Vogue editors recently pledged not to publish photos of models who “appear to have an eating disorder.” Now, Tyra Banks is applauding their stance in a long essay on the Daily Beast in which she gloats this pact “calls for a toast over some barbecue and burgers!” Except, it doesn’t really!
The editors are only promising not to publish images of models who “appear to have an eating disorder.” But what you see as an eating disorder might not be what a Vogue editor sees as an eating disorder. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, told Life’s Little Mysteries, “You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have an eating disorder.” What’s more, “Who at Vogue is qualified to make such a diagnosis?” Well, no one. The best thing Vogue editors can do to encourage their readers to have a healthy body image is photograph a range of body types instead of only models who are so thin that they could be ill. Think Bar Refaeli — wouldn’t it be nice to see more women who look like her in Vogue?
American Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, who oversees the magazine’s fashion shoots, has said that the editors don’t want to photograph too-thin models, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. “Personally we’re not allowed, at Vogue, to work with girls who are very thin, but you never know, because you could book them and think they’re a certain size, and they turn up on the shoot and suddenly they’ve spun into this anorexic situation,” she said. “And you’re on the spot and you have to get the job done and you have one day to do it, and what do you do? But you try to be responsible.”
The key word there is try. I believe that American Vogue doesn’t want to glorify eating disorders. Yet they eschew a Bar Refaeli body type in favor of women who are much thinner — and it seems unlikely that they want to photograph models who are much bigger than these women, who appear to be standard fashion model size and are some of the most-booked faces in the industry today:
Vogue does, to some extent, show us a variety of body shapes when they put celebrities like Jennifer Lopez or Rihanna on covers. But a lot of space in the magazines still goes to very thin models. And if Vogue wants to change that, modeling agencies will have to help them by signing fuller-figured women, and designers will have to do their part by casting those girls in shows and ad campaigns. Vogue is very influential but this is not a fight they can wage alone — even with Tyra Banks’s sideline cheerleading.
Take Victoria’s Secret. The lingerie empire’s models are consistently held up as the hottest women in the world — and they’re really thin, too. (The implication seems to be that just because they are “curvy” that they couldn’t possibly be unhealthy.)
One of the brand’s most famous faces, Adriana Lima, said prior to last year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that she works out twice a day before the show and subsists on a liquid diet for nine days. (She later had to tell teenagers not to try doing the same thing themselves.)
So Tyra can applaud Vogue for their quest to hire only healthy models all she wants. But until we see heftier women in those pages and across other magazines and catalogues around the world, I wouldn’t get excited over any of this.