Most Thin Models Are Healthy — Get Used To It

Ameena Schelling Freelance Writer
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In a truly ludicrous move, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) censured clothing retailer Urban Outfitters late last month for using a photo of model with a thigh gap. In response to a claimant who argued that the model was “unhealthily” thin – and that the ad was therefore dangerous – the ASA required that Urban Outfitters remove the ad from their website and, in the future, “ensure that the images in their ads were responsibly prepared.”

The catch? The Urban Outfitters model was perfectly healthy. The picture shows a slender girl with healthy curves, not emaciated hips. Urban Outfitters even provided documentation showing that her modeling portfolio measurements — including a waist size of 23.5”, which is thin but not horribly skinny—were accurate and not inflated, and that she had a “naturally tall and slim physique.”

But in today’s world, any attack against the “beauty standard” is a victory, whether or not it’s based on facts. The real issue here isn’t that this girl was unhealthy and needed help – it’s that she had a feature some women don’t have.

The ASA’s claim is completely invalid: “We understood that Urban Outfitters’ target market was young people and considered that using a noticeably underweight model was likely to impress upon the audience that the image was representative of the people who might wear Urban Outfitters’ clothing, and as being something to aspire to.”

Aspire to what? A perfectly healthy body? This claim would make sense if the model were severely emaciated. But it’s obvious from the picture that, though genetically blessed, she’s a normal weight for her build. Urban Outfitters isn’t creating some “unattainable” beauty standard — just like a 4’11” girl wouldn’t be creating an unattainable beauty standard just because tall girls can’t make themselves cute and petite. To use liberal-speak, the ASA is quite literally shaming her for being attractive.

The reason the thigh gap is targeted is because it’s been associated with “thinspiration” sites, the twisted corner of the internet dedicated to motivating and encouraging eating disorder patients to lose weight and keep it off. Many girls on these sites say they want to starve themselves so they can have thigh gaps too. But the reality is that thigh gaps are much more a result of your frame — the width of your pelvis and the position of your femurs — than your weight. You can be perfectly healthy and have a thigh gap, or underweight and not have one.

The problem with the thigh gap is in the eye of the beholder. A thigh gap does not indicate unhealthiness in any way, and to say it does is a slap in the face to all the women who have one. It is a feature like any quirk of the human body that some people find attractive and some people don’t. Nothing wrong with that.

So what statement is the ASA making here? It’s saying that certain normal features of some women’s bodies should be hidden because they’re dangerous. That doesn’t sound like female empowerment to me.

Showing a healthy body can never be harmful — regardless of what size or shape that body is. You can’t say that just because an aspect of someone’s normal body can have a negative effect on someone else, or inspire jealousy, that their body should be covered up or not publicized. It’s the same as saying we shouldn’t show women with big breasts, because it makes other women feel bad about their own breasts and inspires them to get dangerous procedures like breast implants.

And the sad fact is that the women who frequent thinspo sites didn’t become anorexic because they saw someone had a thigh gap so they decided to starve themselves. Women with eating disorders have serious mental disorders that make them force unrealistic standards upon themselves. Anyone familiar with these disorders knows they’re a result of much deeper psychological issues, particularly regarding control. The images praised on these sites are usually very sick bodies that no mentally healthy woman would emulate, not healthy bodies that happen to have a defining feature. And if it weren’t thigh gaps, it would be skinny arms or defined clavicles.

We can – and should – address the psychological issues that cause young women to literally kill themselves trying to attain bodies that any healthy person would immediately recognize as sick. But that doesn’t mean removing any image that could cause someone to want to emulate, and it doesn’t mean hiding attractive, thin, and healthy women from view. True healing comes from having a healthy mind that can exist in the normal world, not turning the rest of the world into a padded room.

The feminist movement claims to be in favor of women, and by extension of their bodies and their autonomy. But like much of the liberal movement, this ideology means tearing down anyone with a “good” body so that people with less-than-perfect bodies can feel better about themselves. A truly feminist movement would focus on the beauty inherent in the healthy female form — and note that I use the word healthy, because telling they’re women they’re beautiful “as is” when they’re dangerously overweight doesn’t help anyone.

