The Price of Being Thin

Marin Cohn

Eating disorders are serious. As we saw in “Pro Eating Disorder?” in the last issue of Maroon News, and in the wake of recent events, eating disorders are potentially life-threatening diseases.

Recently, in response to the deaths of models such as 22-year-old Luisel Ramos during a fashion show in Uruguay, the fashion industry has taken the initiative to ban super skinny models from the runway. In places such as Madrid, models are in fact not allowed to walk the runway unless they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 18. [A BMI is a mathematical formula that takes into account a person’s height and weight, (BMI=kg/m squared), normal being between an 18.5 and a 24.9.]

While subsisting on a diet of lettuce and diet coke is clearly more than unhealthy and screams signs of a severe problem, does putting a ban on skinny models or suggesting that a pro-anorexia group should not express its personal beliefs cross too many boundaries?

In the last issue of The Maroon-News, it was opined that pro-eating disorder posters are abhorrent. While anorexia and bulimia are horrible and dangerous diseases, one can not help but realize that the ability to put up signs is part of our fundamental rights of having the freedom of speech. We not only have the freedom of speech, but also have the freedom to decide what we want to do or not do, say or not say and eat or not eat. While it is true that many of our choices may have bad or direconsequences, it is part of the American ideal that we possess the freedoms to simply make these choices, whether they are beneficial or detrimental to ourselves.

However, this freedom comes into question when it begins to affect others. As described in last months article, when pro-eating disorder signs encourage others to destroy their bodies or discourage those who have problems from getting help, a conflict arises that transcends possessing the freedom of speech. In fact, many “ana” (for anorexia) and “mia” (for bulimia) pro-eating disorder groups and websites that provided “tips” on how to starve oneself through servers such as Yahoo! have been shut down. In the same way that sites that teach kids how to make their own bombs or promote underage sex have been blocked, it has been argued that pro-eating disorder sites act as dangerous and illicit effectual manuals and are in turn not covered under the freedom of expression.

In the context of the fashion industry in which models, the clothing they wear and the images they promote affect millions worldwide, it seems necessary to do something about the projection of an unhealthy body image as well. Should young girls be taught that being a size zero is what they should strive for? Is this what is beautiful? Is this necessary for success?

The question becomes not whether a size zero is in fact beautiful, but whether or not legal action should be taken to dictate that it isn’t. Who is to say what is too skinny? Moreover, who can legally force models, who gain their livelihood by walking on the runways, to gain weight? If we place a legal limit on how skinny one can be, shouldn’t we then place one on how fat? While there is a serious amount of hoopla on how unhealthy the super skinny pop stars and models are, what about the unhealthiness of the majority of obese Americans? While being underweight and malnourished can lead to an early demise, being severely obese is dangerous, harmful and deadly as well.

What we choose to do to our bodies, put into our bodies or say about our bodies is a conscious choice and should be our own. We should be able to stuff our faces with 1,000 doughnuts or vomit them all up if we so wish and are willing to face the respective consequences. While eating disorders are dangerous and easily to fall into, especially in a society that idolizes models, actresses and tabloid magazines, should legislation be taken against them? Where and when do we cross the line of our basic human rights and freedoms?

Ultimately, I believe in promoting healthfulness and in the projection of a healthy body. However, what I believe to be healthy and beautiful will necessarily be different than that of a person who is a size 14 (the national average for a woman) or a size zero model. Regardless of who we believe is “right” doesn’t matter nearly as much as each of us having the freedom to decide for ourselves.