When I was 19 and in college, which was a while ago, I remember when a "real" model visited a friend of mine on campus. The model was beautiful and skinny. I noticed how the men looked at her, even my boyfriend. When we all ate in the college cafeteria, she would have a cup of tea and not much else. And the girl really smoked a lot. She told me it kept away the cravings. As innocent as it may seem, this is the first time it occurred to me how one could work to look like those girls on the cover of Vogue magazine. Was this beauty actually attainable, I wondered?
I was a cross country athlete and in good shape, but it never occurred to me to eat less and I could look better. This idea seemed to seep into my consciousness more and more. Finally, I tried to cut down on food. After few days, it became difficult to function in my busy life. I thought maybe if I took up smoking that could help. But I hated the smell of cigarettes and the way it made my hair, clothes and room smell. And I was a runner. A no-brainer, right? So I came to my senses and gave up trying to look like a model.
I'm older now and still love the beautiful photos in Vogue. But, I know this is just an ideal being portayed. A dream being sold. Many young women, however, get sucked in like I almost did.
A recent ban on skinny models during Madrid Fashion Week has brought to light this issue. The shocking move caused a media blitz last month. This is the first time in the world there's been a ban like this. While spearheaded by the Spanish Association of Fashion Designers, the ban did not translate to fashion shows in London , Italy or Paris . Some in the U.S. were outraged by the ban.
Cathy Gould, of New York 's Elite modeling agency, said the fashion industry was being used as a scapegoat for weight-related illnesses. “I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer?” she asked, adding that the careers of naturally “gazelle-like” models could be damaged.
No photographers were quoted about the ban. I wondered why? Shouldn't photographers get involved? Well, I recently surfed some pro-anorexia web sites. Here, girls swap “thinspiration” on how many hours or days they can make it without eating or eating very little. They also plaster fashion photos of rail thin models on the sites to inspire them. Some are completely gross. They post ad campaigns and photos of sub-zero size actresses too. Others put these photos on their cell phones for motivation. Here's a real entry on one of the web sites:
“Every time I see some food, I look away. It's hard, but when I feel weak, I look at a picture of Mischa Barton that I loaded on my mobile.”
It is difficult to know how exactly the “thin machine” gets perpetuated. What is easy is who has access to women susceptible to this disease. Photographers are in a unique position to spot problems and can be leaders on this issue.
In 2005, Adi Barkan, an Israeli photographer and model agent, became aware of the pervasiveness of anorexia when he interviewed 12,000 females, ages 13 to 24, in a televised search for Israel 's next supermodel. He estimated that between 35 and 40 percent of the aspiring models were anorexic. This persuaded him to launch a crusade to combat it within his industry.
I will leave you with a Sept. 06 ad I found on Craigslist.org written by a U.S. photographer searching for “Extra Thin Models.” It should strike a nerve if you read between the carefully-crafted lines:
“Models Who Eat Carefully:
We live and work in a world focused on glamour, fashion and appearance. Many people have struggled with self-image issues that result in selective or restrictive eating.
As a fine art and professional photographer, I have many years' experience of documenting peoples' lives. This is a documentary project that seeks to--gently and with dignity—portray this silent struggle in the lives of everyday people.
Many people are timid about revealing this about themselves. However, if you restrict what you eat, or focus on not eating often, I would like to invite you to participate in this photography project. I am a professional, and approach my work and subjects with respect and dignity.
A few more details: All ages are welcome. No nudity is involved. All responses to this posting will be confidential. This is not a paid position; however, I always provide free professional prints, and possibly other photographic services, in thanks for your help.”- a.s.