Thursday, June 14, 2007

Too Rich, Too Thin

omen think about their weight the way many men think about sex: all the time. So when is thin, TOO thin?

Just these last few weeks too thin has been selling Hollywood gossip rags. In Touch magazine apparently photoshopped out Angelina Jolie's (32) protruding arm veins for its May cover. The normal body fat that gives a smooth contour to the flesh is missing. Her emaciated arms reflect a significant weight drop while grieving her mother's death this past January. And Keira Knightley (22) is in and out of the tabloids. She has long denied eating-disorder rumors and in January of last year she sued a British tabloid for implying she lied about not having anorexia after losing weight during the grueling Pirates shoot. She probably is telling the truth. Neither woman appears to have a pathological relationship to food.

Last February former supermodel Tyra Banks was on the cover of People after having made a huge internet splash in an unflattering bathing suit. The very same month she was featured inside Vanity Fair channeling Audrey Hepburn. At 5’10” and 161 lbs. Banks's BMI is 23.1 and well within the range of normal health. It should surprise no one that the same woman can look fat in a paparazzi shot and stunning in a photo shoot. We all can.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is sophisticated way to calibrate height & weight (BMI=kg/m2) and do away with the "big boned" excuses. Here are the standards used in medicine:
Less than 18.5 = underweight
18.5-24.9 = normal
25-29.9 = overweight
30-39.9 = obese
40 or more = morbidly obese
We are a fat country and getting fatter. Approximately 33% of adult Americans are obese and an additional 32% are overweight. Yet we also have an peculiar national body dysmorphia, where female celebrities are ruthlessly pilloried for appearing at a normal weight. So from where does this national body distortion arise?

One finger points to the fashion industry. Unlike cigarettes and liquor, American is not protecting it's young from the influence of underweight image marketing. For example, Tyra Banks (33) began modeling on the catwalk at age 18 with a BMI of 16.2; by age 20 as she finished puberty she was curvy enough that her agency pressured her to lose 10 lbs. Instead, she switched to underwear/swim suit modeling in 1995. By 1997 she was the first black woman to be featured on a Sports Illustrated cover, then going on to Victoria’s Secret stardom – all with a BMI 18.8! That's just within the range of normal.

Drugs, diet pills, fasting, laxatives are rife in the image industry – very, very few of these women are that underweight by nature. After a spate of anorexic models died or fell ill last year, Madrid Fashion Week city council organizers enacted ground-breaking legislation: mannequins with a BMI of less than 18 (5'9" 123 lbs.) would be banned from the catwalk. About a third of the models who appeared the previous year won't qualify under the new guidelines, top models such as Brazil's Fabiana, Spain's Esther Canadas, Britain's Kate Moss and Estonian Carmen Kass. But Madrid is alone in treating this as a public health issue. The really big fashion venues – Milan, Paris, New York, London – aren't buying in.
"We worked hard to restrict advertising for alcohol and tobacco because of the potential dangers to our young people, and fashion is now the only major industry without health guidelines." –Lynn Grefe, CEO, National Eating Disorders Association
One study found 47% of school girls 5th-12th grade want to lose weight because of magazine pictures – pictures which are photoshopped out of reality (there are whole websites devoted to exposing this.) The print and film media are actively engaged in a manipulation of public perception. The female image school girls buy into is a simulacrum, an unsatisfactory imitation of, a substitute for real womanhood."Even I don't look like Cindy Crawford when I wake up in the morning," admits the famous supermodel.

How serious is it? It’s a mental illness that progressively damages the body, fatal to 15-20% of sufferers. It precipitates more deaths among females aged 15 to 24 than all other causes combined. (It caused Terri Shiavo's heart failure and brain death.) And eating disorders have doubled since 1960s. An estimated 10 million girls and women, as well as 1 million males suffer from anorexia nervosa (starves, obsessive, body dysmorphia, compulsive exercise) or bulimia nervosa (normal weight, binge/purging cycles). There is some evidence of altered brain chemistry that makes it hard to stop. For more information check ANRED.

