Since the recent announcement by Vogue magazine that they would “not knowingly employ those who appear to have an eating disorder,” there has been much discussion and debate regarding the role of fashion and media in contributing to eating disorders. One of the most vocal proponents of the Vogue decision is former model and creator/host of the television show “America’s Next Top Model” Tyra Banks, who penned an article in The Daily Beast on the subject. In her article, Banks expands beyond fashion magazines and gives advice for young women:
“Vogue has the power to make and break—whether it’s fashion trends, designers, models, and yes, even industry practices. Their bold stance means that others will follow. Now it’s up to you. Take your “flaw,” and turn it on its (fore)head. And never forget that you are fabulous, you are fierce, you are flawsome.”
Along with praise for Bank’s statement came criticism as well. The website Jezebel offered a tongue-in-cheek take down of her stance:
“Alas, her message was a bit convoluted by her own need to invent words (like “flawsome,” which is “flaw” and “awesome” put together) and talk about herself constantly. Did you know that ‘America’s Next Top Model’ solved the eating disorder problem already? It’s true. All they had to do was invite a very skinny girl into the house every season so that the rest of the cast could watch everything she eats and constantly talk about how concerned they are about her behind her back until eventually she gets so stressed out that she cries at the panel and no one has an eating disorder ever again.”
Even on our own Facebook page where was mixed reaction to the article and Tyra’s subsequent interview on “Good Morning America.” Some were encouraged that such a well known celebrity was speaking out against eating disorders, while others felt she was being an opportunist, promoting her own projects and brand.
When it comes to the fight against eating disorders, there are many voices and movements working together – and separately – for the cause. The Jezebel article does make a good point that one program (“America’s Next Top Model”) hasn’t – and won’t – solve the problem of ED alone. One celebrity speaking out does not make ED “go away” once the discussion is no longer considered news-worthy and current by the media. The fight against ED is embodied in everyone who speaks out against the disorder.
Perhaps most important in Banks’ statement is the role of parents in shaping positive messages about beauty and body image. In the GMA interview, she discusses the double-standard between the admiration of male athletes compared to female models. According to Banks, when boys watch a basketball game with their fathers there is not the same pressure to conform, compared to when girls and their mothers look at models in a magazine. There are not the same subliminal messages with males athletes as there are with female models- messages of what an “ideal” body should be.
“To moms everywhere, we need to educate our girls not to fall prey to thinspirational images of beauty. So where do we start? By being very careful about how we talk about our own bodies in front of our daughters. We can show our daughters diverse images of beautiful women: curvy, tall, short, and everything in-between. Moms, you are the first and most influential role model in your girl’s life. Use that power. Teach her to love herself and everything that makes her unique.”
While it helps that people in the fashion industry are speaking out, it is mothers and fathers who have the opportunity to be role models for their children every day. Talk to them. Teach them. Help them learn to love themselves just as they are.
I met Sara at the first NEDA walk in New York City two and a half years ago and we have remained in touch. After ten years of living a healthy, ED-free life, she looked back at her experience with bulimia and realized how lucky she had been to make a full recovery after suffering for 6 years. She decided to get involved helping others and went back to school for her Masters in Mental Health. This guest blog is a retrospective of how she traveled from then to now. ~ Judy
Fake It Till You Make It
The other day, my younger sister sent me a text asking how my fiancé had done on his first semester of law school finals. All three of us are in school working on Master’s right now, in a variety of subjects, having returned to school after years in the work place. I responded that he’d done well (my opinion) – he’d gotten a B and a B+ so far, however he thought the outcome was so-so, and was being a bit hard on himself as a result. I condensed this information into a text response, to which my sister replied that she understood his position, she too is similarly hard on herself. Playing into my typical role in our family, I messaged her back, “You two should both be more like me – I think I’m amazing!”
I’ve come a long way from the days when my thoughts were quite the opposite. When I was growing up, I was very, very hard on myself. Similar to many who have struggled with ED, almost like clockwork, I developed bulimia at age 12, right around the onset of adolescence. Regardless of the strong set of supports that I had in place through out my life, I fell into a spiral of self-loathing and angst. Everything seemed difficult. Years passed and the feelings and the ED behavior continued.
As my freshman year of college closed out, an especially rough one on my poor body, a real sense of my own mortality rose within in me, and I went from feeling invincible to be concerned for my health. I realized that, for all the love and support we might have in the world, we are ultimately responsible for the outcome and direction of our lives. No one can give us happiness or fulfillment. The realization of being alone in this regard wasn’t lonely, it was empowering. No relationship with a friend or a guy was going to make me feel whole, because nothing external was going to. All of the ability to feel the way that I wanted to lay square within me. And I was ready to take that responsibility and make a change.
So I started giving myself the pat on the back that previously, I had expected and desperately needed everyone else to give me constantly for so long. I reminded myself that getting healthy was going to be hard and uncomfortable at times, but it had to be the priority, and I was going to fake it till I made it. It was not going to feel natural or authentic to start, but I needed to practice living like a healthy, confident person with good sense of self and esteem, in order to become one.
I sought the help of a number of therapists at different points during the years of my illness. While I know that they helped in a variety of ways, it wasn’t until I had a modicum of commitment to getting better that I was able to make inroads into the roots of it. This therapist was a woman that I began seeing when I was eighteen. She described the mind and decision-making part of us as the “adult-self,” and the vulnerable, emotional part as the “inner-child.” It was the adult’s responsibility to take care of the child by making good, healthy decisions to keep the child safe. With this in mind, I started to make decisions by checking in with my inner-child. “Does this feel safe? Is this going to be the best decision in the long run?” I stopped acting tough, and I started being real. I reminded myself that I was lucky to be alive, to have a life, to have a family and friends, despite any difficulties I had experienced. I wasn’t perfect, and I was never going to be – nobody is! But I had to take care of myself, because there was only one me. And I began to nourish myself, with healthy food, and sometimes less healthy food, and visits to the gym. I didn’t lose weight, and I didn’t expect to and I didn’t need to. But I felt a whole lot better about myself. I started taking Pilates, and found that connecting to my core muscles gave me a sense of inner strength. Slowly but surely, I began to love myself. As my confidence increased and I set boundaries in my life, the way others related to me changed as well. I was teaching other people how to treat me, based on the way I treated myself. Slowly, all of my relationships began to improve.
My un-wavering commitment to myself manifested into an ED free me, and the empowerment I experienced in getting over that major hurdle in myself carries through into the work I do with people today. I am utterly fulfilled by my life. ~ Sara