Body

3 reasons banning skinny models isn’t the answer

 

model catwalk

A few weeks ago, the Advertising Standard Authority called out fashion house Yves Saint Laurent for an “irresponsible” advert that featured a model deemed “unhealthily underweight.” The advert, which was printed in Elle UK, was subsequently banned.

As someone who suffered an eating disorder in my teens, I get this and am well aware of the destructive influence that unrealistic beauty ideals can have on women (and men). As someone who writes frequently about body image and the impact of limiting beauty standards, I also understand the urgency for reacting to an image like this.

But I also know that the fight for body acceptance and body positivity cannot just be about an outright removal and ‘banning’ of skinny body types… or any body type. Here’s why.

1. Body acceptance doesn’t mean thin rejection
I have a cousin who is extremely thin; in fact, she doesn’t look too different from the girl in the YSL ad. But she eats well, is active and is a high-functioning, happy, smart woman. She just can’t put on weight, no matter what she eats or how much. If she appeared in a fashion campaign, it’d probably be criticised.

I’m not defending the YSL ad or justifying the millions of highly stylised, Photoshopped images we see everywhere of women who are digitally shrunk and edited so they don’t even look like themselves.

I agree that public outcry about the YSL’s ad and the ASA’s quick critique of it is important and a good sign that we’re talking about what is harmful or helpful for creating a healthier body image.

But what is worrying is when these responses start becoming more of a knee-jerk reaction than a creation of fair, reasonable dialogue. In our haste to criticise the thin beauty ideal we now run the risk of rejecting thinness altogether.

We forget we’re talking about actual people and their bodies. We start saying things like, “Well, real women have curves” forgetting as we utter these snide comments that women of all shapes and sizes, even the skinny ones, are real women.

And yes, I know that skinny shaming isn’t the same thing as fat shaming; that slim people still gain from their thin privilege in a way fat people can’t. But to really move towards body acceptance, we need to move away from any stigmatising or shaming of anyone. It means not creating blanket regulations that will ban any one body type and elevate another without considering the many complex factors that make it what it is.

2. Size isn’t always an indication of health
There is the dangerous trap, as ASA so neatly fallen into, of doing to very thin people what we’ve been doing to the very fat – which is to draw very simplistic conclusions about their health based solely on their size.

For example, earlier this year, France also made splashy headlines for banning the use of catwalk models deemed to be too thin and who fall under a certain BMI. It is always a good thing that measures are taken to ensure the physical health of anyone in any industry, so of course this news met with pretty strong global applause.

But when we consider how the use of BMI alone has proven to be a grossly inaccurate gauge of an individual’s health, we can’t help but wonder how sincere the fashion world is in advocating for better, holistic health. My thin cousin certainly wouldn’t qualify as a model under these rulings though she’s very healthy.

When we tell a skinny girl she is banned from being a model because she’s too thin (and therefore ‘unhealthy’), that’s not too different from telling a fat girl she can’t be considered for the catwalk because she’d be glamourising the ‘unhealthiness’ of obesity.

Either way, we’re judging how right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy a body is based solely on its size – a horribly inaccurate way to measure health, as proven by plenty of recent scientific studies.

3. Healthy bodies look very diverse
I also don’t entirely agree with body diversity campaigns which end up featuring only larger women. I know it’s about giving visibility to sections of society that are frequently marginalised or shamed; but if we’re trying to embody words like ‘diversity’, ‘acceptance’ and ‘positivity’ in our discussions on body image, then we need to not do it by inadvertently erasing whole body types.

We need to stop polarising and start including. Instead of responding to the thin beauty ideal by simply replacing the images with a fatter demographic, we need to start featuring people who are thin and fat and everything in between alongside each other.

We need to go beyond demonising one type of body and promoting another, but to work towards normalising all bodies.

Yes, banning adverts that perpetuate unhealthy beauty ideals may be an important step for fostering stronger discussions about how we, as women, are being represented and valued. But the effort needs to go far beyond just bans; those are just stopgap measures.

We need to simultaneously foster the creation of public spaces and media that honestly and comfortably allow real, healthy bodies to exist as they are.

But here’s the crux: healthy bodies manifest in a million different ways. They’re tall, short or medium, 90 pounds or 200 pounds, differently abled, rounded or angular, wrinkled or smooth, soft or taut, many shades of white, black and brown. They have collarbones that protrude and bellies that bulge, thighs with and without gaps, firm biceps and wobbly underarm fat, flat chests and fleshy breasts.

Until we can respect all these forms without jumping to assumptions about their health, we won’t go far in changing the way we appreciate and value the diversity of our bodies. We’ll simply hop from one (restricted) ideal to the next; and reject whatever doesn’t fit that ideal.

I’d like to propose that instead of working from a place of lack – rejection, banning, negating – we work towards building spaces that affirm, accept and celebrate true difference and diversity.

A space where if there’s an image of very skinny girl, the same ad series gives equal prominence to a very fat girl, a woman of colour and a differently abled girl.

A space where, most importantly, a body isn’t framed to promote any particular beauty ideal, but celebrates the radical new concept of an individual feeling honest, accepting, caring and loving towards her body, its health and every other component part of who she is.

 

This article was first published on Huffington Post UK Blogs.

{Photo: Farrukh / Flickr}

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Jamie Khoo

Jamie Khoo

Jamie is the one-(wo)man-band and founder of a beauty full mind. She's loved writing and words from the moment she started to read, and has written plenty for magazines such as Elle and Time Out Kuala Lumpur, and websites such as elephant journal. Sick of being told by mainstream media and society what she should think of as "beautiful" or not, she started this website to challenge normalised beauty ideals and create new definitions and conversations. Say hello to her on Facebook or by dropping her an email.

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