Archive for models

Model Cameron Russell admits the models we see in the media are nowhere near reality

I’m not a huge fan of “TED talks.” There’s something about them that seems too slick, too polished, too homogenous, for me. But a friend turned me onto a TED talk last week that I think is worth discussing.

In her TED talk, model Cameron Russell makes the argument that the images we see in the media are not real. That even models don’t look like models in real life.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea—we all know that the images in our magazines and on our screens are not real—but hearing it from a model is somehow more convincing, especially because she gives us the photographic and anecdotal evidence to back up her point.

Two photos of Russell taken when she was sixteen.


At one point, Russell tells a story about how people sometimes don’t even realize she’s a model when they meet her in real life:

“In December I was shooting in the Bahamas, and on the way back I was in a boat with other people staying on the same island. One woman was going on and on about the model she’d seen on the beach who was ‘so gorgeous.’ Of course, that model had been me in hair, makeup and a neon bikini. The whole 30-minute boat ride she didn’t recognize me. I was sitting directly across from her wearing sweatpants, a windbreaker, no makeup and hair up in a bun.”

Russell on the cover of a magazine and in real life.


Russell also reminds her audience that being beautiful doesn’t make anyone happy. She explains, “If you ever think, ‘If I had thinner thighs and shinier hair, wouldn’t I be happier,’ you just need to meet a group of models. They have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they are the most physically insecure women, probably, on the planet.”

Still, Russell admits that “How we look—though it is superficial and immutable—has a huge impact on our lives… people pay a cost for how they look” while also challenging the notion that our looks should play such a strong role, implying that our obsession with models and celebrities is unhealthy:

“When I gave a talk at TEDx, I thought that if I did a good job, the video might go viral. But … it has 140,000 views while Colin Powell’s (who spoke at the same event) has only 2,700. He is an incredibly experienced and intelligent man. And yet our society’s obsession with celebrity and models means more people were interested in listening to my talk.”

Until today I didn’t know who Russell was, but the fact that her TED talk is 500% more popular than Powell’s proves her point that our obsession with beauty is completely and totally f***ed up.

“Too young and too thin is no longer in”:
Vogue changes the rules of the model game.

Some good news last week I never got around to talking about: Vogue, the most influential fashion magazine in the world, has banned models who are either too thin or too young.

According to Conde Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse, “Vogue believes that good health is beautiful. Vogue Editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their reader.”

That’s pretty damn impressive.

And it gets better . . .

Vogue editors have agreed to “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder.”

To accomplish the former, they’re actually going to check IDs when casting models. I have no idea how they’re going to achieve the latter, but I imagine they will adopt similar techniques to the ones used on runways overseen by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), a group that also bans too-young or too-thin models.

The CFDA has emphasized that age and weight are a real problem in the industry, saying, “designers generally produce only one sample size for the runway, and in the last decade there has been a dramatic downward shift in the sample size of some of the top design houses. As a result, models are under increasing pressure to be thinner and thinner, and younger and younger. The industry’s hiring of prepubescent-appearing teenage girls as models of adult clothing sets an unrealistic standard; hips and breasts, the curves that define the female figure, are absent. Some models have difficulty maintaining the body ideal as they move into adulthood and run the risk of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors that lead to eating disorders.”

Thank God they’re admitting what we all know to be true—that curves are absent are far too many models.

No matter how you slice it, this is good news—for models and for women who see the images of models in everyday life.

In other words, it’s good for all of us.

And that’s because, as we all know, until we start seeing regular-sized women in our magazines and on our screens, we’ll continue to have trouble feeling like we can measure up.

No, Vogue isn’t going to start featuring women who wear the same size—twelve—as the average American woman, but at least this is a step in the right dreiction. At least something is changing.

An interesting side note: Vogue‘s U.S. editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was instrumental in crafting similar guidelines for the CFDA in 2007 and no doubt played a role in this decision. A thinly veiled version of Wintour was played by Meryl Streep a few years ago in The Devil Wears Prada, depicting her as a heartless bitch would do anything to get ahead—even if it meant hurting those closest to her. There’s no doubt Wintour was involved in this decision by Vogue to try to improve the model problem, and it makes me wonder—did the movie just make her out to be so awful just because she’s a strong, successful woman? It’s certainly something to consider.

