photo Matthew West/ Boston Herald
Last night I attended a forum hosted by Mass General Hopitals’s Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders featuring a panel of hosts that included Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue (for the 2 of you who may not know her by name), designer Michael Kors and supermodel Natalia Vodianova. The topic was health and wellness in the fashion industry, and more specifically, how the fashion world, in all it’s reed thin glory, plans to change the shape of fashion. Literally. I of course, was beyond excited to see Anna and Michael in person, being a superfan of Vogue, The September Issue, Devil Wears Prada and Project Runway. But closer to my heart is the subject of eating disorders. As many of you know from a couple previous posts and article for Huffington Post, I am a recovered anorexic and am eternally interested in current research and ways I can help to support the cause of finding, if not a cure, a better way to treat this vicious disease.
Let’s start with Anna though, because I know you want to know. In she walks, looking almost like someone dressed up in an Anna Wintour costume. Here sharp bob so severe, her famously thin frame covered up by a billowy trench coat, zebra patterned full skirted dress, tights and a BLINDINGLY beautiful necklace. She was, in the flesh, exactly how she looks in photos and on screen. Many people have commented how odd it is to have someone who is so painfully thin (not to mention the purveyor of the “heroin chic” imagery we all see in Vogue) commenting on eating disorders. I agree to a point, but can’t comment on Anna herself. I don’t know if she has an eating problem or if she is just naturally very skinny. I am not a doctor and can’t judge her based on how she looks- there are plenty of women who are naturally very thin in this world and she may be one of them. What I can say is that she does seem to be putting in effort, with the CFDA’s Health initiative, into changing the guidelines for models that work the runways (no models under 16, not employing girls who are known to be sick, no smoking or alcohol backstage, changing the size 0 sample size). Anna clearly spoke with conviction about wanting to change the concave stomach and jutting collarbone imagery we see, but truthfully admitted that transforming an empire as large and powerful as the fashion industry will take time and baby steps. She spoke about the disconnect between the reality of the clothing that goes out to the market and the sample items they receive for shoots. She talked about the fact that size 4 samples have been downsized to be smaller than what used to be a size 0 and how, as an editor, these items simply wont fit a healthier sized model. It takes teamwork, and the designers themselves are going to have to produce larger sample sizes so that the models we see wearing their clothing on the pages of Vogue don’t look like they are about to fall over and perish. Clearly thought, the woman to demand that change is Anna. So my question is, if she truly is so behind this change, why doesn’t she take a stand and say she won’t use or publish any samples smaller that a certain size so she can use, say, size 6 models? If you’ve seen September Issue you know the extreme power she has over these designers and if she demanded that, they would scramble to change the sample size in a heartbeat. End of discussion, right? Seems like a big part of the solution to me, but perhaps I’m simplifying it too much.
Michael Kors ( whom I *pink puffy heart* adore) spoke about this issue from a designers perspective and was quite candid about it. He said he’s delighted to see that real adult women are back in style- models in their 40’s like Elle McPhearson back on the runways! He said he’s never interested in projecting an unhealthy image to the women he wants to buy his clothes, and I agree. I think Michael Kors has a much more mature, all American kind of beauty associated with his label. But then he then made a grandiose statement declaring he would “not ever again use a model under the age of…16” Huh? My friend Sarah and I looked at each other and we both were like “I thought he was gonna say 18 after all that business about ‘adults being back in vogue!!!'” 16 is still a child! A girl of 16 can barely drive, can’t vote, can’t get into a friggin’ R rated movie! This is exactly why it’s going to take so long for the imagery of women we see in fashion to change. A model of 16 will still have the body of a child, because she is a child- so when a woman of 35 sees her in the pages of Vogue modeling an outfit she loves and it makes her feel crappy about herself, it’s because it’s an unfair visual to publish to the public that is actually buying the clothes and the magazines. A 16 year old is NOT wearing Michel Kors to school, now are they? They are wearing Express jeans and Team Edward t-shirts (ok, so are some 30 year olds…ahem)
The one speaker who I thought was touching and truly understanding of the severity of the illness and what needs to be done was Natalia. Having been under the scrutiny of the industry for so long and having battled an eating disorder, she spoke sweetly about how hard it is to have a job where you “put your self worth in other people’s hands. People who don’t care about you”. She also spoke off the cuff about having an eating disorder after she was pregnant and how there were “little voices and gremlins in her head” telling her not to eat. I was floored ot hear her admit this publicly because I’ve always had a hard time talking about that fact because I thought it sounded so completely insane and impossible for people who haven’t been sick to understand. But it’s true. When in the trenches with an eating disorder it’s almost as if there are two dialogs going on in your head- your weakened normal mind and then the steely resolve of the eating disorder telling you you shouldn’t eat this, you aren’t worth that, you need to keep your body “pure of food”. It’s terrifying. Still, it is hard to relate to a supermodel who is tall, gorgeous and very thin, as pointed out by an audience member. These three panelist have the platform to help make a change, but the reality of eating disorders is so far from their glamorous existences that it was hard to connect to them in a real way. Another model, Doutzen Kroes was there, who, when she walked in totally grasped your attention with her beauty but also caused me to exclaim “she looks like a real woman!” Not bone thin at all, but a glowing, natural beauty with curves in all the right places- it turns out she’s been rejected by most high fashion designers lately for being “too fat”. That absolutely slayed me, because, well- just look at her:
First of all, she’s thin. Secondly, she’s healthy looking. Thirdly, most women would kill to have her figure. The average American woman is a size 14, so at a size 6, Doutzen is still thin, so why is she considered “too fat” to sell clothing to the purchasing public???? Talk about a disconnect! Seeing her and hearing from her on the video we viewed had more of an impact on me than hearing from the other panelists because it so obviously illustrated the absurdity of the industry standard size 0.
The whole forum ended up feeling a bit like a dog and pony show where the focus was on having these super famous people there and less about the dark reality of eating disorders, in the fashion world and in the real world. When asked what they think the runways will look like (body size wise) in three years, Anna and Michael guffawed loudly and said “darling, in fashion, 3 years is like 30 years, who knows- lets just focus on the progress made tonight”. That frivolous blow off of a really good question left a pretty lousy taste in my mouth and made me feel like this was all just a giant PR campaign for them and the CFDA and less about the amazing work the Harris Center is doing to affect real change and create hope to those who are battling this complicated and baffling disease that has the highest mortality rate of ANY mental illness.
In all honesty, the fact that skinny models grace the pages of fashion magazines is not exactly causing us, as a nation, to wither away to nothing. We have quite the opposite problem, in fact. And someone is not going to “catch” anorexia by admiring the willowy limbs of Kate Moss in a fashion spread. Eating disorders are a disease with biological and psychological components and it takes many factors to create the perfect storm in which one develops. When I became sick the women I thought were beautiful (Cindy Crawford, Nicki Taylor, the cast of 90210, embarrassingly enough) weren’t sickly looking, emaciated girls. They were healthy, and yet I starved myself nearly to death. So while I applaud the CFDA and Vogue for addressing this issue, I’ll hold my real applause when I actually see a true change. In the meantime, I’d rather lavish my praise on those at the Harris Center for doing the REAL work.