There’s a conversation to be had about some of the dangerously thin models on the runway, and the girls whose slenderness is unhealthy rather than genetic. But Urban Outfitters’ supposed sin isn’t using a girl who’s unhealthy. It’s using a girl who’s too pretty, and was born with a genetic build some people don’t have. And her picture is taken down because somebody whined that it’s just not fair.

What some liberals miss in their efforts to tear down any and all societal values is that some universal values just exist. And beauty is one of them. True beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but objective beauty is real. And humans are unabashedly designed to recognize that. It’s not random. It’s not a “societal construct.” It’s an inherent recognition that health and beauty go hand in hand. We should not view beautiful as unhealthy, and we should not view unhealthy as beautiful.

And contrary to what some women cry out, models are not the only beauty standard; in fact they’re a small percentage. Hollywood is the bigger influencer. And take a look at any red carpet to see that beauty is represented in all its shapes and sizes: tall and short; slender and curvy. The only thing that these stars have physically in common is that they are all a healthy weight for their body type. So any young girl can look at celebrities and find a healthy, beautiful role model who shares her height and build. The only body type not recognized in our beauty system is an unhealthy body.

But this issue is really about making an unhealthy lifestyle admired and praised – combined with old-fashioned jealousy at other women’s good looks. Tearing down healthy, slender women by crying out that they’re sick and disgusting and bony doesn’t mean anything for society — it just shows the utter jealousy of the beholders. They’re not trying to make beauty attainable; they’re trying to destroy it, or rather reroute it to make themselves the belle of the ball. Just look at the “Real Women Have Curves” movement, which is ostensibly about female empowerment but literally tells all those women who don’t have curves that they’re “skinny bitches” or not real women or unattractive.

Take a recent article in Mic. Its gripe? “While Urban Outfitters may consider a 23.5-inch waist normal, the U.K.’s National Health Service cites a healthy waistline as one up to 31.5 inches. That difference represents the disconnect between the fashion industry’s ideals and the average woman’s reality.”

So, the problem isn’t that this girl is unhealthy; it’s that somehow, because you can be healthy at a larger size, it invalidates that girls can be healthy at a smaller size too. That thin can be beautiful. This girl’s flaw isn’t a thigh gap; it’s that she makes the average woman feel bad about herself. So while the ad was ostensibly praised for banning an “unhealthy” body image, it’s revealed right here that the reason people are mad is because the body shown is not the body most women have.

But here’s the thing: this model’s body is real and healthy, and it’s a lot more deserving of praise than the “average woman’s reality,” which is in fact far from healthy. The body-mass index (BMI) for the average U.S. woman, for example, is 28.7, placing her squarely in the overweight category and quite close to obesity, which kicks in at a BMI of 30. That means that roughly half of American women have a BMI of above 28.7, while the healthy BMI range is a mere 18.5 to 24.9. A staggering 69 percent of U.S. adults and 62 percent of U.K. adults are overweight or obese. And this is the “average woman” we should be representing in our ads?

Even if a model were underweight, which this one isn’t, it’s quite clear that model wouldn’t be doing nearly as much harm to women as the overwhelming culture that encourages poor diet, no exercise, and – when you finally have a body that’s utterly deviated from it’s natural state – posting pictures of yourself in a bikini and calling on “fat shamers” to love you. Open your eyes. Cultures have always had beauty standards, and beauty has always been a comparative rarity, with no harm done. But we don’t have a nationwide epidemic of underweight girls here—we have an entire country that is literally dying under the weight of a historically unprecedented level of obesity. Not to mention a health care system that is staggeringly overburdened because of it.

But what are we doing about it? What are feminists doing about it, considering they’re supposed to be advocating for women’s health? Are we encouraging healthy role models, spreading awareness of the very real dangers of being overweight, and teaching young women to take pride in their bodies at their very healthiest? No – we are banning pictures of thin, healthy young women because they might inspire jealousy. Because it’s considered “unrealistic” to have a slender, healthy body.

At the same time, we’re telling the millions of women who are cripplingly overweight that as long as they’re happy they’re healthy. That if they feel good about themselves it doesn’t matter what doctors say. That anyone who dares to imply otherwise is a sexist, bigoted, jealous “mansplainer” and that it’s their right to do whatever the hell they want.

There are serious issues surrounding women’s weight that need to be discussed. But telling a beautiful, healthy woman that her looks are unnatural, unrealistic, and harmful couldn’t be farther from that goal.

Tags : weight
Ameena Schelling