You can read the whole article here: Vogue bans too-skinny models.


Score one for the supermodels:
Cindy Crawford pulls her daughter off the runway

Cindy Crawford and her daughter, Kaia


We all know about the fiasco that is stage mothers, as has been documented in gruesome detail on TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras.

Because of this, it was with great relief this week—the same week that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue came out—that I read about Cindy Crawford deciding her ten-year-old daughter, Kaia, is too young for a modeling career. (Mother and daughter are shown above.)

Apparently, Kaia modeled for Versace new children’s line last year, appearing in this cropped jacket and miniskirt . . .

After the photo was published, it was picked up by media outlets around the world, rightly causing Crawford to freak out. Crawford claims she had no idea that one photo would get so much attention. Not long after that, she put the brakes on her young daughter’s modeling, saying Kaia will have to wait until she’s 17 to model again.

I admire the heck out of Crawford for protecting her daughter from an industry that thrives on taking advantage of young women. After all, how messed up would it be if Crawford let her ten-year-old daughter continue in a business that breeds eating disorders and requires models to bare everything for fashion? As supermodel Paulina Porizkova points out, “What people called sexual harassment, [models] called compliments.” I think we all know that the world of modeling is no place for young women, who need the space to grow up in a healthy, nurturing environment rather than one that treats them like moveable mannequins.

Despite Crawford’s wise move, there are still too many young women in modeling—last week, Marc Jacobs featured both a 14- and 15-year-old at fashion week, blatantly ignoring the Council of American Fashion Designers‘ request that all models be over the age of 16.

But maybe more mothers will follow Crawford’s example and let their daughters enjoy their adolesence without the extreme pressure of the catwalk. God, I sure hope so.

It’s never too late to change: Belle Vere = True Beauty.

Well, it’s about time.


A major fashion magazine has F I N A L L Y featured curvy women on its cover. The honor goes to the latest issue of Vogue Italia, which can be seen above. (The rest of the photos I’ve included here are from the cover story.) As Time magazine says, “Vogue Italia has thrown the fashion world a major curveball — by placing three plus-size models on its June 2011 cover.” (Please not the plus-size models are size six and up.) And even better is that these women look stunning. As one blogger writes, “You see real confidence in their eyes—they KNOW they are beautiful.”

I truly believe we are in the middle of a paradigm shift about what it means to be beautiful—people are beginning to believe that beauty does not come in just one size or shape. We’re seeing more diversity in women’s body sizes in film (Bridesmaids) and television (Mad Men, Huge, Glee), and corporations like Dove are committed to helping us reassess what it means to be attractive.

For some time now, Glamour magazine has been devoted to featuring women of all sizes in its pages, and now Vogue Italia has jumped on the curvy bandwagon. And for the first time ever a first lady with a real body is seen as a fashion icon.

But in order to keep this change happening, we have to keep supporting the movement. I’ll probably not get a subscription to Vogue Italia since half the women in it are naked, but I will order the new Vogue Curvy and continue to get Glamour and support real-sized women every chance I get.
Here’s one easy thing you can do: vote in this poll about Vogue Italia‘s choice to feature real-sized women on their cover and tell them you say YES to curvy women!

Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women

This video is going around right now, and it’s an incredibly important one for us to watch because it emphasizes the point that our obsession with thinness is a public health problem.

I could not agree more.

But though I think this speaker means that our obsession with thinness is a public health problem because it leads to eating disorders and body dysmorphia (something I believe all American women have), I also think it’s a public health problem because it leads to obesity.

Sometimes it feels like we have two choices in our country—be thin or be fat. Since being thin in this country means having almost no body fat, which is impossible for those of us who are genetically inclined to be curvy, it’s easy to give up and say, if I can’t be thin, I might as well eat whatever I want.

Our obsession with thinness also leads to obesity because it causes us to embrace unhealthy crash diets that nearly always—90% of the time—cause us to gain back more weight than we lost.

Two celebrities are quoted as having spoken out about the problem of making women look flawless to the point of being unreal in the media: Cindy Crawford and Kate Winslet.

