Tips for Recovery Series :: (2) Stop Supporting the Culture of Thinness

by Ashley Solomon

Just to review, I was recently asked by Justine Hoepfner, an author and speaker who is currently developing an eating disorder recovery book, about the “top tips” I had related to eating disorder recovery. I’m planning on sharing with you some of what I shared with Justine during the next few posts.

If you missed Tip 1 on developing body empathy, check it out here.

Tip 2: Stop Supporting the Culture of Thinness

Lizzie Miller, as featured in Glamour magazine, after being considered by others as "too big for modeling."

As human beings, one of the most destructive things that we can do to ourselves, and to one another, is to support the culture of thinness that has emerged over the last century. As we have grown as women, both in size and in power, we have allowed our standard of beauty, our ideal, to shrink to the point where the woman is nothing but skin and bones. We have allowed corporate advertising executives and modeling agencies and Photoshop experts to define what is beauty and what is sexy and what is good. And to these individuals, in reality only a minute percentage of the population, beauty is angular nothingness. It is emaciation. It is emptiness. We as women know that this is not true. Beauty is heart and soul and mind and energy and love – all of the things that wither away when one begins to shrink in size and in person.

My research has been on programs that helps inoculate girls to the influence of the mass media and its perpetuation of the thin ideal. When I went into classrooms last year to run this program, I was energized by the bright and talented young women before me. And so when they began to talk about the way that the songs and movies and magazines make them feel – fat, deformed, inferior, less than – my heart broke.

As women we have an obligation to say no. No to unrealistic standards. No to nothingness and emptiness. That means canceling the magazine subscription, turning off America’s Next Top Model (if you feel it offers a limited portrayal of beauty), and deleting the email that promises a new butt by Christmas. One of the most important things we can do for our own recovery, and for our futures, is to stand up for what we know in our hearts is beauty and resist the urge to succumb to the fashion industry’s own conceptualization of what that is.


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12 Responses to “Tips for Recovery Series :: (2) Stop Supporting the Culture of Thinness”

  1. I love the picture you included. It’s real and makes me feel good about the “gut” I have because she has it too. I can’t help but long for thin arms and longer legs and round perky boobs even though I know what I see isn’t really real. If you haven’t seen this story, check it out:

    It’s about plus-size model (which makes me laugh because she’s a 10) Crystal Renn and pictures of her that were retouched without her knowledge. The retouching made her look skinnier and with a history of an eating disorder, many were alarmed. Why do we live in a society where plus size models aren’t really plus sized at all and they are still being retouched to look thin?

    • Thanks for sharing the article. I had heard about this but hadn’t really read anything on it. It is always interesting to me who the “plus-size” models are… Not only are the only a 10 or 12, but they look smaller than even that… though it could be the retouching!

  2. actually here’s a write up by the photographer, looks like very minimal retouching.

    • Thanks for this perspective, Maria. It’s nice to hear the “other side” because we are sometimes too quick to villanize the media. I guess the media as a whole has given us reason to be skeptical, however.

  3. I’m curious what kinds of things you do in your program to help inoculate girls/women to the “culture of thinness”? (Or can you not talk about specifics?)

    I’m also curious if you ever run into … backlash? Being a small, attractive woman yourself, then trying to teach girls not to worry about being thin or beautiful, I could imagine that some more cynical women might say, “Oh, well, easy for *you* to say.” Have you run into that, and if so, how did you handle it?

    (Sometimes I face a similar dilemma even among friends, like if I try to reassure them about their weight or something. My own body image issues are sometimes pushed aside or (unintentionally) belittled because I have it, compared to them, easier.)

    • Sure, Kristan, I’d love to share a little! I may write a post on this actually, so I won’t go into too much detail. Basically the idea of the program was to teach the girls to be more critical and thoughtful consumers of media. We did a lot of discussion on the role of media in our lives, what the goals of those in the media are and how those don’t always align with our own goals (but sometimes do), and how they perceived the media impacting them in terms of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We also did activities and assignments like finding both negative and positive representations of women and answering questions, watching videos, designing their own positive campaigns, etc.

      In terms of backlash… that’s a really interesting point. I’ve actually given some thought to that, but haven’t experienced it explicitly. I think it could be a big factor in both classroom settings as well as in the therapy relationship. It hasn’t come up yet, but I anticipate that it will more directly in the future. I’ll have to let you know how I handle it when it arises, but hopefully I can help the individual(s) see that we all come in many shapes and sizes and focusing on “me” takes them away from what’s important… discovering their own uniqueness. But we’ll see!

      Have you ever addressed this dilemma with your friends?

      • “hopefully I can help the individual(s) see that we all come in many shapes and sizes and focusing on “me” takes them away from what’s important… discovering their own uniqueness.”

        Good framing. 🙂

        Not with the friends that do it, no. I have mentioned it to other friends who have similar things happen to them (like the one girl who is always told she’s sooo tall and sooo thin, and thus feels even more pressure to stay that way). I mean, it doesn’t happen that often — I think it was more a high school thing — but I thought I’d ask. 🙂

  4. I completely agree that we need to stand up and intentionally say “no” to images that hurt us and companies that endorse these images. I would add that it’s not enough to stop consuming said images; we also need to be vocal about making that decision. So, for example, don’t just cancel the magazine subscription; email the editor and let her know why you’ve made the decision to do that. When you combine your defiant action with a vocal explanation, the impact is doubled.

    • Katie – You make a great point! I totally agree that being vocal is important from a social standpoint, and probably also to develop a sense of agency and power. In the program I talk about in the post, I had the girls write letters to various companies whose advertisements they found offensive in some way. They really enjoyed it and felt that their voice had been heard. And some of them even got personal responses, which was awesome!!


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