A common trope about models is that we don't eat. Well, I'm a model and I love food. I eat often and during all parts of the day—the spicier the dish, the better. Most models—at least the ones I work with in Los Angeles—do eat, with fewer exceptions than one might expect.
I wish I'd known this when I was younger. If I'd known that models and actresses are on healthier diets than the "one grape a day" fads I'd read about in magazines, then maybe I'd have made healthier choices, too. Instead, I remember going on experimental diets in high school, including one where I would eat one slice of wheat bread three times a day. This particular diet lasted for about a week until I grew tired of it. Anorexia is the deadliest mental illness in the US but, luckily, I got into healthier habits.
Today I am in much better shape and form than I was in high school, even though I eat a lot more now. I know now to balance my meals with good exercise, so I go to the gym for a power hour several times a week. The only times I eat conservatively are when I have to get ready for a special event or to fit into a particularly tight outfit—a situation with which most people, regardless of occupation, are probably familiar. At the same time, I realize that my body normalizes at a lighter weight than most people. Being what society considers "skinny" is healthy for me, it's not a healthy size for everyone.
Other models I've met are the same way. We eat normally—many prefer numerous smaller meals a day versus three big ones to keep the metabolism going—and exercise effectively. Despite frequent tales of abnormally thin models, starving yourself or throwing up is not as common as one may think. Even Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio eats a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for breakfast.
But the idea that models starve themselves persists. Some of the millions of Americans who suffer from eating disorders are definitely in the fashion industry. But the source of eating disorders is much more complicated than just having to squeeze into a dress for a runway show.
A recent Texas A&M University study suggests that peer influence may be a bigger factor on body image issues than television. Their study concludes, "Our results suggest that only peer competition, not television or social media use, predicts negative outcomes for body image." But still, clearly the idea that "being pretty" equals "not eating" is pervasive among people who are prone to eating disorders. Just search for the hashtag #thinspiration on Twitter and you'll find that many of the thinspiration pictures (images of extremely skinny people to inspire dieting and weight loss) are shots of normal people, not models or celebrities.
There is a petition underway to ban the hashtag from Twitter since it promotes unhealthy images that could lead to eating disorders. In a show of good will, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram have already banned "hashtags that actively promote self-harm," such as "thinspiration" and "proanorexia."
To continue to make sure that people don't fall prey to harmful and distorted body image expectations, however, blocking negative content and promoting healthier meal and exercise plans aren't the entire solution. Eating disorders are wrapped up in mental health treatment (only one out of 10 people suffering from an eating disorder get treatment), as well as peer influence that may originate from media-mandated perceptions of beauty.
Ultimately this means that we are going to have to see a variety of body types in the media—including fuller figures that are openly accepted and not considered tokens—for there to be a lasting, core change in the way we see our bodies and ourselves.
Image: A popular thinspiration image, altered by Bitch Media.
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