FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
Beauty sells. Advertisements of beauti- Dittmarr did find, however, that one
Focus ful people influence us to buy clothes, influence the ultra-thin have on the rest
This CBC News in music equipment, make-up, and cars. of us is that they make us feel bad about
Review story fo- But what is beauty? And who defines our own bodies. Even if we know that
cuses on the shrink-
it? In Canada and many other nations, the super-thin are not really “normal”
ing size of models
and celebrities and
thinness is a prerequisite to beauty. It we still feel inferior and wish we could
the increasing size wasn’t always this way, but for the past look more like them. This results in
of the general 15 years or so, thinness has been “in.” dieting and the development of eating
public. Over the past few years, a preference disorders like anorexia nervosa and
for thinness has progressed to a prefer- bulimia. In some cases, people resort to
ence for super-thinness within the plastic surgery to change their original
YV Sections fashion industry and the world of appearance to closer match the “beauty
marked with this entertainment. Unflattering pictures of myth” projected all around them.
symbol indicate super-thin Hollywood stars appear Ironically, although the image of
content suitable for regularly. In the world of fashion, beauty currently in fashion in our
younger viewers. models have become thinner and thin- culture is one of super-thinness, as a
ner and, in many cases, sicker and sicker. population we are actually getting
But do these super-thin models and heavier and heavier. Obesity rates are
stars have an influence on the rest of on the increase across the country, and
us? You might be surprised to learn that kids are getting fatter the fastest. In
in some ways the answer is “no.” A Canada, almost 60 per cent of adults
recent study by social psychologist and one in four children are now con-
Helga Dittmarr of the University of sidered to be overweight or obese.
Sussex in England determined that This News in Review story examines
average-sized models are just as effec- our struggles with body image: from the
tive as super-thin models for promoting super-thin to the overweight. We will
body-care products, make-up, and diet explore the pressure that models face to
foods (Natural Life, Jan-Feb 2007). lose weight and the tragic consequences
This is a surprise because the sole this pressure can bring. As well, we will
purpose of models is to influence the explore the many health impacts of
public to purchase the products they obesity, including skyrocketing rates of
promote in advertisements. diabetes.
1. How realistic is it to attempt to mould your appearance into the ideal
image as projected by models in magazines and actors in films?
2. In your experience, how are boys and girls who are overweight treated by
other kids? Provide some specific examples.
3. Have you or your friends ever dieted or restricted your food choices in
order to lose weight? If so, what were your reasons for doing this?
4. Do you think that men and boys feel the same pressure as women and
girls to have a “perfect” body? Provide reasons or examples to support
5. Have you ever felt bad about your body because it seemed less that “per-
fect”? Did this affect your confidence or how you felt about yourself in
any way? Discuss.
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 45
FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
YV Video Review
1. What percentage of the Canadian population between two and 17 is
As you watch the
video, respond to obese? _______________
the questions in the 2. What are the negative consequences of obesity?
As this issue of
News in Review
was being pre-
3. Describe the physical appearance and age of model Natasha De Ruyter.
pared, a study from
begin in the womb
of mothers who 4. a) How does the fashion industry view De Ruyter?
needed during b) Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
report was pub-
lished in the April
2007 issue of The
American Journal 5. How has the image of beauty changed since Monica Schnarre was a
of Obstetrics and supermodel in the 1980s?
6. In what ways do dangerously thin models have a negative effect on society?
7. In what ways has the fashion industry turned a blind eye to dangerously
8. What changes resulted from the death of Brazilian model Anna Carolina
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 46
9. Explain why some people say that these changes do not go far enough.
10. a) What did Monica Schnarre mean when she said that “real change will
have to come from women who idealize thinness”?
b) Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 47
FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
YV The Perils of Obesity
In March, a story about an overweight diabetes. Not surprisingly, since obesity
Did you know . . . boy in Britain made the headlines in is on the rise, so is diabetes. In fact,
Type 1 diabetes
Canadian newspapers. Not that a story cases of diabetes in the province of
occurs when the
body makes little or about an overweight boy is unusual. But Ontario alone have risen over 113 per
no insulin and what was unusual was that this boy, cent in the past 10 years.