Of course there are some famous dead Hollywood anorexics, like Karen Carpenter (32) and Margaux Hemingway (41), along with the aforementioned Audrey Hepburn (61). Several stars lived through it and talked afterwards: actress Jane Fonda (69) suffered from bulimia from age 13 to 37.

The current crop of Hollywood sufferers includes many. Nicole Richie (25) repeated bouts of fainting underscore her eating disorder/drug problem. In November, Richie told Us Weekly: "I'm not in rehab, and I don't have an eating disorder. I'm getting the help I need and taking care of my health." Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. Mary-Kate Olsen (21), Kate Bosworth (24), Victoria Beckham (33) all share the disease.

There are a few stars in Hollywood speaking out against the pervasive thin image. Cameron Diaz (34) has said:
“We get ideals from images that we see and there certainly should be more responsibility put on those people who are putting those images out into the world. Let’s be a little bit more responsible to what’s realistic.”
Kate Winslet (31), nicknamed 'Blubber' in school, has unapologetically appeared nude in six films. She describes the trend as "unbelievably disturbing." After being Photoshopped into an approximation of supermodel perfection for the cover of a GQ magazine Winslet veraciously complained: “the retouching is excessive. I do not look like that and more importantly I don’t desire to look like that.” Listen to what the GQ editor said in response and take it to heart – and tell your children:

"These days you only get two kinds of pictures of celebrities - paparazzi pictures or pictures like these which have been highly styled, buffed, trimmed and altered to make the subject look as good as is humanly possible. We do that for everyone, whether they are a size six or a size 12. It hasn't a lot to do with body size. Practically every photo you see in a magazine will have been digitally altered in this way."

Want this look? It can't be had surgically, but recovery in a facility can be expensive and ongoing.


Seamus said...

The young, ardent soul that enters on this world
with heroic purpose, with veracious insight, will
find it a mad one. --Carlyle.
I am now an ardent fan of Ms. Winslet

Jade said...

"Body Mass Index (BMI) is sophisticated way to calibrate height & weight (BMI=kg/m2) and do away with the "big boned" excuses."


Actually the BMI is a very OUTDATED method of determining... what exactly? Because surely "health" can NOT be determined by an arbitrary calculation that was never intended to measure medical issues or even "ideal" weight (is there such thing as ideal?). It has never been based on actual science but rather on statistical measurements invented by a mathematician, quite a while ago.

The BMI calculation does not distinguish between fat, muscle, metabolism, genetics and bones, because YES some people's bones are denser than others.

Your blog seems to carry contradictory messages: Criticizing and dissecting celebrity's physical changes and blunders, yet implying that cosmetic procedures are in the realm of shallowness. Stating that fat is a (supposed) problem and that's why we're constantly bombarded with messages to fight this problem yet admitting that these messages are contributing to the skewering of many young women's self esteems.
Well it's good to read the reality that the quest to be skinny is taking a toll on many women's lives, but it would also have been nice to read a more balanced and realistic view on fatness.

Re: Kate Winslet, she thinks she fools everyone by those words? In her Titanic days she fretted about her flaws in doing her nude scene and had many self-depreciating comments about her body in her interviews, no wonder people focused on her supposed weight issue and body - because she wouldn't stop talking about it. She slams Hollywood's obsession with thinness, but has dieted herself down to the point that her face has changed drastically. She criticizes magazine covers, all that airbrushing 'I hate that' fiasco, but she won't pass an opportunity to be displayed on such covers, yet again, airbrushed to the point of being completely unrecognizable - oh but this time she's even denying the airbrushing! Kate's countless nudes scenes are obviously not working as body image therapy...She's been obsessed with her body most of her life, she still is, the difference is that she won't admit it, she plays at embracing curves and having a healthy body image etc. etc. ah but her actions betray her...

btw, here's a BMI in pictures project that you might find interesting:

sorry for writing so much! :)

ANNE said...

I'm not convinced that the BMI is outdated and neither is the scientific community. Yes, muscle is denser than fat, but a pound is a pound. As for commenting on the physical changes in celebrities and the surface nature of cosmetic contradiction intended!