With Fashion Week in full swing, journalists and bloggers at the scene are frenetically taking notes about the clothing, style, and feelings the fabrics evoke. Outside the tents and in the trenches of society at-large, doctors, authors, professors, and other experts are at the ready to give expert commentary about the bodies wearing our future fashion trends.
Dr. Harry Brandt, director of the Center For Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Towson, Md
"We hope that by issuing health guidelines to designers, the American fashion industry is finally beginning to acknowledge the dangers of extreme thinness in female fashion models, as well as the negative impact on perceived body image among those who look up to these models. There is still much more the American fashion industry can do to ensure the protection of young women and men who model; for example, models should be required to pass a physical examination before walking the runway to make certain they are in proper health form, while designers should include models of various weights and body types in runway shows and fashion magazines to show that different body types can look good in a variety of fashions."
Diane Salvatore, editor-in-chief of Ladies' Home Journal:
"I've been heartened to read all the news about the fashion industry finally making an effort to discourage extreme thinness in models, but it took the anorexia- induced death of a Brazilian model (and five more Brazilian women in quick succession) to get attention paid to what has been obvious to most American women for a long time: Super-skinny fashion models are unhealthy and unattractive. Not to mention that showcasing such is downright unhelpful to any woman who is looking for style pointers for her normally proportioned body."
Leslie Lipton is author of the newly released book Unwell (December 2006), which was inspired by her own five-year struggle with anorexia:
"There is so much discussion about models being too skinny that it is so important to realize how much these models influence how teenagers and grown women, even senior citizens, perceive themselves, and how this can play a role in this particular mental illness. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder that affects 2.5 million Americans and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness."
Walter Kaye, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the genetics of anorexia nervosa study, the first and largest NIH-funded study of the causes of eating disorders. Kaye believes that while skinny models don't cause eating disorders, they can be the environmental trigger that causes those already made susceptible to an eating disorder by their genetic make-up to begin to develop symptoms:
"We often hear that societal pressures to be thin cause many young women and men to develop an eating disorder. Many individuals, for a number of reasons, are concerned with their weight. Yet less than half of 1 percent of all women develops anorexia nervosa, which indicates to us that societal pressure alone isn't enough to cause someone to develop this disease. Our research has found that genes seem to play a substantial role in determining who is vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. However, the societal pressure isn't irrelevant; it may be the environmental trigger that releases a person's genetic risk."
Dr. Jana Klauer, physician, nutritionist and author of the New York Times bestseller How The Rich Get Thin:
"I've built my medical practice upon the science of successful dieting and teaching my patients about the rewards gained from a lifetime commitment to health, fitness and nutrition. With the correct balance of nutrition, a slim, strong and healthy body can be achieved. Many models in the industry are naturally tall and slim, but are starving themselves to the unrealistic ideal. This behavior is encouraged in an environment of ultra-thin peers. The current spotlight on dangerously thin models is a great opportunity for the industry to present a healthful image of beauty."
Catherine Orzolek-Kronner, associate professor of social work at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., specializes in eating disorders and women's issues:
"In general, the public reinforces this notion of thinness, and it is evidenced in the epidemic of eating disorders not only with models, but also dancers, gymnasts, runners and many others. Not only do we see emaciated models, but even mannequins are undersized. The advertising industry uses computer-generated models or different body parts of different women, which promotes an extreme distortion of what the average woman looks like. Meanwhile, the food industry has supersized everything."
Dr. Jim Taylor, vice chairman of the Harrison Group market research firm, led the 2006 Harrison Group/VNU Teen Trend Report. The flagship study surveyed 1,000 teens (ages 13-18) on the thoughts and habits of Generation Y:
"What we found in the Teen Trend report is that teen girls are often much more confident about their bodies than typically imagined. On average, only a third wished they had a better body. In terms of taking their cues from public figures, teen girls cite curvy Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce Knowles as people who most influence their sense of style."
Luciana Ginemez, international supermodel and host of the nightly Brazilian talk show "Superpop":
"The death of Ana Carolina Reston, the Brazilian model who recently died after a struggle with anorexia, has given rise to many of the same questions in Brazil, but I don't believe in censorship. I don't think the problem is solely in the modeling industry. I think that consumers need to speak up and say that they don't want teenage girls trying to sell products to middle-aged women, and that they want to see models with healthy figures in their magazines. That will be more powerful than simply restricting models. When it comes to models' weight, I think it is important to judge not just on weight, but to really determine which girls are sick and which are healthy. I had a roommate when I was modeling who was rail- thin and ate whatever she wanted. Other girls may appear chubbier but have serious eating disorders. I believe anorexia is a disease and should be treated accordingly."
Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW, author of "Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, Were Going to Grandma's" (Unlimited Publishing LLC), is a licensed psychotherapist, noted national speaker, social commentator and author:
"As a family therapist for over 30 years, I have treated many girls (unfortunately younger and younger with each generation) with both eating disorders and body image problems. Twenty years ago I did not see many 16-year-old girls thinking the ideal body was concentration-camp thin. Now I do. The daily, inescapable broadcast and print media barrage of ultra-thin models and female celebrities, together with Web sites actually encouraging and instructing girls how to adopt anorexia as a preferred, fashionable, 'healthy' lifestyle, has led to far too many girls risking their health and risking their lives. I would implore the business people who hire and showcase these unhealthy, human skeletons to stop seducing impressionable girls into emulating such dangerous models of beauty. I raise my hand to vote an emphatic 'yes' to stopping the promotion of anorexia, eating disorders and dysmorphia on our nation's fashion runways."
Sharon Haver, editor-in-chief and founder of Focusonstyle:
"I was a fashion stylist for many years and never came across a model with any obvious signs of an eating disorder that I can recall. I usually worked with young, naturally thin girls who could wolf down lunch and create metabolism-envy across the set. If any individual is suffering an eating disorder, she should be helped whether she is a model, actress, or ordinary girl and her 'look' should not be promoted as with any other illness. It is not merely a matter of the fashion industry banning 'skinny' models or changing its standard for sample sizing; it's a matter of the media promoting a healthy lifestyle and a variety of well body types. As a columnist and editor, I always encourage our FocusOnStyle.com readers to be realistic about the shape they are in at this particular moment and learn to make the most of what they've got now and not how they appeared 10 years ago or how they hope to look next month."
Dr. Susan Bartell, nationally recognized psychologist and author of "Dr. Susan's Girls-Only Weight Loss Guide," specializes in body image, weight and eating disorder issues of teenage girls and young women:
"Ultra-thin models should definitely be banned, not only from runways but from magazines and TV advertising. The impact on young women -- even on preteen girls and older women -- can be devastating, setting them up to try and achieve impossible and profoundly unhealthy standards of thinness. Mothers and older sisters desperate to look like their icons are role models for unhealthy lifestyles for younger girls, and the cycle continues. The only way to achieve such thin bodies is by engaging in disordered eating and exercising -- which is why so many models develop eating disorders. Their industry doesn't protect them because the ultra-thin body is so coveted. We need to protect the models and we need to protect the young girls and women who fall victim to the media images projected by these models."
Dr. Tom Rice, medical director of the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa:
"The best kind of beauty is one that comes from genuine good health. Being thin is not synonymous with good health. The fashion industry could still sell just as many clothes with a model in robust health as one who looks as if the exertion of lifting a fork is too taxing. The only thing these super-thin models inspire in young women is self-loathing and, in worse cases, eating disorders. The short- and long-term physical and psychological damage from malnutrition is as bad as that from the obesity, from which much of affluent society still suffers. A 15 percent fat, complex carbohydrate diet with fruits, low-fat dairy, limited animal protein and 1,200 to 1,500 mg NaCl, combined with daily exercise, provides a healthy, well-proportioned body capable of long productive living, including a successful modeling career."
Ellen Simpao, director of counseling at LIM, The College for the Business of Fashion in New York City:
"The glorification and glamorization of the ultra-thin body pressures women to meet such standards even though achieving this goal is impossible for most women. This can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and an obsessive preoccupation with food and body image. The media must not stop at just questioning the use of ultra-thin models. We should examine what extremes, such as the use of drugs, diet pills, laxatives, and self-berating messages, models, as well as other women and girls, are willing to go to achieve this image, at the cost of putting their lives in danger. If our culture learns to view dangerously thin people as unhealthy, standards of beauty may change, and, hopefully, attitudes about body image and acceptance of all body types will occur."