Crawford (pictured above in before and after shots) says she wishes she looked like Cindy Crawford, indicating that she doesn’t look like the Crawford we see featured in magazines and on television.

And about the magazine cover above, Kate Winslet said not only that GQ trimmed her thighs by a third without her permission (the photo on the right is the original), she also says, “I don’t look like that, and I don’t desire to look like that.”

Bravo, Kate.

(And what I don’t get is what was wrong with her legs in the original photo???)

The real question is why don’t more celebrities have a problem with this? Why aren’t they all putting their foot down on this issue? Why aren’t they demanding to be depicted in more accurate ways since we all know that it hurts all women in the long run?

I suppose they’re afraid that if they speak out, their careers will be over. And it’s certainly true that Crawford and Winslet are two of only a handful of untouchable women in the media, so I admire their desire to use that power to speak out. But what about Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon? Sandra Bullock and Cameron Diaz? Angelina Jolie? Why aren’t these women speaking out and trying to combat this problem?

If they are and I’ve missed it, I’d love to hear about it. If not, it’s time to step up, girls.

It’s just a jump to the left. And then a step to the right.

I had all kinds of plans for tonight’s blog . . . but those plans will have to wait because tonight I have to write, yet again, about that pop culture phenomenon that is Glee.

Tonight’s episode of Glee was a play on The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And while it’s been years since I saw that movie as an unworldly seventeen-year-old, I really enjoyed their take on the musical. But the music wasn’t nearly the most interesting part of the episode—nor is it the reason I feel so compelled to write about it.

What really made the episode work was it’s theme of reversal.

One of the show’s main characters, Finn, was cast as the male lead in the show’s version of Rocky Horror. And that role required him to do something that women do on stage or on camera all the time—take off his clothes. No, he wasn’t going to be naked, but he was being asked to strip down to his underwear in front of an audience.

To look at Finn, one wouldn’t think he had anything to worry about when it comes to his body. He’s the quarterback on the football team. He’s tall and in great shape. He’s dated the most attractive girls on the show. But something about standing on stage in his underwear terrified Finn. He worried that his body wasn’t up to snuff, especially when compared to the chiseled, sculpted frame of the new kid in school, Sam. At one point, Finn—who is a little bit of a dim bulb—admitted that the underwear scene had him so freaked out he had started showering with his shirt on.

I’m not certain, but I’d venture to guess that every woman alive has felt the way Finn did in that moment.

We’ve know what it’s like to walk into a room and feel as though everyone is judging our bodies—examining every little flaw, critiquing every article of clothing, running their eyes up and down us in laser-like fashion.

But tonight’s episode of Glee reminds us that men can feel that way too.

When Finn is asked to strip on stage, he gains an understanding of what it’s like to worry about having some extra flab around the middle. He finds out what it’s like to worry that people might laugh at him for not looking like a perfect GQ model, a reality most of us women live with every day we step out the door.

But at the end of the episode, Finn decides to empower himself. And in order to prepare for his on-stage performance, he takes the bold step of strolling down the hallways of the high school wearing nothing but his boxers, his sneakers, and a pair of glasses. (His Rocky Horror costume.) Naturally, everybody laughs and points. (Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, doesn’t it?) But Finn comes through the gauntlet with a greater sense of his own worth—and with his dignity intact.

I’m not going to be walking down the halls of my school in my underwear any time soon, but I understand the desire to bare it all—for better or worse—and yet again I love Glee for tapping into that innate desire to put it all out there.

Monkey see, monkey do


198 pounds

I just started reading Hungry by model Crystal Renn, and to be honest, so far I find the whole thing pretty terrifying. I’m about one hundred pages in, and I cannot believe the things Renn did herself to be a model. I’ll write a full review of the book when I finish it, but for now, I want to talk about the effect that reading the book is having on me.

As I confessed here last year, I went through an incredibly brief period of starving myself when I was fourteen. My attempt to become anorexic only lasted two and a half days, but I ate next to nothing that entire time. So much so that I almost passed out on the third day, and then, thankfully, gave up my “dream” of becoming anorexic.

Why did I do it?

Many, many reasons, but most of all because of a desire to be more thin and more attractive. But another big reason I did it was because I was reading about it all the time—in countless magazine articles and in dozens of young adult novels.