usually occurs early eight-year-old Connor McCreaddie, Diabetes is a chronic health condition
in one’s life. Type 2 was so overweight that social workers where the body is unable to produce or
diabetes occurs had threatened to remove Connor from utilize insulin and properly break down
builds up in the
his home to protect his health. Connor sugar (glucose) in the blood. Symptoms
blood instead of weighed 97.5 kg. This is four times the include hunger, thirst, excessive urina-
being used for weight of the average eight-year-old. tion, dehydration, and weight loss. The
energy. It usually Although specific details about the case treatment varies depending on the type
occurs later in life have not been released, Connor’s of diabetes a person has but can involve
and because a
mother was able to come to an agree- a combination of daily insulin injec-
person has become
overweight. ment with government officials (and tions, proper nutrition, and regular
likely a plan to help her son lose exercise.
weight). As a result, Connor was not Diabetes is a treatable disease, but it
removed from the family home. is also a serious disease.
The McCreaddie case set off a storm • It is the leading cause of new cases of
To learn more
about diabetes, of controversy. Many people started to adult blindness.
consider a visit to debate whether obesity in children is a • It is the leading cause of kidney failure.
the Canadian form of child abuse. Others argued that • Other than accidents, it is the leading
Diabetes Associa- focusing on just one obese child over-
tion official Web cause of amputations of legs or feet.
looks the fact that thousands of children
site at • Heart attacks are twice as likely in
in Britain are obese and that the entire
culture has to change the way it eats individuals with diabetes.
and exercises. • Strokes are five times more common.
• It complicates pregnancy (birth de-
We are Getting Fatter and Sicker fects are twice as prevalent in babies
Unfortunately, this is not a situation that born to mothers with diabetes).
applies only to Britain. Canada is now Perhaps most importantly, most cases
facing an obesity epidemic itself. And of type 2 diabetes are preventable. Few
the statistics are startling: people who get sufficient exercise, eat a
• Health Canada reports that nearly 60 good diet, and maintain a healthy
per cent of adult Canadians are over- weight will get diabetes.
weight or obese (about 14 million
people). Obesity in the North
• More than 25 per cent of Canadian The obesity epidemic is having a par-
children are overweight or obese. ticularly significant impact on indig-
Rising rates of obesity have health- enous peoples in North America. Indig-
care officials and politicians concerned. enous peoples have seen their way of
Obesity is linked to heart attacks and life change significantly in the past 50
strokes, many cancers, and diseases like years. Many used to live off the land,
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 48
eating what they hunted or trapped. But 1. Reduce our intake of processed
fewer and fewer indigenous people foods.
make their living off the land, and • We have to eat more whole grains,
lifestyles have become more sedentary fruits and vegetables.
(less active). And as northern communi- • Even if we are unable to eat at home,
ties became more accessible to the we need to make healthier choices
south through air travel and improved while eating out or buying fast food.
roads, indigenous peoples have become • Processed foods generally contain too
exposed to processed food—a major much fat and not enough nutrition.
change in their traditional diet. As a
result, obesity is on the rise, as are obe-
sity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes. 2. Increase our amount of exercise.
Before the 1950s, obesity-related • Ministries of education are looking at
diabetes did not exist among indigenous making physical education a manda-
North Americans. As late as the 1960s, tory part of the education system
researchers travelled to the boreal forest again.
to study the Cree and their apparent • Currently, students in many provinces
immunity to diabetes. However, in an do not have to take physical education
article for The Globe and Mail on after they complete Grade 9.
October 7, 2006, Dr. Kevin Patterson • Adults need to drive less and walk
reports that in Norway House, a Cree more.
reserve near Lake Winnipeg, type 2
diabetes rates now stand at 40 per cent. 3. Improve urban planning.
As well, he reports that complications • New subdivisions need to include
from diabetes such as amputations and features to increase levels of exer-
kidney disease are twice those of non- cise—like parks and walking trails.
• Bike lanes should be mandatory for all
Turning the Tide
If we know that obesity poses a signifi- • Shopping areas need to be built within
cant health risk, as well as a financial each subdivision to increase daily
nightmare for the health-care system, walks to the store rather than car rides
what do we do about it? to major grocery stores.
