Focus on health, not size

We associate thinness with beauty, wealth and power.

Bans on underweight models in Madrid, Spain and Milan, Italy during 2006 stirred reactions across the world. Many organizations and individuals, both in and out of the fashion industry, saw the bans as hope for a new perspective on the “model” figure. But, one year after Madrid’s ban, the future of fashion looks as skinny as ever. It is unrealistic to impose a world-or even nation-wide restriction on models’ weights, but the scary-skinny trend points to larger misconceptions we impose as a society regarding beauty and health.

While models on the runway or in fashion magazines do influence many a girl’s body image, the fashion industry is only part of the problem. Underweight as attractive is in every part of the entertainment industry, from television shows to Hollywood to the music industry. Our multibillion-dollar diet industry speaks to the value we place on appearance. We associate thin not only with beauty, but with wealth, success and power. It is not simply about a single fashion designer hiring a skinny model. It is an ideal that is heavily imbedded within our culture. And statistics show that it isn’t getting better.

Research done by the University’s project Eating Among Teens shows that around 20 percent of 19- to 20-year-old girls practice unhealthy weight control behavior, which they reference as using laxatives, skipping meals, throwing up and taking diet pills.

And these aren’t methods that only college-aged girls use. Studies show that around half of teenage girls think they need to lose weight, women in their 30s and 40s are increasingly being diagnosed with eating disorders, and men account for 10 percent of anorexia and bulimia cases.

Just as unhealthy means of weight control are used by people across the spectrum, the root of the problem doesn’t lie in one specific industry. It lies within our imbedded sense of skinny as better. We must shift our attention to health.