In fact, there was one specific book that outlined in full detail how the narrator learned to starve herself without detection, and, for a brief time, this book was my bible. I didn’t really think about not eating until I read it, and while I did, I got caught up in the protagonist’s obsession with losing weight. I was supposed to be disgusted by her choices, but instead I found myself rooting for her. And, eventually, hoping I could become her. I guess in some way it all seemed very glamorous to my foolish and naive adolescent self.

Scary, I know, but what’s even more frightening is that as I’m reading Hungry, I find myself thinking the same things. I find myself wondering if I could lose weight if I tried some of Crystal’s tricks—like working eight hours a day or eating lettuce every meal—and then I think to myself, What the hell is wrong with you??? You have a blog called “I Will Not Diet,” and you’re sitting here fantasizing about dieting in incredibly unhealthy ways!!! You are really messed up!!!

I also, just as disturbingly, find myself rooting for the sixteen-year-old Crystal to lose enough weight to have a “gap” between her legs, and then I say to myself yet again, What the hell???? Why do you want her to be that thin???

I think the reason I find myself rooting for the young Crystal to become thinner is because I want her to become the model she dreams of being, and that is almost just as messed up. Shouldn’t I want her to be something more healthy like a lawyer . . . or a college professor????

As it turns out, there is a still a part of me—at the age of forty, no less—that can relate to the adolescent desire to be thin and beautiful and . . . wait for it . . . famous. I’m disgusted with that part of me and also incredibly ashamed to admit it to you.

But I am admitting it because I think we can learn from it.

If someone who thinks dieting is so unhealthy that she blogs about it twice a week can start rooting for an adolescent model to be anorexic and even consider trying some of her f***ed up weight-loss techniques, what chance do young girls have of not parroting her choices?

The answer is almost none.

That is, without our help.

While I was walking today, I was thinking about this frightening epiphany I’ve had while reading Hungry, and I realized that the only thing we can do is talk to the young girls in our life about these issues. We can’t stop them from reading these books and articles—first of all, they’re ubiquitous and, second of all, the last thing we want to do is tell people what to read. But we can talk to them about what they read.

And once I’d figured this out, I also had to admit to myself something else that’s pretty scary, and it’s this: I would have NEVER felt comfortable discussing those YA books about anorexia with my own mother.

I’m not sure why—maybe it was because my mother always struggled with her weight, making me nervous about broaching the topic with her and hurting her feelings. More likely, though, it was because we never talked about body issues. I was always fit. (I hesitate to say “thin” only because I’ve been trained all my life not to think of myself as thin, though in truth, I was thin until I was twenty-six years old.) Because of this, there was no obvious reason to talk about my body. But my brief foray into anorexia proves that there really was a reason to talk about it. I should have been talking to my mom about my body issues all the time, but I wasn’t.

Instead I was reading a novel about a young woman who almost killed herself trying to be thin, and I was trying, rather desperately, to be like her.

Real is the new sexy


197 pounds
A few months ago,
The Globe and Mail ran a story I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while called “We’re having a fat moment: Go ahead and have another slice of pumpkin pie. Thin’s not so in any more.”

The article asserts that there is currently “a backlash against a culture that has long perpetuated futile strict diets and impossible exercise regimes. People are finally tired of the yo-yo meal plans that help them melt off pounds but also pack them back on. And the media are making more efforts to reflect a public with ever-expanding waistlines.”

Though I’m not sure I agree that there really is a backlash as big as this article implies, I do think things are beginning to change.

In fact, just yesterday, my copy of Glamour magazine arrived with this cover:

The one on the left is a “plus-size” model: Crystal Renn, author of Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves. Though it’s somewhat hard to tell in this image, Renn is actually a size twelve, and her body does look real. Meaning it does look like she eats from time to time.
Sure, Renn appeared next to two more traditional sized models here, but this is progress, people. A woman who wears a size twelve is on the cover of Glamour! This is huge.

An article called “Real is the New Sexy” appears in the same issue, and in that article another “plus-size” model—Jennie Runk, who is 5’10” and around 175 pounds—says, “I used to compare myself to others, until I realized it’s better if I don’t look like everyone else . . . my curves make me feel sexy . . . Every woman, of every body type, should be able to stand up and say she’s beautiful.”