Be prepared to share your responses with the rest of the class.
1. The case of Connor McCreaddie outraged many people. Some have called
for the government to include gross obesity as a form of child abuse. Do
you agree or disagree with this position? Record at least three points to
support your position.
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 49
2. Experts predict it will be harder to fight the obesity problem facing north-
ern communities than it will be in southern communities. State whether or
not you agree or disagree with this statement and then record at least
three points to support your position.
3. What steps have you and/or your family personally taken to ensure that
you have a healthy body size?
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 50
FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
YV The Perils of “Dangerously Thin”
Individuals who are dangerously thin weight but ended up developing an
Did you know . . . actually weigh so little they are at risk eating disorder. The two most common
of dying. People who are dangerously eating disorders are anorexia nervosa
for teenaged thin are not attractive. In fact, they are and bulimia.
females who are quite the opposite. They become skel-
inactive is 1 800 etal-like, and their skin is tightly Anorexia Nervosa
and for active stretched across their faces. Because Anorexia is both an eating disorder and
teenagers 2 400. their bodies have become so thin, their a psychological disorder. Someone who
The calorie require-
ment for teenaged
heads appear large in proportion to the develops anorexia often goes through
males who are rest of the body. Their skin loses colour the following pattern:
inactive is 2 000 and turns grey. They begin to grow hair • The person initially begins dieting to
and active 3 200. In all over their bodies. Females stop lose weight.
general are you menstruating. And they become too
• The weight loss becomes a sign of
weak to stand or walk for any length of mastery and control, and the drive to
too few, or too
many calories? time. become thinner is actually secondary
Why would anyone want to be that to concerns about control and/or fears
thin? The truth is that no one really relating to one’s body.
plans to become dangerously thin. In an
• The individual continues the endless
interview for People Weekly magazine,
cycle of restrictive eating—often to a
Portia de Rossi describes how she
point close to starvation in order to
feel a sense of control over the body.
“When I got the job on Ally McBeal,
it was because I was healthy and attrac- • This cycle becomes an obsession and
tive at my natural weight. But every is similar to any type of drug or sub-
single day, you’re basically in fittings, stance addiction.
constantly being measured. . . . Anorexia is further complicated by
“I would eat 300 calories a day—a lot the fact that those who develop the
of Jell-O and no-sugar everything, of disease are in denial about their prob-
course. I was also doing Pilates, weight- lem. This denial is linked to the fact that
training, a circuit training . . . when they look in the mirror they don’t
“I realized something was drastically see a dangerously thin person; they see
wrong when I stepped on the scale at an ugly person and feel they have to
the end of 1999 and saw 82 pounds [37 diet even harder to look better.
kg]. It became a struggle just to feel
good. Then I went back home to Aus- Bulimia nervosa
tralia, and my brother and mother said, Bulimia is also considered to be both an
‘You’re going to die.’ It really woke me eating disorder and a psychological
up; I had to do something, or I was disorder. Those who suffer from bu-
going to lose everything. I went to a limia go through a cycle of bingeing
counselor and saw it for what it was— and purging. Bingeing is the consump-
an eating disorder.” tion of abnormally large amounts of
Those who become dangerously thin food in a short period of time. Purging
likely started out wanting to lose some is the elimination of food by some
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 51
unusual method, such as vomiting and unable to change their behavior. Their
taking laxatives. bingeing and purging is done in secrecy
Bulimia has serious health implica- so that family and friends often do not
tions and can even cause death. Some know about their disorder. Some
other problems associated with bulimia bulimics may turn to other ways of
include: solving their problems, such as drugs
• A ruptured stomach and alcohol. Many develop other men-
• The loss of nutrients, such as potas- tal disorders, such as depression and
sium, as a result of purging can cause anxiety.
heart failure. Both anorexia and bulimia are much
• The stomach acids from vomiting can more common in females than in males.
burn the digestive tract, mouth, lips, People of all ethnic backgrounds de-
and teeth. velop these disorders, but the majority
who receive treatment are white. These
• A disrupted menstrual cycle disorders are difficult to treat and, in
Most bulimics know their eating most cases, a physician and mental
patterns are not normal, but they feel health professional must be consulted.
