After a dreadfully long winter, spring is finally in the air! This means bathing suit season is right around the corner. No matter how slender the female, young women always feel as if they could knock 5 or 10 pounds off their frames in order to look picture-perfect in those bikinis. However, as Brandeis students we must consider what factors make us want to lose weight and not just simply buy into the latest fad diets. Weight loss should only be instituted for health purposes under the supervision of a doctor or healthcare professional; it should not occur because you want to draw attention from your peers.
Many people say “women dress for other women” (i.e., men do not care if your pumps are Christian Louboutin or Aldo), and I would argue that women want to be thin for other women as well. Ask your guy friends who they’d rather date: Kate Moss or Scarlett Johansson. I think the message is pretty clear in that guys aren’t turned on by a bag of bones (unless they’re archaeology majors or something), but a lot of girls find the skeletal runway model look more appealing. Since 2006 there has been a push from the fashion world to make a standard Body Mass Index of 18 in order for models to walk the catwalk. However, this was mostly from Europe, specifically Madrid and London. According to the World Health Organization, a woman is underweight if her BMI is less than 18.5. Yes, there are flaws with the BMI measurements (a person who is very muscular may be considered overweight because it is based only on height and weight), but overall, find someone with a BMI under 18 and it may be slightly startling.
It used to be the case that runway models were “supermodels”; think of the bodies of Cindy Crawford, Elle MacPherson, Claudia Schiffer, even Heidi Klum. They were curvy but toned and in shape. When the “heroin chic” look followed in the ’90s, models became very androgynous, with bodies resembling prepubescent boys. (It is rumored that male fashion designers enjoyed their muses as such.) While the heroin chic look isn’t en vogue today, the thin bodies haven’t quite gotten back to the look of Christy Turlington and the likes. In publications such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue you could say, “Wait, a second! They look curvy and healthy.” Sure, they do, but how often do you see Brooklyn Decker on the runway? The models in these male-aimed periodicals would most likely not fit in the tiny sample sizes; thus, they make their income in other ways. The same holds true for celebrities that grace the covers of magazines once reserved for models. They are not always stick-skinny, and that’s why they’re not on the runways in New York City, Paris, Milan, et cetera.
Nevertheless, media bombards us with false images. We strive to meet unobtainable standards of beauty thanks to airbrushing, perfect lighting, professional make-up artists, hair stylists, clothing stylists… You get the picture (well, a digitally enhanced one). We would all look good with that amount of help. In 2009, Eric Pfanner of The New York Times wrote about France’s proposal to label all photos that have been retouched, similar to packs of cigarettes with the Surgeon General’s Warning. Yet I’m skeptical about this making an impact because most people with a conscience are aware of the airbrushing and still desire perfection anyway.
In the 1999 documentary Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women, Jean Kilbourne states that “The ideal is based on absolute flawlessness. She never has any lines or wrinkles, she certainly has no scars or blemishes; indeed, she has no pores.” Celebrities like Kate Winslet, Faith Hill and Holly Madison have been speaking out on this phenomenon and even offering un-airbrushed photos to demonstrate what they “really” look like, cellulite and all, but the majority of magazines or photographs on the Internet of our favorite celebs are retouched to make their personally trained and fed bodies even thinner, their collagen-plumped lips and Botox’ed faces even more impeccable.
Here at Brandeis, we are aware of the world around us. Instead of obsessing about a couple of pounds here or there (that no one will notice), it’s important to engage in healthy habits. Our student body has an awareness of food, animal rights and sustainability, demonstrated by on-campus clubs ranging from the Real Food Coalition, Culinary Arts Club, Cheese Club, Natural Living, Students for Environmental Action, Brandeis Veg*ns, Fair Trade Brigade, F.R.E.S.H Water, et cetera. Moreover, we made it into PETA2’s 2010 Most Vegan-Friendly Colleges, rounding out at number 3 for their “U.S. Small Schools” category, we have a Patchwork Garden that began on campus and we offer weekly baskets of local produce through Community Supported Agriculture. It is important not to get sucked in to the fads that permeate our lives and to take part in something more worthwhile, like one of our many clubs promoting wellness.
To see how images are retouched: http://demo.fb.se/e/girlpower/retouch/retouch/
For more information on any of the clubs mentioned, please see: http://my.brandeis.edu/clubs/
For more information on PETA2’s Most Vegan-Friendly Colleges: http://features.peta2.com/VeganColleges2010/default.asp?c=p210vfc35
For more information on BMIs from the World Health Organization: http://apps.who.int/bmi/index.jsp?introPage=intro_3.html
For more information on France’s proposed airbrushing warning: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/business/media/28iht-airbrush.html?_r=1
For more information on BMI minimums for runway models: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article633568.ece