It’s time to challenge the size zero cult

by Carly Loman / Beacon Staff • November 8, 2012

Emerson is no stranger to the business of beauty. Our school has a range of fashion magazines, clubs, blogs, and classes devoted to it. Many students involved in these organizations have aspirations to become a part of the industry after graduating. 

But ask these girls how they feel about the waif-like body structure that has become standard, and things may get a little awkward. 

Some argue that there is no problem with models being so skinny — clothing, they say, is better displayed on a thin figure. Plus, others may argue, fashion has never been about reality but rather fantasy. 

And fantasy it is. Only 5 percent of women are naturally built like models, according to National Association of Anorexia and Associated Diseases (ANAD). Quite a few more than 5 percent want to be a size 0. And some of those are dying to get there. It’s not worth it, and it’s time the industry starts displaying a diverse range of body types that more accurately represents the population at large. 

According to a 2008 study by the Public Library of Science conducted in Southern Australia, the prevalence of eating disorders — bingeing, purging, strict dieting or fasting — increased more than twofold over the course of 10 years. Ten years of skinny models in magazines, actresses in movies, and very little body diversity in the media. 

Culture is not the only factor that contributes to eating disorders — to think so would be to simplify a complicated psychological condition to just one factor among many. That said, the body our society projects as beautiful definitely doesn’t help. 

The proof is in the pudding — or lack thereof. Sixty-nine percent of girls between the fifth and 12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their image of a perfect body shape. When that influence manifests itself in eating disorders — bulimia, anorexia, binge eating disorder, EDNOS (Eating Disorder not Otherwise Specified) — things get really serious.

“I’ve always kind of idolized stick-thin models, and I know it’s sick, but I just can’t help it,” said an Emerson student recovering from an eating disorder who preferred to remain anonymous. “I know it’s not healthy, and I know it’s not worth it, but I still can’t help but think that that sort of model thinness is what’s attractive.” 

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness, and according to ANAD, about two in 10 women diagnosed with anorexia will die as a result of complications from the disease. If a business has the ability to impact those statistics, it is my belief that it has the ethical duty to do so. 

Some magazines have tried. A Conde Nast International announcement in May of this year had the 19 editors of Vogue magazines around the world promise to “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder.” Having arguably the most influential magazine in fashion make such a pact is promising — but it’s still not enough. What does “appear to have an eating disorder” mean, anyway? As anyone who’s taken half of a health class knows, not everyone with an eating disorder is stick thin.

There’s no one solution to a problem that influences the collective consciousness of a nation. But there are things that can be done. Globally and nationally, the industry needs to change and diversify its standards. But local action matters, too. We can start with Emerson organizations continuing, or starting, to embrace a healthy body image. 

Because, seriously — this stuff is not worth dying over.