Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Don't get heavy on fat in slamming the skinny

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Leave slender models alone, and stop calling them skinny. If they're not collapsing, then they're fine. Photo / Getty Images
Leave slender models alone, and stop calling them skinny. If they're not collapsing, then they're fine. Photo / Getty Images

Three cheers for Margo White's two-page column in the latest North & South magazine, in which she calmly and rationally mounts a superb case in favour of the fashion industry continuing to send those gorgeous, ultra-thin models down the catwalk and across the pages of glossy magazines.

White, who is no size zero and is not funded by the fashion industry, admits she had to screw up her courage to write this piece - and I know how she felt.

I wrote a column about obesity after Massey University professor John Birkbeck, in a Herald on Sunday interview, confirmed if we're fat, it's because we eat too much.

The reaction was extreme - a poster on blogsite Ideologically Impure commented, "This is troll 101 for sure, she is ugly not to mention arrogant so maybe we should be able to shoot her".

When I emailed White to congratulate her, she had not received flak, but this week our Youth Affairs Minister, Paula Bennett, said she would "look into" the issue of stick-thin models negatively influencing the body image of young Kiwi girls.

Her comments were prompted by media inquiries after Australia's Federal Youth Minister introduced a code of practice encouraging their fashion and beauty industry to use models on the catwalk with hips and breasts, and to stop digitally enhancing photographs in magazines - cutting out huge chunks of flesh to make models look even thinner than they really are.

But the Australian code is not compulsory.

In New Zealand Bennett professed concern about eating disorders and body image, and applauded the move taken in Australia.

But as White says, do we really have such a low opinion of all young women?

Can we make such sweeping generalisations and assume they are all total narcissists, looking at fashion magazines as their reference points for life?

And, anyway, why should we assume having a focus on fashion, ipso facto, makes a woman a bint?

Rosemary McLeod, one of this country's leading writers and journalists for decades, inspired me with her fashion sketches and copy for Eve magazine in the early 1970s.

I am addicted to fashion blogsites, and have huge admiration for the combination of fantasy, business acumen and brio which keeps an international house such as Chanel tops for decades.

And that brings me back to White's point. Would we love the likes of Chanel without "all those cheekbones, clavicles and legs sauntering down the runway.

"More ordinary-sized women would merely get in the way of the spectacle, and the hips, bums and so forth would get in the way of the drapery."

Quite. That's why we ordinary women window shop.

And here's my point. Why is it open season on skinny women? I know eating disorders are terrible diseases, but they're caused by more complex issues than young women merely gazing at thin models.

I know also eating disorders don't cause nearly as much of a drain on the health budget as obesity-related health issues.

I don't see many skinny women on television pleading for Government funding to receive treatment.

But, as White writes, it is legitimate to "make fierce and often offensive jibes about thin models, their lack of nutrition, because they're behind all the body-image problems".

On a fashion blogsite, an Italian journalist photographed looking smashingly slim and elegant, was advised to "eat another sandwich".

Recently through ill health I lost a lot of weight (I'm fine now) and concerned friends nagged me about looking far too thin.

Eat more lunch, they say. Have you had breakfast?

That's kind-hearted, but if I'm concerned about friends getting too fat, am I allowed to tell them, "You don't need that scone", or, "Don't eat that pie"?

Of course I can't. I would be accused of being the food Nazi.

So, leave slender models alone, and stop calling them skinny.

If they're not collapsing, then they're fine.

Most New Zealanders eat far too much so I suspect all this concern about ultra-skinny models is just jealousy and spite.

Women are good at that.

White said it best: "Fashion models are good at being thin and have a right to be.

"Einstein was good at being a genius, but nobody told him to keep his theories of the universe to himself because it undermined every other physicist."

- Herald on Sunday

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