Culturally, eating disorders are associated with models, ballerinas and teenage girls desperate to look like Taylor Swift. We see stick thin girls with gaunt, sallow faces; ribs eerily prominent. The phrase ‘unrealistic standard of beauty’ is thrown around, which implies that eating disorders are easily cured with a meat pie and a stern talking to.
So why are they stuck in the heads of sufferers for years?
I once had an eating disorder. I come from a dance background and I’m in the entertainment industry; there is always pressure to be trim, taught and toned. When I was in my early teens, I was put on a drug to control my temporal lobe epilepsy. While the drug stopped the seizures, the side effects were a slowed metabolism and increased appetite. That, coupled with the changing body of an adolescent girl, assured that I went (quite quickly) from an athletic dancer’s physique to a chubby, unfit package.
Seeing your body transform like this at the age of 14 is tricky. Couple it with the fact that your greatest passion; dance, requires extreme fitness/muscle tone and it becomes trickier. Add an obsessive, anxious personality and you have a recipe for disaster. Looking back, I really had no hope. I was obsessed with food. All I thought about was increasing my fitness and decreasing my weight. I went through periods of deprivation, followed by extreme (and secret) binging. My size fluctuated, along with my self-esteem and mental state.
I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t seek help; I was exhibiting every symptom. Here’s the thing; I never looked anorexic. I was never one of those skeletal images we’ve grown so used to. As such, nobody ever saw it as a disorder, not even myself. However, what society doesn’t realise, through lack of information or lack of interest, is that having an eating disorder DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY IMPLY anorexia or bulimia. There is another spectrum.
Let’s talk about OSFED; Other Specified Eating and Feeding Disorders. An OSFED sufferer can display many of the symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, but will not meet the full criteria. This doesn’t mean that OSFED is any less serious; 30 per cent of people who seek treatment suffer from it.
Eventually, I began to realise that I had a serious problem. None of my friends obsessed over their weight like I did. With the support of my wonderful parents, I sought help and spent time with a psychologist. I’m now – at the age of 27 – very much out of the woods. However, if I had known earlier that there was more to an eating disorder than being dangerously underweight, I could have saved years of stress.
My purpose here is to clear up a few glaring misconceptions. I can think of 3 big ones:
- You can control your eating disorder.
FALSE. Anorexia is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Other eating disorders follow a similar vein and require behavioural therapy.
- It is a plea for attention.
SO FALSE. Having an eating disorder is psychological torture. The damning voices never leave you alone; they lead to self-harm and even suicide. There are far better ways to get attention.
- It is a sign of vanity.
UNBELIEVABLY FALSE. There is no beauty to be gained by jaundiced skin and protruding ribs. Aside from that, the resulting body dysmorphic disorder distorts your image. A size 4 will look in the mirror and see a size 14 staring back.
Please; if you are reading this and you relate, seek help now, regardless of your size. Stop the juggernaut before it consumes you. Eating disorders are not trivial, they are serious mental illnesses and should be treated as such.
Image via Thefix.com
When Paris, the fashion capital of the world, moves to ban super-thin models in an attempt to combat anorexia, the rest of the global industry takes notice.
But what impact, if any, will this have on the way Australian modelling agencies and fashion festivals do business?
French parliament last Friday voted to criminalise modelling agencies’ use of critically thin or malnourished models; sparking protest from some key French industry figures who accused the government of confusing anorexia and thinness. The tough new measures will see modelling agencies caught using models under an as-yet-unspecified minimum body mass index (BMI) face the threat of up to six months in prison and a hefty fine of €75,000 – about AU$108,000 – for flouting the law.
Up to 40,000 people reportedly suffer from anorexia in France; 90 per cent of whom are girls and women. Spain already bans models below a certain BMI from working at Madrid fashion shows and Italy orders health certificates for those on the catwalk. And the new laws back recent research by the London School of Economics that imagery of ultra-thin women does significant and measurable psychological damage to women and young girls.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, the head of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Brisbane, which will this year be staged from August 23-28, expressed grave concerns over how France’s tough new super-skinny model ban would be policed. MBFF director Lindsay Bennett (pictured) strongly agrees the fashion industry has a duty of care to only book healthy models, but questioned whether it’s fashion designers, rather than modelling agencies, who should be held accountable for the use of super-skinny women and men on the catwalk.
“Anorexia and eating disorders are an illness and should be managed in a professional way by the appropriate people – to prevent a girl (or guy) who may appear thin (or a lower than normal BMI) from working – could further harm her just as much as ignoring the signs, so it needs to be carefully and professionally managed,” Mr Bennett says.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so I thought. Agencies represent models of all shapes and sizes, be that plus-size, short, tall, black, brown, and every shape and colour inbetween.
“For a Government to impose fines or imprisonment is certainly a different approach. How this is policed would concern me. Most young people today gather their information from the internet so how this is also policed is a far greater challenge. And BMI is a difficult way to assess if a model is too thin or undernourished.
“And it’s the fashion designers who are looking for models to fit a specific size – and not the agencies. So, should not the pressure and penalty be placed on designers if we are to go down this path?”
MBFF has never used unhealthy or too-skinny models, Mr Bennett says. “What we have set in stone at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival in year one was a model guideline for only booking models that were not too thin or appeared to have any issues,” he says.
“In the nine years that we have been staging this event for the state [Queenland] we have never been criticised for booking anorexic models – guys or girls – and if a model did cast for us who, in our opinion, looked undernourished, we would speak directly with the agency to covey our concerns.”
Jodie Bache-McLean (pictured), director of both June Dally-Watkins (JDW) and Dallys Model Management, agrees it’s the expectation of the clients – fashions designers the world over – which is to blame.
“There is an issue with body image with young women today and it’s not just within the modelling industry,” Jodie says, “I have a deep concern about young women’s body image and how they see themselves. They aspire to unrealistic images which they see in the media and on Instagram.
“I believe the expectations from international modelling agencies is the key problem – girls are expected to be unrealistic measurements – size zero or 34, 24, 34 inches, which is so tiny. I would rather a girl didn’t work overseas than have to fit these unrealistic measurements.”
MBFF is this year celebrating its tenth anniversary. It will now showcase the best of spring/summer style from the historic John Reid Pavilion at the Brisbane Showgrounds.
Images via Twitter, The Social Standard, fashion-weeks.net