The fashion industry feeds off bulimia and starvation

'Make Me a Supermodel' shows that the norm of beauty requires women to make themselves ill

Share

It's happened; I've found my limit. Normally, in my flat we will gobble up any and every reality TV show in town. We roared as Natalie Appleton gibbered in the jungle, rocking back and forward moaning, "I touched a tree, I touched a tree ..." When Ricardo, the Brazilian transvestite from the Salon, was buried up to his neck in fish guts and told to eat, eat, eat them, we nearly died in ecstasy.

It's happened; I've found my limit. Normally, in my flat we will gobble up any and every reality TV show in town. We roared as Natalie Appleton gibbered in the jungle, rocking back and forward moaning, "I touched a tree, I touched a tree ..." When Ricardo, the Brazilian transvestite from the Salon, was buried up to his neck in fish guts and told to eat, eat, eat them, we nearly died in ecstasy.

But - forgive me - I'm tempted to become one of those insufferable people who says, "Wait a minute. This one goes too far." Channel Five has been broadcasting a show called Make Me a Supermodel for the past fortnight. It does exactly what it says on the tin: 12 skeletons smeared with lip-gloss are competing for a modelling contract before the dead eyes of "judge" Rachel Hunter. They have to strip, pout and starve their way to the stardom - and to my astonishment, I'm not cheering them on.

Let's have a look at this show's contenders. One admits she was slashing at her own flesh with razors until three weeks ago. Another brittle, bony girl bursts into tears whenever food is mentioned, and reacted to one of her friends saying that she fancied a Big Mac by descending into a stammering, weeping rage. And the response of the judges to this bevy of borderline psychiatric cases in their late teens? "I don't really care," says Perou, a fashion photographer, with a shrug. "People get knocked back all the time."

But after a few episodes of horrified gawking, I realised that I was grateful this show exists. It unwittingly exposes the fashion industry far better than any undercover-camera job. The judges - like the industry at large - have no clue about the damage they wreak.

After inspecting the flesh, one of them wittered, "I'm really shocked - so many of them have such bad skin for their age." I was watching the show with an ex-model friend, and she spluttered, "Can't you see half of them are vomiting their guts up every morning? Of course their skin is like that."

The programme shows that the norm of female beauty promoted by the fashion world - and internalised by almost every woman in Britain - requires women to make themselves ill.

Well, you might say, there is always going to be a notion of beauty, and some people will always fail to meet it and feel lousy. That's true enough; there's no point espousing a fake egalitarianism of the flesh, where I pretend I'm as fit as Jude Law and it's only a nasty fashion industry that prevents us all from recognising it.

But it's important to understand that no particular type of beauty is programmed into our brains at birth. Your attraction to one type over another - anorexic women over normal women, say - is a complex product of advertising, culture and social conditions. The beauties of Rubens' paintings would be considered grade-A mingers today.

Beauty is an elastic concept; it is vulnerable to being hijacked by (in the 17th century) great artists, or (today) by particular industries with creepy agendas and massive marketing budgets. Men do not "naturally" fancy anorexic women; they are made to.

So the problem isn't that some people are more attractive than others. It's that the particular form of Western female beauty created and policed by a small minority of people in "trend-setting" industries today is a bizarrely unhealthy one. The people involved should not be allowed to escape their responsibility. The glossy offices of Vogue are built on the bodies of thousands of self-starved young girls. Every catwalk model walks over a tide of bulimic bile.

Interestingly, our norm for male beauty isn't nearly so bad. If I strived (in an absurd mission) to look more like Brad Pitt, I would have to work out, develop muscles and lose my swelling flab - hardly unhealthy. If my female friends strived to look like Kate Moss, they would have no choice but to starve themselves for years.

Some people believe the problem is that the fashion industry is dominated by gay male designers, who have promoted a boyish, breast-free, hipless look. Others believe that - in a time of abundant food and growing obesity - we unconsciously set up a starved ideal to limit our own abundant appetites.

I suspect there's some truth in both these claims - but they do not offer anything like a full explanation.

But until we demand change, we will continue to require sickness from women if they want to be regarded as "beautiful". Liz Hurley eats only one meal a day, and fends off her hunger cravings by allowing herself six raisins for lunch on "special days".

Do we really want Western women to pine for African emaciation - or do we want to reject this "Make Me a Supermodel" mentality?

j.hari@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'