Women are struggling with maintaining positive body images and suffering from eating disorders more than ever. Starting from a very young age, both women and men are subjected to the media, and portrayals of the “ideal” weight, size, and body type for an individual.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association website, more than 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life. The average woman in America is 5’4” tall, and weighs about 162 pounds, whereas the average model stands at 5’10” and weighs just 107 pounds (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
This drastic gap of what is shown as “perfect” in the media and what is the true for the average, healthy woman is repeatedly shown in ads and on television and can put enormous amounts of pressure on women – and in particular young girls – to fit the mold of beauty that is imposed by the fashion industry.
The media portrays women as unrealistically thin, selectively choosing women who possess a specific body type to create the standards for women in society. Fashion models are chosen specifically to be tall and thin to create the notion of beautiful women having that particular body type. Women and girls feel if they do not meet that “ideal” thinness, they will not be seen as beautiful, thus starving themselves, purging, or other using other harmful methods to obtain the same thin body as the women in the advertisements and on the runway.
With these eating disorders comes many complications, making it difficult for women to recognize when they are becoming unhealthy or dangerously thin.
Currently, there is such an incredibly small group of “plus sized” models and such limited diversity of body type in the fashion industry, that women and girls are overwhelmed with tall, skinny, light skin types of beauty that it can become difficult – sometimes even impossible – for females to recognize beauty in any other form, including their own body type. This causes such an appalling amount of insecurity and destructive ideals and standards of the female body, influencing women and even young girls to strive to have a body type and specific look that may not be healthy or not at all a possibility.
Additionally, very few changes are being made and these improvements are not being made in the fashion industry until after a tragedy or epidemic has already occurred. For example, French model, Isabelle Caro, died from anorexia nervosa and complications that can accompany anorexia, just six months after releasing her photo in an advertisement with an Italian campaign spreading awareness of anorexia. But no changes were made until 2006 after two more young models, sisters Luisel and Eliana Ramos, died of heart failure and malnutrition just six months after one another.
These devastating loses occurred before any changes to the regulations of models’ health was made.
There needs to be more awareness of the harmful effects of the fashion industry and more awareness and education on eating disorders and other body disorders. Rather than sweeping these types of struggles under the rug, the signs, symptoms and potential treatments should be brought to light, commonly discussed among both women and men, and the various forms of support should be more encouraged and accessible to every individual.
Media literacy and the ability to recognize when advertisements and media is manipulating images and selectively showing particular models and body types could be a huge factor in educating women on what it means to have a healthy body and spreading awareness of how easily the force of the media can persuade women into changing their lifestyles and unfortunately developing an eating disorder or the symptoms of an eating disorder.
Furthermore, there needs to be more body positive advertisements and celebration of all women’s bodies in the media, as well as more variety in the shapes and sizes of the models in the fashion industry for young girls and adolescents to look up to as role models and relate to.