Thursday, March 8, 2012

Banning Skinny Models Could Curb Anorexia, But The Media Needs To Take Responsibility Too

Banning Skinny Models Could Curb Anorexia, But The Media Needs To Take Responsibility Too

Body image in our society is out of control. We have young women–and men–comparing themselves to unrealistic models and images in the media and feeling bad about the way their own bodies look because they don’t somehow measure up. Despite the backlash against airbrushing and photoshopping and saying they promote unhealthy body images, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia continue to affect over 11 million Americans. But according to a new study, there is something else we can do to help curb these numbers: Eliminate skinny models. It’s a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t go far enough.

The study from the London School of Economics found that reducing the number of images of skinny women on TV, runways and in magazines would decrease society’s obsession with being thin. Because of that, the study suggests that we should adopt new laws to put limits on how thin a model can be.

The researchers explained in their paper:
Government intervention to adjust individual biases in self-image would be justified to curb the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders.
They go on to say that such laws would make models and the media take more responsibility for health:
The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance of the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health.
Good points, and at first glance, all of this sounds like a step in the right direction. But it also treads along a dangerous slope of sending the message that thin is bad. There are a lot of very thin people who are naturally built that way. We need to be careful not to shame them for their bodies, the same way we don’t want to shame bigger people for their bodies.

But the bigger issue here is the advertisers and the media–not just the fashion industry itself. Like it or not, they have a lot of power in the way that people view themselves. Magazine covers, movies, TV shows, commercials, billboards–these are all very influential in our society. The media needs to take more responsibility for the out-of-control body image issues we have, along with everyone else. And, just like the fashion industry, they can help to curb that by showing more realistic bodies–thin, overweight and everyone in between.

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