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Is super-thin on the way out?
Are we, hopefully and very tentatively, moving back towards the voluptuous or even remotely wholesome looking?
When I was a young girl, which wasn’t all that long ago, having an eating disorder was in vogue – a must. We would starve and probe and accuse ourselves until someone ended up in hospital.
Sounds like a bit of a horror story, a dramatic retelling of life under a body-fascist regime.
Back in the day, everyone wanted to be a model – more than an actress, singer or reality TV/porn star, all the girls I knew as tweenagers thought that to be deemed a “clotheshorse” was to be the pinnacle of success. Girls were so obsessed with the idea of being thin that they’d devote time to studying it. Not just magazines and the internet, but, disturbingly, anorexia memoirs. Everyone wanted to be beautiful enough to have a career that was all about just being beautiful. The concept that beauty could be a goal, not a gift, was the motor for our dieting logic. We all hoped for that miraculous growth spurt, fantasised about of being “discovered” and were excited, yet again, when the umpteenth model claimed she was spotted by a talent agent as she was “digging into a burger.”
It was a messed up time.
The desire to be very thin is, of course, a desire for purity. It’s about having the discipline, the delicacy, not to consume. About wanting to become something ethereal – beautiful and rare – and serenely self-composed. What we wanted wasn’t sex appeal. It had nothing to do with that. The kind of admiration sought was of a different kind.
Even at the height of society’s anorexia craze, the less savoury men’s magazines featured rake-thin models with impossible implants, and yet despite this media barrage, straight men everywhere continued to insist on “having something to hold on to”.
Tasteful beauty and real sensuality were kept remarkably separate in the late ’90s and into the noughties. This is, of course, a distinction as entrenched as that of women wanting to be Audrey Hepburn and men wanting Marilyn Monroe.
When I was growing up, “elegant thin” took over every aspect of media and became the ideal in B-grade reality shows as much as it was in high fashion. It was everywhere, and any real deviation on that model was pushed completely out of the picture. The standards of the fashion industry grew more punishing and in Hollywood films, the girl-next-door looked like a catwalk model. Starving yourself became a status symbol, offering easy access to glamour and success.
For our generation, the real tipping point was sometime in 2009, the year Cindy Crawford said she would have been too fat to survive in the current fashion industry.
By then change was already underway – when Scarlett Johansson and her fabulous arse broke through in the film Lost In Translation, the Olsen twin aspirants were kept quiet, Bridget Jones managed to believably snap up Colin Firth and Norah Jones got Jude Law as the reward for eating an entire cheesecake. A sub-genre of the romcom – the “fattyfeelgood” – emerged. Today, Kim Kardashian has replaced Paris Hilton. Rap culture has taken over the mainstream again, leaving skinny indie rock kids behind.
All in all, things are getting better as women in the media limelight seem a little bigger and a whole lot wittier than they used to be.
So should we all congratulate ourselves? Is the good fight over?
Probably not. But the haters will hate.
Fashion bloggers will starve themselves, the idolisation of anorexic celebrities is now openly blogged rather than discussed in chat rooms and this year’s Fall and Winter catwalks still had a few candidates for hospitalisation. Scary old columnists, like mutant Carrie Bradshaws, will continue to spew bile on Lena Dunham. Fanatics don’t die easy. Monomaniacs aren’t easily distracted. There are many, many things wrong with our culture, like the messages being sent out to young girls and the values they take up. Hating on Miley Cyrus’s chicken legs isn’t really much classier than fat-shaming. Though the images have altered, the malady remains the same.
I don’t think today’s young girls are any less superficial. Only that they’re perhaps less likely to end up in hospital in pursuit of an aesthetic ideal.
So count your blessings children. In my day, we totally had it worse.