Since the recent announcement by Vogue magazine that they would “not knowingly employ those who appear to have an eating disorder,” there has been much discussion and debate regarding the role of fashion and media in contributing to eating disorders. One of the most vocal proponents of the Vogue decision is former model and creator/host of the television show “America’s Next Top Model” Tyra Banks, who penned an article in The Daily Beast on the subject. In her article, Banks expands beyond fashion magazines and gives advice for young women:
“Vogue has the power to make and break—whether it’s fashion trends, designers, models, and yes, even industry practices. Their bold stance means that others will follow. Now it’s up to you. Take your “flaw,” and turn it on its (fore)head. And never forget that you are fabulous, you are fierce, you are flawsome.”
Along with praise for Bank’s statement came criticism as well. The website Jezebel offered a tongue-in-cheek take down of her stance:
“Alas, her message was a bit convoluted by her own need to invent words (like “flawsome,” which is “flaw” and “awesome” put together) and talk about herself constantly. Did you know that ‘America’s Next Top Model’ solved the eating disorder problem already? It’s true. All they had to do was invite a very skinny girl into the house every season so that the rest of the cast could watch everything she eats and constantly talk about how concerned they are about her behind her back until eventually she gets so stressed out that she cries at the panel and no one has an eating disorder ever again.”
Even on our own Facebook page where was mixed reaction to the article and Tyra’s subsequent interview on “Good Morning America.” Some were encouraged that such a well known celebrity was speaking out against eating disorders, while others felt she was being an opportunist, promoting her own projects and brand.
When it comes to the fight against eating disorders, there are many voices and movements working together – and separately – for the cause. The Jezebel article does make a good point that one program (“America’s Next Top Model”) hasn’t – and won’t – solve the problem of ED alone. One celebrity speaking out does not make ED “go away” once the discussion is no longer considered news-worthy and current by the media. The fight against ED is embodied in everyone who speaks out against the disorder.
Perhaps most important in Banks’ statement is the role of parents in shaping positive messages about beauty and body image. In the GMA interview, she discusses the double-standard between the admiration of male athletes compared to female models. According to Banks, when boys watch a basketball game with their fathers there is not the same pressure to conform, compared to when girls and their mothers look at models in a magazine. There are not the same subliminal messages with males athletes as there are with female models- messages of what an “ideal” body should be.
“To moms everywhere, we need to educate our girls not to fall prey to thinspirational images of beauty. So where do we start? By being very careful about how we talk about our own bodies in front of our daughters. We can show our daughters diverse images of beautiful women: curvy, tall, short, and everything in-between. Moms, you are the first and most influential role model in your girl’s life. Use that power. Teach her to love herself and everything that makes her unique.”
While it helps that people in the fashion industry are speaking out, it is mothers and fathers who have the opportunity to be role models for their children every day. Talk to them. Teach them. Help them learn to love themselves just as they are.