Last summer, I stumbled upon the instagram account of Scott Schuman’s girlfriend, a Jenny M Walton.
Looking at her endless photos of herself, I immediately saw how utterly skinny she was. One picture in particular revealed bones covered by skin – a dreadful sight. I posted a comment: “Hope you are eating well. Stay healthy.” – Or something very similar.
I know about eating disorders, weight issues and warped self-perception all too well, having lived and worked in the fashion industry for decades. It’s a HUGE ISSUE. Girls who are only children are on diets, everyone is worried about their looks. Women (and men increasingly) are bombarded with images of unattainable beauty standards through all media channels. Most of them are enhanced through Photoshop but still, we believe in them as if they were real. If they are not enhanced by digital design programmes, then we are looking at models who are ill.
In recent years, there has been an outcry about “Size 0” after the shocking collapse and passing of several uber-skinny models came to light. Brands began to embrace diversity, plus-sizes, other sizes in general and several high fashion brands promised they would send models home, if their BMI was less than the absolute minimum of 18. (But very soon the press reported that it was all a PR stunt and all the models were as skinny as ever.)
There is a responsibility that fashion has towards its followers and consumers, and this is not to entice unhealthy eating, self-perception issues, self-doubt, harm to ones body and mind etc. Rarely does fashion take this responsibility seriously. (I unfollowed the thin girl very soon, as I did not enjoy looking at the images.)
So someone like this blogger – one of so many – endangers many followers. They see her and her sickly thin appearance as something to celebrate and to emulate.
Having struggled with underweight myself for years (several serious illnesses caused the weight loss), I know what it is like to be so thin and how unhealthy it is. I was never proud to be so thin and when I finally managed to gain and maintain 4 kilos, I celebrated by buying a size small, instead of extra small. I went from 47kg to 51kg, but it took me 5 years to gain and hold the weight. My BMI is finally over 18. I also know from myself and the industry about the “Lollipop effect” – this is when you are so thin that you literally look like a lollipop with a giant head and a stick body.
I only check instagram sporadically and post on occasion. It took me about 8 months until I checked my messages and found one from Jenny M Walton, who I had unfollowed a long time before that. She was ANGRY. She told me off. She said she is healthy and eats three meals a day. She threatened me to post negative things about all my body parts and asked how I’d feel about that. She had time to personally reply to my comment, one of presumably hundreds if not thousands of other comments. But this one was too close to home.
Such a defensive reaction, is another confirmation that this person is not capable of looking at herself objectively.
But lets assume she said the truth. Lets assume she eats well but still looks like she is very much underweight.
I replied: “Great to know. In that case perhaps you should promote healthy eating on your blog.” And I absolutely mean this. People who are role models in fashion should promote a healthy body image and life style.
And then I concluded my message with something like “Your reaction is very interesting, psychologically speaking.” Because as we know from psychology, aggression stems from fear. (Denial is the first sign of a serious problem)
The result? She blocked me from her account.
This is very interesting. She is so concerned, and obviously angry, at a random person inquiring her thinness, her size zero appearance and influence on followers, her health and well-being, that her defense is to attack, block and delete. What if other followers think the same? What if someone else questions?
Not only that, she even had her boyfriend, Scott Schuman block me too. Someone I rave to my fashion students about because of his professional background, being the first fashion blogger ever and for his creative contribution under his pseudonym The Sartorialist. Should I rave about him no longer? Is he pro size zero?
What did Jenny M Walton teach me about size zero? And what does this mean in the context of size zero in the fashion industry? Questioning health, weight and the visual communication of it makes one a “Persona non grata” in our industry today. Forbidden to ask, not allowed to question. Critical discourse is deleted. We are still along way away of eradicating it and the ones who promote it are unable to have an open and healthy discussion about it let alone acknowledge that it is indeed, the elephant in the room. (Albeit a very malnourished one.)
Finally, what about freedom of speech? What about voicing your concern or opinion? As blogging becomes another name for professional advertising and paid content, is the opinion the last thing you’d want?
I still wish to address unhealthy body imagery that is sent out to thousands. I still wish to point out that we need to combat such issues in this industry. I still hope, that you are healthy and happy, whatever your body is.