1. Do you know anyone personally who may have an eating disorder?
2. Name any celebrities who appear to suffer from eating disorders.
3. Why do you think those suffering from eating disorders often try to keep
their conditions a secret?
4. Why is it important for family and friends to speak out if they suspect
someone they love has an eating disorder?
5. Is there anyone whom you feel that you need to counsel about their diet?
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 52
FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
YV Body Image
When we talk about body image we are bones in the feet to break and prevented
Further Research talking about the mental picture a growth of the feet. Foot binding re-
As you may know,
person has of his or her own body. This sulted in highly deformed feet, measur-
(www.dove.com) picture is the result of a person’s own ing 10 to 15 cm in length and forced the
has started a series self-observation and by noting the girls and women to take very small
of ads that pro- reactions of others. For example, you steps and shuffle their feet while they
mote real beauty. may believe that your build is quite walked. Small feet and this style of
Go to their Cam- “normal” until you mention to a friend walking were thought to bring feminin-
paign for Real
Beauty Web site at
that you just got a new piece of clothing ity and beauty to a woman. It also
www.campaign that is a size 8. Upon hearing this, your resulted in frequent foot infections and
forrealbeauty.com friend acts surprised and says: “Oh, I paralysis. Foot binding as a child is a
and explore the site always thought you were at least a size significant cause of disability among
before assessing its 12.” Your body image would likely be elderly Chinese women today.
sincerity and value.
negatively affected by your friend’s
Share your thoughts
with your peers. comment because it would make you Victorian Corsets
think that you appear heavier than you Corsets were worn by women in the
really are. Victorian Era to give women an ex-
Today, the image of ideal beauty tremely small waist. Fabric corsets,
presented by the fashion and entertain- often containing whalebone inserts,
ment industries is of the super thin. As a were tightly laced around a woman’s
result of constantly being bombarded by torso to squeeze her internal organs into
images of the super thin, even those a much smaller area. Corsets often
people who have perfectly healthy and resulted in deformed rib cages, and
normal bodies might start to feel inse- breathing was seriously impaired,
cure. This can lead to unhealthy dieting which is why women of this era were
practices and eating disorders like famous for fainting. In some cases,
bulimia and anorexia nervosa. women would have the bottom two ribs
It is interesting to note that the cur- surgically removed so they could be
rent super-thin beauty ideal is a new corseted more effectively. Because of
phenomenon. Images of beauty vary damage to internal organs women who
from culture to culture and change over were corseted suffered from pain and a
time. As you review the information lack of energy. It was not unusual for
below, consider whether or not our women to aim for a 40 cm waist when
current super-thin beauty ideal is an they were corseted.
improvement over the images of beauty
that have existed in the past. Flappers of the 1920s
As women became more emancipated,
Chinese Foot Binding they also rejected the restrictive cloth-
This practice existed for about 1 000 ing worn by their mothers. “Flappers,”
years, beginning in the 10th century and as these women were known, wore
ending in the early 20th century. Foot loose clothing that dropped straight
binding involved wrapping young girls’ down the torso and was gathered low
feet in tight bandages, which caused across the hips. The flapper look was
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 53
almost boyish in that it emphasized voluptuous and curvy. She played on
straight lines and did not focus on her femininity and was seen as very
enhancing the bosom. sexy. Her look directly contrasted with
the flappers of the 1920s.
The Hourglass Figure of the
Marilyn Monroe was the most famous
sex symbol of the 1950s. She was
1. How does this information demonstrate that images of beauty fluctuate
across cultures and time periods?
2. Describe the current image of beauty in your culture and then explain the
impact it has on your own body image.
3. What steps can be taken to help young men and women feel better about
their natural body shape?
4. Describe the role that school and peers may have to play in developing
positive body image.
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 54
FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
YV New Restrictions
The fashion industry has been under kg. She died in November of multiple
Further Research pressure to stop using super-thin models organ failure caused by anorexia.