Dr. Christy Greenleaf, assistant professor of kinesiology, health promotion and recreation at the University of North Texas is an expert on body-image issues:
"The bodies idealized on fashion runways are often unrealistic (and unhealthy) for many girls and women. Girls and women, in our society, are socialized to value physical appearance and an ultra-thin beauty that rarely occurs naturally and to pursue that ultra-thin physique at any cost. Research demonstrates that poor body image and disordered eating attitudes are associated with internalizing the mediated (i.e., commodified, airbrushed) bodies that dominate the fashion industry. A potentially healthier approach is to include a variety of body shapes and sizes (as opposed to idealizing only one physique). Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes -- and health is what should be valued, which may not fit with the fashion industry's emphasis on ultra-thin beauty."
Imogen Edwards-Jones is the author of "Fashion Babylon" (Atria, February 2007), an expose on the world of fashion:
"A ban on ultra-thin models is unenforceable. Designers will only stop using super-thin models when the public stops buying the clothes. Fashion is a business, and if fat women sold fashion, then designers would use fat women. However, since the death of the supermodel, it is not nameless skinny models who exert an influence over young women, but very underweight celebrities for whom extreme thinness is equated with extreme success. The likes of Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton and Nicole Richie are far more inspirational and important to teenage girls than the unknown face on the catwalk."
Jenny Hazel, MA, LPC, is a primary therapist at Remuda Ranch, a clinic for women and girls suffering from eating disorders:
"I support ultra-thin models being banned from the runways. The fashion industry and society have a huge impact on young girls, adolescents and adult women. Several models have died recently from eating disorders, and it is encouraging to see BMI and age restrictions put in place to help promote a more positive and healthy message. The women I work with indicate how they are constantly comparing themselves to the models, actresses, and images they see in the media, which leads to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and trying to achieve an unrealistic and unattainable ideal."
Catherine Schuller, former plus-size Ford model, is a Certified Image Professional, a member of the Association of Image Consultants International and the founder of Curvestyle: Reshaping Fashion, a promotions and marketing company. Schuller works as a fashion liaison and tirelessly advocates the platform that the curvy woman can be a fashion icon:
"I don't know about banning [ultra-thin models]. I think that some women are naturally thin, but to use just all ultra-thin sends a definite message. The runway should be more reflective of reality -- mix it up a bit and have women who are curvy in the lineup, too. There is a very negative impact that ensues over time. There was a statistic floating around a while back that said that after looking at images in a magazine, women reported they felt badly about themselves for up to four hours after that experience. It's been said that models aren't to blame, it's the families, but the families have been victimized, too and just pass it on to their children. I think the images cause a lack of empowerment, and insecurity ensues. 'How can I look like that so that I can be beautiful and measure up?' is what the trickle-down effect is."
Billy Warden, former producer at E! Entertainment Networks, worked on "Model," a celebration of the traditionally beautiful, and "Fashion Emergency," hosted by plus-size model Emme Aronson. Warden is now working in public relations and advertising, and has run social marketing campaigns aimed at youth.
"Banning super-skinny models? When you ban anything, you give it a mystique, a dark glamour. Just ask kids who reach for cigarettes. Education is often the best solution. Plus, protesters can offer alternatives to beauty images via today's myriad of social networking channels. The notion of tyranny-by-image is becoming outdated."
Katie Lebesco, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of communication arts at Marymount Manhatten College is a go-to expert in the fields of fat studies and body image:
"Thin models shouldn't be banned, but they certainly shouldn't be in the only game in town, either."
Dr. Chris Stout, Psy.D., is the executive director of practice and outcomes for Timberine Knolls, a national residential treatment center for young women, ages 12 and over, suffering from symptom complexes, including eating disorders, substance abuse, self-injury behavior, dual-diagnosis and other emotional disorders:
"The media interest in 'skinny models' fuels a growing attraction in young women toward anorexia, bulimia and emotional disorders. The social norms of valuing thinness, i.e., fashion models and celebrities, do not send appropriate messages about healthy lifestyles, though in most cases they are not the sole cause of such disorders. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if society could shift away from over-glamorizing unhealthy/unnatural thinness. Offering nutritional education regarding healthy eating habits can go a long way. Society doesn't cause eating disorders, but media and culture can influence behavior. Parents should encourage non-confrontational dialogues about any challenging issue. If an eating disorder is suspected, seek appropriate medical and behavioral health care."