. 
There are, however, exceptions to this and more and more we are seeing movements against size zero idealism. The Dove Campaign, Gok Wan and Colleen’s ‘Real Women’ are refreshing examples to women that it is ok to be a normal, healthy size and weight. If we must look up to celebrities in the way that the Western world seems to have to, then we should celebrate the beauty and confidence in people such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Dita Von Teese. Even designers themselves, ever chastised for providing ridiculously tiny sized samples of clothing are now making a name by dressing big names regardless of their size (think Matthew Williamson for Beth Ditto). We’re a long way off a rosy future filled with grinning size 16 models or office workers happily chomping down chocolate bars without thinking they’re being ‘naughty’ and Heat magazine will continue to obsess over who has lost x amounts of weight, but it isn’t all doom and gloom if we don’t let it be that way. Let us just sit back, relax, forget all of this size zero nonsense and see this year’s London Fashion Week as it is supposed to be seen, as a celebration of 25 years of British Fashion. 

From: drg40
2009-09-14 02:46 pm (UTC)

Eating disorders

I recognise the passion behind the pleas, but that doesn't make for a reasoned case. Bear in mind that the message received by the average punter from the industry is mediated by an ad/marketing co, image gurus and the media by which the message is carried.
There is also the effect of peer pressure which may originate from a misunderstood ad campaign.
I'm afraid the fashion industry can' get off that lightly - they sowed the wind, or sarted the idea of the preferred image. To complain now that that wasn't what they meant doesn't absolve them of blame.
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[User Picture]From: catherineib
2009-09-23 10:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Eating disorders

I agree to an extent, it just frustrates me when everybody jumps on the bandwagon when it comes to viewing the fashion industry as the main focus of the blame. I know that it doesn't help at all and that many changes need to be made, but I stand by my claim that it very, very rarely is to blame for the development of an Eating Disorder.
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[User Picture]From: airmarshall
2009-09-14 03:37 pm (UTC)

Depth beyond Depth.

Self knowledge is the desire to knowing one self, and to know oneself one must address the unconscious mind.

However we are as individual’s unconscious and fail to see our own potentialities for decisions, so much so the habitual becomes the grave and constant desire to look outside of our selves for rules. Rules that we can then consider might become the regulation in our lives to alleviating our anxieties. It is our human inadequacy (particularly that of the western mind) that a large proportion of the blame rests with education and the promulgation of old generalisation, which never addresses the secrets of private experience. This only serves to encourage the teaching of idealistic beliefs. Beliefs then become conduct, which people know in their hearts we can not live up to, only to discover such ideals are those preached by officials who in themselves know that it is not possible to live up to such standards and worst of all nobody ever really questions the value in this kind of teaching.
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[User Picture]From: catherineib
2009-09-23 10:49 pm (UTC)

Re: Depth beyond Depth.

Philosophical overload!
Rules are made to be broken, I only wish more people (including myself) had the heart and passion to break those we enforce on ourselves for the sake of other peoples' expectations.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-09-14 03:48 pm (UTC)
I too have had concerns about how the fashion industry has become the sole target of people concerned about eating disorders. As you point out, these images of course have a certain amount of impact on the viewer.

there is one point, however, that I would like to add, which in my personal experience with eating disorders, and in the experience of friends who have struggled similarly, is a major player and that is the issue of control.

All of the women I know who have struggled with eating disorders (myself included) were in many ways struggling with issues of control. Death or illness of a parent, childhood sexual and physical abuse and other traumas frequently precede and/or accompany a pathological relationship to food.

I dont know if or how this may apply to disorders such as binge eating (with no purge) but I know that for me, faced with the overwhelming challenges of a scary and hurtful world beyond my control, I found a sense of agency in dominating and controlling my natural instinct to feed myself. the physical signs, like being able to take off my old (healthy self) jeans without undoing the buttons told me that I had achieved something. It was a force of will power saturated with fear and powerlessness that at 36 I still struggle with (I currently have clothes ranging from size 2-8 in my closet).

I am fortunate as my disorder has never landed me in the hospital but it is always there. yes I achieve pleasure and a sense of achievement in being able to make myself thinner, at the envious comments "oh you've lost so much weight! how did you do it?" (answer: don't eat even if your body screams for it) and I'm sure it has something to do with the images of female beauty we are bombarded with by the media but, while it may in some ways contribute to or exacerbate my damaging behavior toward myself, I have never, ever considered it to be the cause.

for me personally, the source is a sad heart, a damaged soul and a pervading sense of powerlessness that still haunts me from my childhood. this may or may not ring true with others' experiences but it certainly has been mine. Ultimately, eating disorders are complex and varied in their manifestation, making it difficult to identify just one cause. By only focusing on the fashion/beauty connection, other important contributing factors fall by the wayside.

just my $0.02. thank you for your article.
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[User Picture]From: catherineib
2009-09-23 10:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest response, it sounds like you get exactly where I am coming from in that I'm not advocating the fashion industry's use of skinny models, but knowing that there are so many other factors that go unnoticed when people blame what to them seems the most reasonable explanation.
I hope you're not struggling too much anymore.
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[User Picture]From: bernthewitch
2009-09-14 06:00 pm (UTC)
More than anything else, I agree with your last paragraph. It is only until we stop scrutinising every inch of our bodies in terms of 'what other people expect' that we shall be, truly, happy.
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[User Picture]From: catherineib
2009-09-23 10:57 pm (UTC)
Yes, wouldn't it be lovely if the concept of the 'ideal body image' just didn't exist? The only hope is that we may have seen a peak in this kind of obsession - many people and organisations are now fighting it, so perhaps we are moving towards a more accepting, realistic vision of how one should look.
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[User Picture]From: airmarshall
2009-09-25 10:29 am (UTC)

Depth beyond Depth.

The earliest accounts of primitive man and their groups or tribes (societies,) where indeed sophisticated, when discovering there was a wayward teenager beyond tolerance, (one that would not follow the rules) in their midst, would dash a rock across their skull or even throw them from the top of a cliff.

The reasoning? They threatened the stability and survival of the group, tribe.

Rules were never made to be broken, contrary to popularist dichotomy, they were in point of fact made to be followed, adhered to and lived by.

Look a little bit deeper.
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