Published on November 6, 2012 | by Amy Tanikie-Montagnani


BMI: Body, Media and Ideals

Image of woman comparing her stomach to the lady in a valentino advert

The quick fix for imperfections [By Helen Hasse]

At one stage or another, we’ve all felt body conscious.

Wishing we had a few less pounds, were a little taller, darker haired, more defined and generally comparative to the models across billboards and magazines.

It’s obvious that the media has a part to play in the low self-esteem of many across the country, especially in the case of the younger generation, where eating disorders are becoming more apparent.

Although not everyone bombarded by the media develops an illness, the statistics emerging regarding health problems are certainly worrying. – a website dedicated to sharing information on eating disorders and helping its sufferers – states that the media’s influence on the “proliferation of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa cannot be refuted.”

“Michelle was in Year 7 and she got bullied by other children in our year for being ‘fat.’ Amelia

Children as young as five years old are subjected to images and messages reinforcing the notion that, to be accepted and successful, they must be thin.

Data from Rader Programs reveals that 51 per cent of nine and 10 year old girls, felt better about themselves when dieting.

Further statistics show that 79 per cent of teenage girls submit to vomiting up their meals to avoid gaining weight, whilst 73 per cent of teenage girls use diet pills, all of whom are frequent readers of women’s health and fitness magazines.

Amelia, 22, a student from London, knew someone that developed an eating disorder, as a result of being bullied at high school.

She said:“Michelle was in Year 7 and she got bullied by other children in our year for being ‘fat.’

“She basically stopped eating, and would just eat one cracker a day. She wouldn’t eat any fat or meat. She went from being around a size 14 to a size zero in less than a year.

“Eventually, her parents admitted her to hospital, but she tried to run away because she didn’t want to be forced to eat.

“However, she was brought back and she slowly started eating small amounts of food again. Now, many years later, she is back to her original weight.”

Many young people see distorted images of themselves [Flickr: Mcoop13]

This is a clear example that for many teens, being slim is incredibly important, especially when their idols are celebrities with an unnaturally skinny figures.

Rader Programs found that 10 years ago, plus-size women are usually between size 12 and 18, yet the majority of plus-size models on agency boards today are between size six and 14.

In 1950, mannequins closely resembled the average measurements of women, which was 34 inches.

By 1990, the average woman’s waist measured 37 inches, while the mannequin’s went down to only 31 inches.

Some of the pictures of models in magazines do not really exist either.

They are a result of computer-modified compilations of the ‘perfect body’, presenting an extremely unrealistic perception of how both women and men should look.

The Industry 

Models like Kate Moss – who is 5’7” and weighs 95 lbs – are a lot below the ideal body weight and definitely should not be taken as an example of a ‘perfect’ figure.

“It’s better to be skinny than to be fat.” Natalia Vodianova

Most runway models meet the Body Mass Index (BMI) physical criteria for anorexia.

However, Gisele Bundchen was Vogue’s model,  Despite being 25 per cent below her ideal body weight – weighing 115llbs with a height of 5’11, she appears not to be the typical matchstick model.

Of course the pressure to look model-thin, is not helped when supermodels like Natalia Vodianova speak about not understanding why models are condemned for being underweight.

At the London 2012 Vogue Festival, Vodianova said that it is “better to be skinny than to be fat.”

According to reports, when her peers began to praise other body shapes Vodianova waded in again, saying, “Come on guys, you know it’s better to be skinny than to be fat” which was strangely met with applause in the Telegraph.

“I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat.” Elizabeth Hurley

Also, we should not forget the now infamous Kate Moss quote, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Media Influence

When looking at television and film and their link to eating disorders, Rader Programs reported that watching music videos featuring thin women led to an increased feeling in body dissatisfaction.

Model and actress Elizabeth Hurley stated in Allure magazine: “I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat.”

If we all looked perfect we’d be living in a world of clones, so it’s important for us to be different in colour, race, size and sex and not mirror the stereotypical models portrayed everywhere.

However, a survey conducted by Glamour magazine also discovered that 61 per cent of women were ashamed of their hips, 64 per cent were ashamed of their stomachs, and 72 per cent were ashamed of their thighs.

Dove magazine is one publication that embraces the individuality  of women, with headings such as, ‘fit’, ‘fat’, ‘wrinkled’ or ‘wonderful’ aiming to uplift, encourage and highlight that we are all different and beautiful.

Yet the women in the articles and adverts only looked very marginally overweight, making the issue of ‘size zero’ an endless debate and bigger problem.

Industry veterans like Achilleas Constantinou are campaigning for change to promote healthier bodies.

But although Mr Constantinou agrees that “an ideal weight is the goal for health,” he also puts pressure on women to look a certain way when he says, “women should be slim for their men.”

Mark Fast Autumn Winter 2010
showing curvier girls [Knotpr]

The Future

However, designers such as Mark Fast and Ziad Ghanem give hope for a change by using regular or plus size models in their catwalk shows.

So even though it is obvious that there is still a long way to go in changing the predominant slim shape of the A-Listers and supermodels, small steps are definitely being made.

With new fashion publications moving away from the overtly skinny body image, people will hopefully start to change their views about the beauty myth and what exactly the ‘ideal body image’ is.

With celebrities such as Lady Gaga – who has struggled with eating disorders – now putting on weight, as well as the popularity of certain voluptuous celebrities like Christina Hendricks, America Ferrera and Kat Dennings, maybe the days of the ‘size zero’ fantasy are numbered.


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