Guest Post: The Transformation to a Warped Body Image

June 8, 2009

This post was contributed by Nicole White, who writes about masters of health care degree. She welcomes your feedback at Nicole.White222 at gmail.com.  After graduating from college Nicole started freelancing and writing for online education sites.  She has a particular interest in living a healthy and happy lifestyle and loves to write about it and share with others.

Does anybody really know when the exact moment was that it suddenly became chic to look underweight?  Centuries ago, it was a sign of poverty to be seen as underweight and subsequently the rich went to great lengths to portray themselves as robust.  Even the beginning of the twentieth century observed pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe exhibiting a healthy weight size for her body type.  So the real deliberation is when did this long-lasting fad of appearing “healthy” diminish in lieu of a new overarching trend which now threatens to kill so many young girls today?

Supermodels of the 1980s were entirely different from the related models of today; the “Big Six” of the late 1980s (Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell) were still held to be positive role models for young girls.  While most of these supermodels were thinner than the average American woman, they still maintained a seemingly healthy BMI and appeared to enjoy the curves that most women have.  However, Kate Moss was the first exception to this otherwise healthy atmosphere and began ushering in a new “heroin chic” look which became the staple of the new fashion world.  The media began to question “how thin is too thin” and with this becoming a major topic in the fashion industry, this new breed of model was born.

There are different theories relating to the birth of the overtly thin model in the 1980s: some blame the advent of street drugs like heroin and crack which led to an emaciated body type while others blame the birth of the HIV virus which left many with the same sunken-eye look.  Because of these various influences of a new underground culture, a new look was born within the fashion industry and while it was based on seemingly negative connotations, it is a look which has lasted over two decades.  Since the beginning of this craze, young girls have been easily influenced by ultra-thin models, ushering in a plethora of eating disorders which have since reached epic proportions.  Girls view these models in magazines, on TV, and believe that this is the socially acceptable weight they should be at, regardless of any outside factors like height and bone structure.

The fashion world itself almost promoted this new influx of ultra-thin models and a new “anorexic” message by promoting their models to be smaller and smaller in order to compete on runways and for ad campaigns.  What they did not realize for years was that rather than gaining contracts, they were losing many models and followers around the world to the silent killer anorexia.  The international modeling industry has since taken drastic steps to curb this new obsession with weight by putting their models through various tests in order to determine if they have a BMI of at least 18.5.  Additionally, healthy snacks are now offered backstage at most runway shows and “plus-size” models have begun to make a come-back.  However, there are still a great many models and celebrities for that matter who promote this unhealthy look, appealing to girls all over the world.  How did it happen that girls in Western countries envy the starving people of third-world nations?  Aside from being incredibly selfish and inconsiderate of other peoples’ misery, this has become an international problem created by the fashion industry and an unstoppable force.  Many fashion icons contend that the new “thin” look will not be replaced by a more “voluptuous” size 6 look anytime soon, which leaves it in our hands to educate young girls of the dangers this warped body image sends out.


  1. I think that people want most what is difficult to attain. For centuries extra body weight was a sign of health because food was not abundant. Only recently has this changed for a significant portion of the world’s population and in those populations where food is overly abundant are where you find cultures that glorify thinness. Whatever the root cause though, I agree – it’s harmful and depressing and needs to be stopped!

  2. This trend makes me really sad… You can’t be healthy and attain that look, so it’s causing a lot of damage.

  3. Intereasting comment, Charlotte…it seems as if the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It is unfortunate there is no happy medium. Why must there always be such a pull towards the extremes?!! Hopefully someday we will be in a society focused on health rather than size. Outer image certaintly can be misleading towards true inner health.

  4. I think we need to start by changing the name “models”… because that inherently makes us think we should “model” ourselves after them. Wrong! I don’t know if this sounds mean and objectifying, but we should almost just look at them like a pretty piece of art. Nothing more. I have so much to say about this…I love this post, it really gets me thinking and gets my ideas (and slight wrath) about the topic going again. We should create a society thta nurtures individuality and celebrates people for what they are, not try to fit them into a pre-established mold. When members of society feel valued and appreciated, there comes a lot of security and self-confidence, which will erase so many painful conditions that harm so many of us…

  5. this is a very unfortunate reality however I don’t think that changing the term “model” to “tanerexic idiot” would change the way people idol these people. If model’s aren’t doing it, actresses and singers will be. And if they all stop, another industry will emerge offering the same type of examples, because there is a demand for it.

    On the other hand there also seems to be a very strong following for obese people as well. Models and other idols feeding idea’s into overweight people that they are beautiful the way they are, when in reality, they are just as unhealthy as girls starving themselves to fit their size 5 hips into size 0 jeans.

    I believe that there will never be a happy median because too many people are insecure and unhappy with themselves and they will continue to model those different than themselves. Confidence is everyone’s only hope and most people don’t have it.

