Healthy Body Images: Mission Accomplished?

In an ongoing skirmish about healthy body images with fashion publications, Jezebel recently overreached and caused some to wonder, “Is this issue becoming moot?” Jezebel offered a $10,000 bounty for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham taken for Vogue, saying “her body is real” but the images of her in Vogue are “probably not terribly real.” After subsequently publishing the raw pictures and garnering more than a million page views, the tables were turned on Jezebel. Vogue retouched the backgrounds, but left the images of Dunham’s body very real.

No longer the accuser, Jezebel was roundly criticized from all directions for a crude publicity play, free of any merit or substance. Dunham was completely dismissive, tweeting “Some sh– is just too ridiculous to engage.” Vogue was praised for elevating someone with a healthy body image. Jezebel was suddenly being accused of the sort of shaming that they have been calling out. And the New York Times suggested that the issue of unrealistic body images in fashion magazines may no longer be relevant, saying:

Feminists may finally be able to declare victory — or, at least, celebrate major milestones — in their longstanding fight against such magazines.

Really? We think not. Jezebel’s overreach does not negate the underlying problem. We’ll leave standards of beauty for fashion experts and feminists to sort out. But healthy body images are another matter.

Unhealthy standards of body size have very real health consequences. They are a serious trigger for someone vulnerable to eating disorders. They trivialize the problem of obesity, shifting the conversation from health to a superficial matter of appearance. And they set up an environment where weight bias is tolerated.

Though Vogue has pledged to stop using models with visible eating disorders and Glamour has expanded its use of “plus-size” models, we’ve hardly arrived in a utopian world of a fashion industry that respects the dignity of people in all shapes and sizes. So-called “plus-size” models have been getting smaller and smaller, so that they generally fall in a healthy weight range below the average size of American women.

That we are still referring to these women with a healthy BMI as “plus-sized” makes it plain that the problem of unhealthy body images in the fashion industry is far from solved.

Click here to read more in the New York Times and here to read more in Slate.

Lena Dunham on the cover of Vogue

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