Lizzie Marvelly: Stand up and turn the skinny model tide

Not everyone is long and lithe - it’s time adverts celebrated a range of body shapes and sizes and recognised beauty is diverse.
We should be celebrating a diverse range of body shapes and sizes. Photo / Alan Gibson
We should be celebrating a diverse range of body shapes and sizes. Photo / Alan Gibson

If there's one thing that really takes me back to my teens, it's seeing an advertisement featuring a tall, taut, and extremely thin young model wearing a bikini.

When I was a teenager I'd pore over these ads, analysing the model's body with hypercritical eyes, filled with envious longing while making a mental list of all of the ways in which my own body was defective, inadequate and disgusting in comparison.

It was such a regular ritual that I never questioned it.

I'd simply devote more time to pondering how many more meals I should cut out in order to get myself a thigh gap just like bikini-ad-girl.

I saw such an ad a few weeks ago, and it has followed me around the internet ever since.

Facebook, Instagram, news websites, wherever I happen to be, it has identified me as a potential customer and is now haunting me by following my data trail.

It knows that I am going to be spending time at the beach over the next few weeks, and it wants me to buy one of those bikinis, goddammit.

The ad in question, hawking the wares of a Kiwi clothing brand that I'm usually a big fan of, features five thin, tall, young models wearing black bikinis.

Like most people with functioning eyes, I'm so accustomed to seeing adverts featuring tall, thin, gorgeous young women that usually I barely blink, but this one stopped me in my tracks.

Five women. All thin. Not a curvy woman in sight, let alone a plus-sized one.

Hardly representative of the women who this brand is so doggedly asking (if my experience of internet ad stalking is anything to go by) to buy its products.

When I decided to engage with the brand online, I was told that the ads were the result of a collaboration with a modelling agency celebrating the successes of their most influential up-and-coming models.

The irony of five successful emerging models all embodying the industry-dictated tall and thin stereotype may have been lost on the brand, but it was not lost on me.

Nor will it be lost on many other young women who have been force-fed this image over and over from the early years of their childhoods.

What would be truly worthy of celebration, in my humble opinion, is an ad that defined female beauty as diverse.

When you're making an ad with five women in it, would it be so difficult to feature two or three women who are not long and lithe?

In no way am I denigrating thin women - I'm simply stating the oft-forgotten fact that the vast majority of women are not tall and thin.

It would be revolutionary to see a range of different body shapes and sizes represented in advertising, and even more revolutionary to see a Kiwi brand leading the charge.

I say this as a woman who a few years ago participated in a magazine photoshoot about body positivity that, after a few last-minute talent cancellations, featured no women above a size 10-12.

It was too late to fix it, and as a result, the shoot was drastically skewed towards a celebration of thinness.

It pains me to think that it quite probably contributed to the kind of body issues I know only too well.

When all the images you see in the media are of thin and beautiful women, body positivity can be a constant battle.

When I was 14, I weighed 62kg. A fairly normal weight for a girl of average height.

During my early teens, however, the models featured in advertising started becoming dangerously thin.

By 15, I'd dropped down to 56kg, by 16 I weighed 53kg and by 20 I weighed in at a rather scary 49kg.

It feels somewhat significant that I turned 20 the year Kate Moss gave her now infamous quote: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

I remember my exact weight because there were few things I spent more time thinking about during those years.

When I finally dropped under 50kg I remember feeling such a sense of achievement. I was finally skinny.

But I wasn't happy. At 21, after being diagnosed with depression, my weight spiralled, fuelled jointly by SSRI antidepressants and emotional binge eating.

At 22, I weighed 67kg.

At 24, with three years of therapy and a few critical thinking lectures under my belt, I embraced a burgeoning commitment to exercise as a healthful rather than obsessive behaviour, weighing in at 58kg - where I've remained, approximately, ever since.

Today, I can't remember the last time I weighed myself. During my teens I consulted the scales at least twice a day.

From 62kg to 49kg to 67kg to 58kg. All in the space of 10 years.

Advertising is not solely to blame for my distorted body image and disordered eating, but it has certainly contributed to my sense of self-loathing.

The frustrating thing is that after years of public concern about media consumption, we now know that advertising has a dangerous impact upon women.

There is a huge body of empirical evidence that suggests that advertising and media can be a causative factor in eating disorders, but advertisers still refuse to flip the script.

In the United States, 50 per cent of 3 to 6-year-old girls worry about their weight.

Here in New Zealand, I was dieting to try to lose weight by the age of 9.

Enough is enough.

It's time for advertisers and media producers to take responsibility, and to make changes.

They played a momentous role in creating this mess, and they now need to play their part in fixing it.

So I have a challenge for Kiwi brands: I dare you to take the lead in the revolution.

Have the courage to stand up and turn the tide.

Make ads that won't give teen girls another reason to hate themselves.

You never know, your customers might just love you more for it.

If you would like to talk to someone about these issues please call:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- NZ Herald

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