Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“No Anorexia”

I am slightly divided when it comes to the size zero debate. It’s not that I support models starving themselves to be as skinny as they can be, not for one minute. But what annoys me about the issue is firstly that outside of America, size 0 doesn’t even exist, so while everyone is banging on about size 0, in the UK it’s actually size 4 and in the rest of Europe it’s a 32 (perhaps, every conversion table I ever look at is different), still ‘the size 32 debate’ doesn’t sound quite so shocking does it? What also annoys me about the debate is that the media who write about how terrible this issue is are the very people who perpetuate the idea that ‘thin is beautiful’, but one minute stars are too fat (i.e. normal) and the next minute they are too skinny. What sort of message does that send out to young girls?

Aside from these points, there are many other issues within the debate which also cause me great annoyance, but this isn’t the purpose of this post. At the same time, there are many reasons I also think that the debate should be had and should continue to be discussed. Number one of which is the disease Anorexia Nervosa, the actual reason for this post.

As Milan fashion week begins this year (where last year they followed Madrid’s lead banning any models with a BMI under 18 and asked that models carry medical certificates), size 0 and anorexia is still an issue very much on people’s minds. As a result, the fashion brand Nolita has released an ad showing a naked anorexic woman to highlight the effects of the disease. The posters have been erected all over the city of Milan during it's fashion week.

The ‘model’ used in the ad is a French woman named Isabelle Caro, who has suffered from the disease for 15 years. Weighing only 31kg (just over 4st 12lbs) and also suffering from the skin disease psoriasis, Isabelle spoke to the magazine Vanity Fair about her decision to take part in the ad campaign: “I’ve hidden myself and covered myself for too long. Now I want to show myself fearlessly, even though I know my body arouses repugnance. I want to recover because I love life and the riches of the universe. I want to show young people how dangerous this illness is.”

The ad has been shot by the same controversial photographer, Oliviero Toscani, who photographed a man dying of aids in 1992 for a campaign for Benetton. Of the campaign for Nolita the photographer said that his aim was “to use the naked body to show everyone the reality of this illness, caused in most cases by the stereotypes imposed by the world of fashion”.

It certainly does show everyone the reality of what the illness does to sufferers bodies, but what about what the illness does to their minds?

So far the response to the ad has been quite mixed. While the Ministry of Health feels it can help promote responsibility with regards to the disease, the President of Italy’s Association for the Study of Anorexia is not quite so keen. Fabio De Clercq feels instead that the woman used should be in hospital and the image is “too crude”. He also expressed concern that instead of helping those with anorexia, many may feel envious of the woman pictured and become determined to get even thinner than her.

Unfortunately, it’s a very tricky subject to approach and obviously one ad campaign isn’t going to make a world of a difference, even with an accompanying website which explains the motivation behind the campaign a little more. The aim is to shock people and it certainly does, at least it shocks those who do not suffer from the disease, but whether it shocks those who have an eating disorder themselves, I don’t know.

It may very well end up that some will look to the ‘model’ as something to aspire to be, but even without this campaign, those with the disease have many ‘role models’ already in the media to look to for ‘inspiration’. I wonder also whether the ad is aimed slightly more towards those who do not have the disease to highlight just how hellish the actual reality of the disease is. Because ultimately, those suffering from anorexia already have a distorted image of their own bodies and their problem is in the mind, a poster cannot make them change the opinions that they have so firmly ingrained. If Nolita really wanted to target those with disease, their campaign would go much further than a billboard poster. But then they are a fashion company, not a charity, and so is it actually their responsibility to tackle the disease itself or is it enough for them just to make a statement? Again, I don’t know.

The campaign has left me in two minds. The pictuers are shocking and hard to look at, but the ad has made me think and has made the issue of anorexia and the media and fashion industries' glorification of 'thin' more prominent in my mind once again. So I guess in a lot of ways it’s worked, on me. The actual test will be when it comes to those within the fashion industry however...

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