Proud2Bme | Elle Magazine’s “Talking Body” Series is a Step in the Right Direction

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Elle Magazine’s “Talking Body” Series is a Step in the Right Direction

By Kimberly Neil--How is it possible to change a long-established system? What influences diet culture—where do our societal perceptions of health and wellness come from? As someone recovering from an eating disorder, these questions always feel like they rest on the tip of my tongue. Growing up, I experienced the influence of the fashion industry before had the language to explain how that experience impacted me.  

That being said, it would be unfair of me to blame my relationship with food and my body on standard size models I’ve always been tall (I think I hit 5’7” in 5th or 6th grade, and 5’10” before starting high school) and there have always been people in my life who told me I should model.

At one point, I met with the director of a modeling agency in my city and was told that I either had to gain or lose weight i to even have a chance at working successfully—and in that conversation, there was a clear bias towards the idea of me losing weight. I still do not think this caused my eating disorder—at the time, I was too focused on other things my body could do: specifically, being a dancer.

Still, there is something incredibly significant and intense about the idea that an adult working in the industry can tell a child that their body is not good enough as is, just because they do not fit sample sizes. It is not as if the director of that agency I met with is a bad person. She simply represented one piece of an entire system with expectations and demands.

Designers make sample sizes in a very limited and specific range, and models are hired because they fit them. While models can be described as people who “won the genetic lottery” it is also true that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. And the industry is changing; last year, France spearheaded change by imposing a fine upwards of $83,000 USD on designers who use models that are too thin on the runway.

This is a great, but it  only focuses on a very specific aspect of the fashion industry. What about everything that goes on behind the scenes? Until recently, there was more of a focus on preventing eating disorders on the runway than on considering the implications of print. Over the past few years, companies such as Dove, Lane Bryant and Aerie have made the step towards creating positive change by introducing body positive campaigns to the public—and they are wonderful! Still, the fashion industry has a bit of catching up to do.

This is why ELLE.com’s new “Talking Body” series is so important. Right now, I would personally describe the fashion industry as opaque. Because of social media, there are ideas that the general public now has access to, including the existence and potential damage that extreme use of Photoshop may cause.

Still, it is both refreshing and necessary to understand the perspective of models in all areas of the industry in order to have a larger conversation about the implications fashion has on diet culture, the manifestation and perpetuation of eating disorders, body image and society as a whole. By creating a space for dialogue—and by featuring agencies such as JAG models—we are one step closer to true transparency.

The About section on JAG’s website states: “Never ones to take no for an answer, or stick to conventional representation, they have placed girls in editorials and covers of such esteemed publications as Vogue, Elle, V, French and Bazaar.” I appreciate this from the point of view of someone who was told she wasn’t good enough at 16 years old. I am grateful for this as someone in recovery, and I also support this as a person who wishes that self-love were less of a challenge for so many of us.

Circling back to my first question: How do we as a society dismantle an ideal that is held so firmly in place? Fashion magazines are a significant part of the industry, and I believe that as a whole, they are not trying hard enough. JAG models are beautiful, as are all curve and/or plus size models. Those who fall under the straight size label are as well. Like I said, bodies come in all shapes and sizes. In the words of Iskra Lawrence, a JAG model, #everyBODYisbeautiful. Ultimately, magazines have the power to reflect and influence the consumer instead of simply promoting a conceptualized version of what said consumer wants.

Do I think that this “Talking Body” series will absolutely fix everything once and for all? Of course not, but maybe that is okay. With this issue, I think baby steps are more important than anything. Have you heard the story of the person (because why gender this analogy?) and the starfish? One day, a young child was walking along the beach. They stopped to pick up starfish one by one, tossing them back into the water. An adult came up to them, declaring something along the lines of: “That’s a waste of time! There are so many starfish, why does it matter?” The child looked up to the adult, pausing with the starfish they were currently holding in their hands. “It matters to this one,” they said, before gently tossing it into the ocean. That is what ELLE.com is accomplishing here.

Sometimes, it is necessary to appreciate small ripples as much as giant waves.

About the blogger: Kimberly is a junior at Mount Holyoke College, studying anthropology and dance. She plans to pursue graduate education in anthropology, psychology or public health. Her goal is to research and write about mental illness, specifically eating disorders. She also hopes to one day work internationally and promote the intersection of physical and mental health in a global context.

 

Also by Kimberly:

Healing Through Movement: My Body's Narrative

"Kylie Jenner Lips" and People of Color

#BLACKOUT: Black Self-Love on Social Media

Top photo courtesy of ELLE.com

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