The hashtag #thin not only generates over 1.6 million images on Instagram, but also comes with a content advisory warning, cautioning viewers that some of the images contain “graphic content” that could serve as a trigger for an eating disorder. “Thinspiration” is more than an internet hashtag. Although the term is a combination of the words “thin” and “inspiration”, thinspiration is far from inspiring. Thinspiration websites have sprouted up all over the internet in recent years, romanticizing pictures of emaciated women and advertising “Pro Ana Diet Tips” for quick, easy weight-loss, such as “eat clear soup broth” and “Keep Calm and Stop Eating”. Yes, “Pro Ana” refers to anorexia, the mental illness with the highest mortality rate in the world.
These websites, which glamorize protruding ribs and thigh gaps, have rightfully come under fire recently for promoting negative body image and glorifying eating disorders. Unfortunately these websites largely reflect society’s view on body image and self esteem. Gone are the days when food was scarce, thus obesity was positive indicator of wealth and high socioeconomic status. Only the wealthiest members of society were able to indulge in feasts so naturally, fuller figures were considered the cultural ideal. At the beginning of 1900’s however, food became cheaper to produce and thus became more available to members of a lower social status. Being overweight subsequently became stigmatized and undesirable.
Fat shaming is a global problem, and is particularly prominent in American culture. Thin privilege is the new white privilege. It is considered socially acceptable to discriminate against overweight people. According to a Yale study, 46% of people would rather sacrifice a year of their life than be obese. Fat shaming has become such an epidemic that even those who do possess a marginalized body are still subject to fat microaggressions. Similarly, skinny shaming is a very real issue in society as well. Telling someone to “go eat a sandwich” is not okay. Skinny shaming is body shaming too.
We have heard from Meghan Trainor in her Billboard #1 song “All About That Bass”: “Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size. She says, boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Likewise, as Nicki Minaj so eloquently phrased it in her hit song “Anaconda”: “F— the skinny bitches. F— the skinny bitches in the club. I wanna see all the fat-ass bitches in the muthaf—in’ club. F— you if you skinny bitches, what?!”
It is important to remember that there is a fine line between empowering positive body image and encouraging unhealthy lifestyles or tearing down someone else for looking different.
The French government recently made headlines for passing controversial legislation, taking a firm stance against body dysmorphia. In response to pro-anorexia websites and forums that “provoke people to excessive thinness”, France effectively banned modeling agencies from hiring malnourished models.
This new legislation requires models to provide a medical certificate proving a body mass index of at least 18. Any modeling agency that fails to comply with the new standards can be subject to the Euro equivalent of an $80,000 fine and potentially even a six month prison sentence. Spain, Italy, and Israel have also adopted similar measures prohibiting the employment of underweight models.
This controversial new law has received both praise and harsh criticism. Critics and members of the fashion industry claim that some women are just naturally thin and should not be discriminated against based on their BMI, which is merely a calculation that does not take into consideration where the body holds fat, nor distinguishes the difference between fat and muscle. Although they bring up a valid point, they are overlooking the fact that this law is not aimed at “skinny shaming” the models; it is directed toward empowering the perceptive young women that look up to them.
Being role models centered in the public eye, it is so important for fashion models to promote healthy body image to the millions of impressionable adolescents and young adults that idolize them. Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who won awards for Best Actress, Best Female Performance, and Favorite Face of Heroism for her leading role in the Hunger Games trilogy, said it best when she stated, “I’m never going to starve myself for a part…I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner’…I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong—not thin and underfed.”
The head of France’s National Union of Modelling Agencies argues that “it’s a little simplistic to think there won’t be any more anorexics if we get rid of very thin models.” It is important to note, however, that the goal is not to annihilate an entire mental illness, but rather to encourage and foster healthy attitudes toward food and self esteem. Cultural attitudes toward body image do not directly cause eating disorders, rather they serve as an impetus for unhealthy eating habits to develop. Although the new French legislation will not eradicate anorexia overnight, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, as they say, and France just made a heartening stride. Hopefully American legislators will follow suit and emulate the European attitude toward body image portrayal in the media.
Everybody deserves to feel beautiful in his or her own skin, but it is time to send the message that health comes first.