Filippa Hamilton wants the world to know that she, a perfect size 4, was fired from Ralph Lauren for being too fat. I'm happy to help the 5-foot-10, 120-pound supermodel spread the word because I think her message is a good one. I heard her on a radio show last night saying she refused to shed pounds for the modeling gig because she knew she was at a healthful weight and didn't want to go lower. (Her body mass index of 17.6 means she's actually already underweight.) In an interview earlier in the day, Hamilton told the Today show's Ann Curry that she decided to go public about her April firing after recently seeing a photo-shopped image of her in a Ralph Lauren ad looking anorexic.
"It's not a good example when you see this picture; every young woman is going to look at it and think that it is normal to look like that. It's not," she told Curry. "I saw my face on this super-extremely skinny girl, which is not me. It makes me sad. It makes me think that Ralph Lauren wants to have this kind of image. It's an American brand...and it's not healthy, and it's not right."
What's going on here, and why have those Cindy Crawford types become extinct? Are designers really trying to tell us that anorexia is in? Perhaps, yes, if Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is representative of his industry. In a Sunday interview expressing his displeasure over a German magazine's decision to ban superskinny models, Lagerfeld said, "No one wants to see curvy women." He added, "You've got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly."
Gee, thanks, Karl. Body image expert Robyn Silverman had a spot-on comeback in her blog, writing, "I just love it when a man tells me what women think." As for Lagerfeld's assessment of the female gender, she writes, "The world consists of either impossibly skinny, beautiful women OR fat mamas in muumuus eating chips and watching daytime soaps. I forgot."
Silverman, a developmental psychologist who's writing a book on girls and body image, tells me fashion designers just don't care about women. "It all about the clothes," she says. "Models are supposed to be hangers, allowing clothes to drape straight down without curves or bumps getting in the way." Designers now require virtual beanpoles to fit into their ever-shrinking sample sizes. The problem, Silverman says, is that couture clothes set the standard, like the popular girls in school. The result? The skinny jeans and low-riding pants phenomenon that leaves pear-shaped women, like myself, out of the cool group.
Teens and younger girls may be even more affected by fashion images, even though they may not be aware of their shifting attitudes. "Girls compare themselves to what they see," Silverman explains. "Instead of viewing those models as extremely thin, they ask themselves, 'How can I alter my body to look like that?' They start to believe this is the new normal." Tall, thin girls want to be taller and thinner, while shorter, curvier girls feel like they'll never be able to obtain the ideal.
While seeing emaciated images on the runway can certainly affect body image, so, too, can those photo-shopped images on the covers of magazines. I previously took Self magazine to task for shaving pounds off of singer Kelly Clarkson. Silverman says we need to remind ourselves, and our children, that those images in glossy magazines and on the Internet often aren't reality. Keira Knightley's cleavage on the Pirates of the Caribbean promotional poster? Fake. Those six-pack abs on Men's Health cover guys? Fake. (Check out tennis player Andy Roddick's reaction to the bulging arms created for him on the cover of Men's Fitness.)
We should attempt—as tough as it may be in our digitally altered world—to look at real images of women to remind ourselves that beauty comes in many shapes and sizes, says Silverman. Like millions, I've admired Michelle Obama's arms. And I've shown my teenage daughter photos of the curvaceous Kim Kardashian and of Nicole Kidman, who shares her corkscrew curls. She, in turn, educated me. She told me about a friend who everyone thinks is beautiful even though she's not the thinnest or prettiest in the crowd. "I think it's that she smiles all the time and is really friendly and confident." Yes, I'd say that trumps the empty-gaze, frowning supermodels any day.
[Here are 5 Ways to Improve Your Body Image.]