Hello, I'm Claire. Magazines, books, music, art, fashion and coffee are pretty much what my life revolves around. I'm regretting the whole Claire Loves Owls thing now but seeing as it's my email, twitter and blogger url I may as well keep it. And I do love owls...

Friday, 30 July 2010

For generations the media has portrayed an image of the so called perfect woman.  In the 1950’s this was one of the ever obliging housewife.  All pearls, gleaming teeth and twin sets the ideal woman aimed for little more than the perfect soufflé to serve to their doting husband upon his arrival home.  Thirty years later the 1980s and the “decade style forgot” was upon us.  Shoulder pads, power suits and perms aplenty the 80’s woman had it all, a high flying career, children and a huge salary to boot.  She powered her way through 12 hour working days with instant coffee and made business deals through her brick of a mobile phone. Come the 90’s the grunge movement had crossed over from rainy Seattle to the catwalks of New York, London and Paris.  Gaunt faces, protruding ribs and smoky eyes were the order of the day, dubbed “Heroin Chic” the likes of Kate Moss were the next big thing. However, bar fashion students and those in the fashion world’s inner clique this was not a look imitated by ordinary women and girls.  The Spice Girls’ message of “girl power” took hold and women aimed to be the perfect all rounder.  In the noughties the fashion industry did away with “Heroin chic” and a decade of eclecticism in fashion was to follow. But one trend which despite the ever changing face of fashion in the new century has remained prominent in every designer’s collection.  A trend which has disturbingly enough become a favourite of many women and men the nation over.  This trend?  Size zero. 
Models who suffer for their art are not a new concept but never has such a large portion of the fashion industry displayed such a disregard for human life.  It is common industry knowledge that any girl of an average height and over seven and a half stone will simply not be considered acceptable by the majority of haute couture and more mainstream designers alike.  The death of the model, Luisel Ramos first sparked the real discussion about the issue and made the public take notice of this rapidly growing epidemic.  Before Luisel’s extreme weight loss she was at 9 stone and 5”9 already unhealthily thin. At the time of her death she weighed only 7 stone. 
  Fashion magazines featuring curvy women on their covers are virtually unheard of and the only time editors will make such a move is to generate publicity. Models are seen not as human beings but as nothing more than money generators. Putting a curvier model on January’s cover only to turf her out via the back door and never to call upon her services again does not show a shift in attitudes, rather the opposite
The nutritional facts behind rail thin silhouettes and jutting bones are shocking and the real problem with the media’s obsession with gaunt frames.  Low fertility and osteoporosis are the two main long term dangers of anorexia nervosa although other problems such as hair thinning and jaundice are also associated with the disease.  Many catwalk models survive on less than 500 calories a day to maintain their minimal weight, less than a quarter of their recommended daily intake.  Bulimia nervosa causes tooth decay and in extreme cases can burn holes in the back of sufferer’s throats due to the acidity of vomit.  People who allow their BMI to drop below 12 are at serious risk of consuming their own organs and muscle tissue, and any unhealthily low BMI  puts extra strain on the heart and lungs in the same way as obesity.  Those in the grip of an eating disorder are rarely able to see the possible grave consequences facing them and are almost in a brainwashed state about their body image.
What kind of example is this setting to the youth of today?  Young girls are bombarded with images of stick thin, airbrushed, flawless models wherever they go.  “Perfect” women with radiant complexions and glossy hair - simply unattainable given their limited diet - are plastered over magazines, catalogues, television commercials, billboards and in TV programmes.  Many brands and shows popular with teenagers are notorious for featuring thin women and girls at the exclusion of those with curvier figures.  Ralph Lauren, a top end brand popular with teenage girls in particular, edited the image of an already slim size eight model to the extent where her head appeared to be larger than her hips.  Gossip Girl, a TV show aimed particularly at teenage girls has come under fire from parental organisations and campaign groups about their cast of entirely thin young women.  With no escape from such negative influences more and more young girls and boys are developing life threatening eating disorders most commonly anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.  Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other psychological disorder. 
Why, when eating disorders claim so many lives, do the media insist on encouraging size zero figures and why hasn’t the government stepped in to take action where it is most needed, in the education system.  Self confidence and esteem is not a compulsory part of the curriculum, despite the fact that young people between 14 and 25 make up the majority of the 1.1 million people in the UK who have diagnosed eating disorders.  Mental health organisation Mind states that one in one hundred women aged between 15 and 30 suffers from anorexia and girls as young as five have weight concerns and consider dieting to lose weight.  The General Practise Research Database shows a threefold increase in the recording of bulimia cases.  However, these statistics only record diagnosed and acknowledged eating disorders.  Many eating disorders are atypical, meaning that problem eating behaviours exist but don’t meet all of the diagnostic criteria.  Atypical eating disorders often go unnoticed and are not taken seriously by medical staff and the sufferers themselves.  In a survey conducted by eating disorder charity B-Eat of 600 young people, a staggering 92% of children felt that they were unable to tell anyone about any problems they either had or would encounter later in life. 
Perhaps the most worrying thing about the this is the unknown scale of the problem.  Schools and parents have a duty to future generations to increase awareness of eating problems and remove the huge stigma that surrounds them. Another great responsibility lies with the media and fashion industry.  Curvier models need to be used widely in an un-patronising, sincere context.  Heavy airbrushing that considerably alters a model’s real appearance should be banned in publications and advertisements and designers hiring thin and underweight models to the exclusion of normal sized women in their catwalk and catalogue collections should be penalised.  By taking these simple steps, all built on common sense and reality, the obsession with size zero and perfection that has become such a massive problem could be eradicated and the fashion world would be more in touch with the women who keep it afloat.  


  1. A really thought-provoking piece Claire. We all know that the photos we see on the covers, and inside, the magazines (mainstream as well as fashion) are usually airbrushed in the extreme, but we still beat ourselves up because our un-airbrushed daily appearance doesn't match up. And we're bombarded with these images from the moment in our lives that we first begin to notice such things. The pressure is intolerable, and it is about time we began to fight back with a campaign for real women (and men) - just the way we are.

  2. This is a well balanced and beautifully argued piece on a very important issue. Keep up the confidence, Claire, you can write!

  3. Wow, serious piece by a serious writer. Fabulous - delighted today's youth are realising this. You are the next generation - its a powerful place to be, and unless you understand the reality you can't chanage the world. If you do, as this piece so clearly shows, you can - don't set your ambitions too high - you'll get there. And loved your summary of trends to date, so so accurate!

  4. Bravo, Claire! Girls (and boys too, let's not forget) need to take real people as role models, not some impossibly perfect image that's been airbrushed to hell. Thank you for being in the vanguard of the 'Real People have a right to look like Real People' movement, and thank you for a wonderful piece of writing.