  6. I think an interesting comparison is the rise of the importance of the professional athlete or rock star in society. There is an abnormal vicariousness to what becomes popular in our world. It seems the less real life, or real fitness people have, those with those qualities become magnified to an unhealthy level.

  7. Charlotte- it’s so strange how there’s been that reversal over the years! Once it was the fashion to be overweight to show off your wealth; now it seems to be the fashion to be thin to show off your wealth. SO WEIRD.

    Hanlie & Ricky Rae- all we can do is strive for a happy middleground.

    Marta- I LOVE that you are thinking about the wording with “model”, and I think you’re absolutely right. The terms we use have a huge impact on our perception of the reality.

    Rayna- it’s true that we all need a lot more confidence. When did something as simple as “being healthy” become so complex?

    Dr. J- great point! It blows completely out of proportion. Being human doesn’t seem to be enough.

  8. I think it’s so sad that we have this problem. Personally, I’d rather have womenly curves and be strong and confident.

    I think we can all make a difference by living healthy lifestyles, fueling ourselves properly, and not speaking negatively about our own bodies. It really does start with us. 🙂

  9. …and for this reason we must work harder to raise confident children because of these extremes. My 15 yo daughter has at least one negative comment daily about how she looks, from “my boobs are too big” to “I can’t wear a 2 piece” etc…she’s not overweight at all but she sees girls who are extremely thin and have no chest and therefore she measures her looks by them. It’s difficult but I always remind her that she is beautiful and her body is just right for age, height, weight. However, she at least tries to stay active and eat healthy instead of going to the extremes of anorexia. Great message, thanks.

  10. I agree with Charlotte, and I have never thought about it that way. Are models so sickly thin because it is not normal (and would take a huge “effort” for most people) and most of us will never look like them? That is interesting.

    I AM glad to see that there seems to be a trend of strong, fit women in the health industry. It’s good to see women with muscles, who don’t look like they’ll pass out before their next meal. 🙂

  11. I think the worst aspect of the trend for ultra-thinness is how much of an insult it is to people who are starving because of where they live, not through choice. I think models who are that thin look appalling and I guess I feel sorry for them that somehow they have let themselves be brainwashed into thinking something so unnatural looks good. It’s as though anorexia can work collectively, as well as within individuals. But I also think there are positive signs because most of the people we really admire, for their achievements, don’t look like that – think of the people you know in your own life that are far more your models and I bet you’ll see what I mean.

  12. Sarah- you’re absolutely right!

    SpinDiva- I’m glad that your daughter is staying healthy, and that’s great that she’s got such a supportive mum.

    Holly- agreed. It’s all about being strong 🙂

    Liz- great point about the insult. We have access to health care and nutritious foods and we abuse it horribly, when there’s people dying all around the world because these things which are in so much abundance for us are completely unavailable to them.

  13. I think the entire look was inspired in the 1960’s by Lesley Hornby known as “Twiggy”. Before that, women’s models were known to be much fuller and the statistics of 36-24-36 were what most tried to emulate. The Twiggy era forced an entire culture to shrink and perpetuate eating disorders to reach that extreme figure. It has now been taken even further with the rail thin episodes of Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan as examples that young girls look up to. Here’s hoping that healthier bodies and correct BMI’s are the future.

  14. From what I understand, models that are “healthy” but just genetically very thin are so abnormal that they became a “sight to see”. I never understood why people , the common average people, are so centered around watching them/being like them/obsessed with being thin. However, the industry is driven by these obsessers. Just as fans of celebrities make them celebrities, the more our culture writes, thinks, watches, and obsesses about it- the worse it gets!

    I really don’t feel the media has anything to do with true eating disorders. In my journey of recovery, eating disorders are much more complicated and a manifestation of a multitude of issues ( family, self, stress, emotion, unhappiness, depression, behavior ….) . The media shows pictures, maybe portraying “ideals” but I don’t think I have ever seen an ad saying “you need to look like this”. You can look at pictures of airplanes all you want, but that won’t make you a pilot ? If the person does not have those factors and issues within themself already, they wouldn’t develop the eating disorder. If they do, they would develop A disorder regardless of thin celebrities.

    I’m not saying the media “helps” the recovery process but it seems like so many people that don’t understand just assume its because of social pressure.

    That said, I think if we (society) stop caring so much about what Britney did to Kevin or what Nicole Richie wore- life would be a lot better for all!

  15. oh and Annie’s Organic Whole Wheat tastes AWESOME in my opinion- I always hated boxed mac and cheese, but this stuff is delicious and healthy!

  16. […] World Discussions about being healthy in all aspects and enjoying life to the fullest! « Guest Post: The Transformation to a Warped Body Image Maintaining a Healthy and Realistic Attitude toward Body Image during the Summer Months […]

  17. Darn that Kate Moss! :0) Seriously though, it’s really sad that media images have such a huge impact when they are not the norm. When will consumerism change? What will it take to cause it to change? Hmmmm.

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