Don’t Make the Thin Girl Ugly
I stumbled across a petition on Change.org started by a fellow blogger, whom I happen to adore. I’ve met her. I’ve laughed with her. I’ve slept in the same hotel room with her. I find her intelligent and quite glorious.
I don’t like her petition…. though I may be in the minority on it.
The petition is to Francesca Bellettini, the CEO of Yves Saint Laurent with this request: “Do not use anorexic models in your advertisements anymore”.
Shannon (who started the petition) uses this picture from the latest Vanity Fair as an example:
She also wrote a blog post about it here.
My problem is that we don’t know that this young woman is actually anorexic. Perhaps the genes she inherited, combined with her youth, keeps her rail thin. Isn’t assuming all skinny girls are anorexic just as bad as assuming all bigger girls are unhealthy?
What really bothered me were some of the comments that I read on the petition page:
The comments go on and on and on…
Here’s another picture:
I was a thin girl.
I was called anorexic. I was called “toothpick”. I was called “boob-less” and “stick figure”.
I was an active teenager who was training in dance and had thin parents.
I also ate four large meals a day, numerous snacks, and spent several months on weight gain shakes just so the name calling would stop. It didn’t.
I know that “Aw, poor skinny girl” is not the majority sentiment, but body issues and self esteem have never been beholden to body type.
I’m not going to lie, being thin did open doors for me and I was able to walk through those doors and enjoy a short career in the fashion industry.
I made a good bit of money in a short amount of time…
and well into my twenties I would still walk down the street and hear other grown women throw over their shoulder, “Eat a sandwich”.
I recognize the existence of “thin privilege” in our society, and am not trying to declare that the insulting comments that were made to me on a regular basis compare to a lifetime of living as an overweight person. What I am saying is that inside the bodies are people… and shaming or making assumptions about one in order to make the other feel better will impede any kind of real growth.
Does one need to be ugly for the other to be beautiful?
In Shannon’s post that I linked to above, she calls the use of very thin models cruel, and even “cruel for the girl in this photo as booking this job has affirmed for her that if she’s skinny enough, she’ll work. She’ll think twice about eating even one healthy meal a day fearing if she gains an ounce she’ll be unemployed.” The assumption is perpetuated that very thin girls don’t eat a single healthy meal in a given day. Assumptions based on what people look like is not the message I think we should be sending.
I’m not saying the industry doesn’t dangerously favor a certain body type – it certainly does. However, I do believe it’s changing, and there are companies out there like Dove that have been on the forefront of that change…
But banning thin models and calling them anorexic isn’t the answer. Thin-ness isn’t the enemy – exclusivity is. Instead of banning one body type, we should instead be demanding more body types.
I know that the knee-jerk tendency is to put down one to uplift another…
and that often the pendulum swings high toward both extremes before settling in the middle…
but I would caution against this particular fight being one of those times.
I worry for the young girls out there who are like I was – who are suffering from the same self esteem issues that most teenagers do, and are being told they are ugly not only by their teasing peers, but by adults around them who are crusading for change.
Ceasing to use one type of model isn’t the answer. Starting to use other types might be…
because in school gym classes all over the world, the really thin girl may be standing next to the thick girl, who is standing next to the short girl, who is standing next to the average-built girl…
and they may all have inferiority complexes…
they may all feel a little weird in their own skin…
but they all want to be represented…
and in the end…
they all probably want to buy clothes.
PS – I’d like to note here that I no longer have to worry about being called “toothpick”. Birthing two children, a sedentary lifestyle, and a middle-aged metabolism has taken care of that. In fact, the stupid cashier at Trader Joe’s asked when I was “due” the other day. Assumptions, people. Assumptions!
UPDATE: While the petition still stands, Shannon has since changed much of the insulting and assuming language about the model.