Use the Internet to
for the past few years. But this pressure
find body mass
calculators that you increased after two extremely thin The Fashion Industry Response
can use such as this models died in 2006. In August, 22- In December 2006, the Italian govern-
one at year-old Luisel Ramos collapsed and ment teamed up with the country’s
www.getfitnow.ca/ died of heart failure while participating fashion industry to demand that the
bmi.html. in a fashion show during Fashion Week fashion industry stop using ultra-thin
in Montevideo (Uruguay.) Ramos’s models. As well, they imposed a ban on
father said that she had starved herself the use of models under the age of 16
for several days before the show. for Milan Fashion Week.
In November, Brazilian model Ana Another step forward occurred when
Carolina Reston died from complica- the organizers of Madrid Fashion Week
tions linked to anorexia nervosa. The said they would ban models with body
21-year-old Reston started modelling in mass indexes below 18. The body mass
her early teens, but faced huge pressure index (BMI) is calculated by dividing a
to help support her impoverished family weight in kilograms by the square of
after robbers stole everything from their height in metres. Generally speaking,
rural home when she was 16. Although this means dividing weight by height.
she had been signed to the Ford Model- By setting a BMI of 18, a 175 cm
ing Agency when she was in her early model would have to weigh at least 57
teens, she never grew tall enough to kg.
command high fees. So she tried to Some critics believe that the Milan/
compensate by losing weight. Madrid restrictions will not do enough
Friends said that Reston was so to shift the industry away from the
beautiful she looked like an angel. But super thin. But the industry also has its
by the middle of 2006, she was so thin supporters who argue that it is not the
she was too weak to carry her own only factor in our culture’s obsession
luggage. She had literally become a with the super thin. These people argue
skeleton. As well, her skin was grey and that the industry has taken important
her eyes were sunken and “without steps to reduce the use of super-thin
light” (People Weekly, December 4, models, but that parents, teachers, and
2006). By the time she entered hospital, the media also have a role to play to
the 170-cm-tall Reston weighed only 40 improve this situation.
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 55
1. Rank order the influence that you feel the following have on our culture’s
obsession with the super thin:
Influence Factor My Ranking Three Steps to Encourage Healthy Body Weight
2. Discuss your rankings with a partner and then work together to record
three steps that each of the above could implement to encourage healthy
body weight among males and females.
3. Although the fashion industry claims that it wants to help reverse the
trend toward a super-thin body image, designer Nicole Miller has just
introduced a line of “subzero” clothing for Banana Republic. Miller said
that since her size zero clothing was selling so well, she wanted to intro-
duce the subzero line. Size zero clothes are targeted to females with 60
cm waists—which is about the circumference of a junior soccer ball.
Discuss this new initiative with your partner and record your thoughts in
your notebooks. Be prepared to share your thoughts with the larger class.
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 56
FASHION AND THE DANGEROUSLY THIN
YV Activity: Choosing a Model
According to social psychologist Helga Dittmarr, of the University of Sussex in
England, average-sized models are just as effective as super-thin models for
promoting body-care products, makeup, and diet foods. Dittmarr also found
that ultra-thin models make the rest of us feel uncomfortable about our own
bodies. Over the past decade, models have become younger and skinnier.
Your teacher will divide you into groups of three. Your roles within the group
are as follows:
• One student will role-play an advertising executive who wants to choose an
ultra-thin model for an ad campaign.
• One student will role-play an advertising executive who wants to choose a
model with a more average build.
• One student will role-play the president of the company who has to make the
Before the Role-play
• Decide on the product you are to promote.
• The two advertising executives should prepare a list of points to support their
• The president of the company should become familiar with both sides of the
issue so that he or she will be able to make an informed decision.
After the Role-play
• Your teacher will ask each group to share the decision made by the president
of the company.
• The president will have to provide reasons for the choice.
Research sources to help you prepare:
• This CBC News in Review guide
• CBC news at www.cbc.ca/news/
• BBC news at news.bbc.co.uk
• The National Eating Disorder Information Centre at www.nedic.ca
• The Canadian Health Network at www.canadian-health-network.ca; search
within the site for “eating disorders”
CBC News in Review • April 2007 • Page 57