During a late-night college powwow session many years ago, a guy asked me, for some reason, how much I weighed. I was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and pretty scrawny at the time from biking and walking across campus every day. I told him: 120 pounds.
“What!” he said. “Don’t worry, you don’t look that heavy.”
He was just a clueless college boy, but this bizarre line of thinking—that 120 pounds could possibly be construed as overweight for a 5'8" woman—isn’t limited to frat boys. It exists all over our advertising and our media. Every model in every commercial and every catalogue has stick-thin arms and legs, often made even more emaciated by Photoshop. Watch an episode of Project Runway and you’ll see the contestants picking apart the so-called flaws of a model who looks like she hasn’t eaten in a month—pointing out her “pouchy stomach” or her “big booty.”
PLUS Model Magazine, a publication celebrating the plus-size fashion industry, recently printed some revealing statistics about the models that exhibit our clothes, sell our products, and generally define female beauty. The highlights:
- Twenty years ago, the average model weighed 8% less than the average woman; today, she weighs 23% less.
- Most models meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for anorexia.
- When the plus-size modeling industry began, the models ranged in size from 14 to 20; today, they average between a size 6 and 14.
- Half of American women wear a size 14 or larger, but most standard clothing outlets cater to sizes 14 or smaller.
As Madeline Figueroa-Jones points out, “we are not talking about health here because not every skinny person is healthy.” We’re talking about an abnormal body image that promotes anorexia-thin women as the standard. What’s almost as fascinating (and dispiriting) as PLUS Model Magazine’s revelations are the reader comments that follow the online article, largely focused on whether or not the (gorgeous) plus-size model featured in the accompanying photographs is “fat.” Which tells you that we’ve still got a long ways to go before that college boy mindset is in the minority.
Source: PLUS Model Magazine
Top image: "Young Woman Going to Bed" by Jacob van Loo / oil on canvas; public domain
Bottom image: "Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus" by Pietro Liberi / oil on canvas; public domain