Tuesday 22 May 2018

Fashion Week models are not to blame for scourge of eating disorders

As rising star Molly Bair sparks a row over 'anorexic chic', it's too simplistic to blame size-zero models for anorexia and bulimia

DEFIANT: It’s not Molly Bair’s weight that makes her special, but the way she stares down the camera. Photo: Startraks Photo/REX Shutterstock
DEFIANT: It’s not Molly Bair’s weight that makes her special, but the way she stares down the camera. Photo: Startraks Photo/REX Shutterstock
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

At school, Molly Bair was an awkward looking kid. Bullies taunted her, comparing her to an ugly looking insect. They called her "alien" and "rat" and made fun of her larger than average, pointy ears and brows that met in the middle.

But last year, on a trip to a flea market, a stranger stopped and asked if she would be interested in modelling.

Bair dismissed the offer as an internet scam. It wasn't until she googled the agency that she took the offer seriously.

On Friday, she made her debut in London Fashion Week.

A feel-good story of a tormented kid becoming a worldwide success typically receives praise. Instead, the 18-year-old finds herself in the firing line of bullies again.

The teenager has become the poster girl for those who argue catwalk models encourage eating disorders. It's become the annual 'go-to' commentary during the New York and London fashion weeks - an easy one for lazy columnists.

Working themselves into faux outrage, they single out the models, some as young as 17. They warn no girl should 'aspire' to look like them.

Eating disorders are nasty, complicated illnesses. The myriad causes combine the psychological, interpersonal, social and even biological.

One would think anyone caught in the sinister spiral of anorexia and bulimia, who sits in front of a psychologist, would trace the root of their problem to the first time they opened a magazine or turned on Fashion TV.

They don't. It goes a lot deeper than that.

Low-self esteem, anxiety, depression, troubled personal relationships and difficulty in expressing emotions may all form part of the problem.

Arguing that girls develop anorexia when they are confronted with ultra-slim catwalk models is as true as saying people fall into alcoholism after tasting a pint.

The idea that we ban anything which may lead to addictive behaviour is foolish.

If we are to banish these models, then where do we stop?

Celebrity magazines? Hollywood movies? Instagram feeds?

Why not, for example, prevent Cheryl Cole from appearing on the X Factor. Her weight is the subject of more discussion these past few weeks than all of these models combined.

Millions of impressionable young girls tune in to watch her each week.

And while we are at it, we could order photographers to stop snapping Victoria Beckham. More women use her appearance as motivation than any model.

Then you reach a point where you have to decide who gets to draw the line. How we decide that one woman's body shape is acceptable, while another's is not.

Many eating disorder sufferers including Nancy Tucker, author of The Time In Between: A Memoir Of Hunger And Hope, have spoken out to rubbish the idea that the "size-zero epidemic" or "pressure to have a thigh gap" has anything to do with anorexia.

In her own words: it shows "a horrific ignorance of what an eating disorder actually is. It's not a monkey-see-monkey-do behavioural thing - it's actually a form of total, extreme insanity. It's such an extreme attack on your body - there's no way you'd do it because of any external influence. You'd just give up!"

It is important, therefore, to make the distinction between eating disorders and someone feeling bad about their body image -which most people do at some point, if not all the time.

And to realise the problem isn't the models. The problem is that we are fixated with weight.

Every day women are pitted against each other. Their bodies separated into two boxes: acceptable and not. And the debate isn't helping anyone.

The more rational approach is to end the discussion and simply concentrate individually, and in our own homes, on a healthier lifestyle. To stop trying to live up to an imaginary standard of acceptability.

In the meantime, Bair has decided to face down the critics.

Her weight is not what makes her special.

It's the fierce look with which she stares down the camera. There is a defiance there. She recently told reporters she believes "beauty is loving and having confidence in who you are and what you look like."

Now who wouldn't aspire to that?

Sunday Independent

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