Words to live by.

Even some fashion designers are using larger models on the runway. No, they’re not overweight, but they’re not underweight either. And I’ve never advocated that we idolize overweight women—just woman who have real bodies, which is exactly what’s beginning to happen in some magazines, with some fashion designers, and on some television shows.
Case in point: on tonight’s episode of Glee, Mercedes was pursued by one of the “popular” boys, Puck, and no mention was made of her body size except that Puck said he liked “curvy” girls. Unlike other actresses her size, Mercedes isn’t being relegated to playing the BFF of the girl who got the guy.

There’s no denying that things are changing. Changing for the better. The only question is how far will it go? And will it be far enough?

A taste of their own medicine

191 pounds
I’m the first person to applaud Dove for their “be comfortable in your own skin” campaign. They might have even been the first major company to show regular-sized women in their ads, and I love them for that.
But their new ad for Dove “Men + Care”—which premiered during the Super Bowl—has me scratching my head.
The ad—which you can watch here—shows a man’s life from conception to “middle-age” accompanied by a staccato voice-over of the man’s life story.
(I put middle-age in quotation marks because the actor who plays this part is clearly not middle-aged.)
The ad begins with dozens of purple sperm going after a huge cantaloupe-looking egg (see picture above) and this voice-over: “Get born, get slapped, now get to school.”
Then the man is shown progressing through his life—playing football . . .

getting married . . .

having three kids who hilariously have his head superimposed on top of their bodies . . .

and generally settling into the American notion of domestic bliss . . .
After all that, the voice-over wraps up with this lovely coda:
“You’ve reached a stage where you feel at ease.
You’ve come this far, and it wasn’t a breeze.
You can take on anything, of course you can,
because . . . you’re a man!”

This wonderful reinforcement of the importance of “being a man” is heard while showing said “middle-aged” man—now with a perfectly groomed beard to let us know that he’s aged—throwing his arms up in triumph as he jogs through the streets in his beat-up old grey sweatpants.
After the man’s life story comes to an end, a new, slicker voice-over announces the following:
“Now that you’re comfortable with who you are,
isn’t it time for comfortable skin?
At last there’s Dove for Men. . .
Be comfortable in your own skin.”
While these words are being said, we see the “middle-aged” man in the shower, soaping his upper body with a product that we can only assume is the new Dove product for men.
The problem is that his body is definitely not the kind we would expect to see on the average middle-aged man with a wife, three kids, and a house. It’s not even the kind of body we would expect to see on a fit middle-aged man. No, in fact, the body we see is the incredibly sculpted upper body of a man in his twenties who spends all of his free time at the gym, lifting weights, running on the treadmill, and maybe even doing a little bit of yoga.
So in reality the message of this ad is “Be comfortable in your own skin
. . . or if you’re not comfortable with your own skin, just imagine that you are a really hot younger guy with cut abs and a sexy beard.”
The whole premise of the Dove “Campagin for Real Beauty” is to help people accept themselves the way they are and to make people feel like they do NOT need to look like a model to have a healthy sense of self-esteem, but I doubt that any regular middle-aged man would feel pleased with his body—or even find it remotely attractive—after watching an ad that features a man who looks like he spends every waking moment at the gym.
On the one hand, I’m offended by Dove’s insensitivity. After all, this is not the message we want to send. We don’t want men—or anyone—feeling like they have to have a perfectly sculpted body to feel good about themselves.
On the other hand, I think it’s a little bit funny to see men finally getting a taste of their own medicine. Women have been struggling to reconcile their very real bodies with the totally unreal images we see on the screen for years, and now men are getting their turn.
So you’ll forgive me if I laughed out loud when I saw this smoking hot Ryan Gosling look-alike lathering up at the end of a Dove ad trying to reach “real” men. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.

The model cousin

194 pounds

I caught up with two of my favorite cousins last week in Nashville, and though I was thrilled to see them for the first time in years, I was horrified by the way my self-confidence plummeted in their presence. I’ve talked before about the way family members can affect how we see ourselves, but I don’t think I realized before last week, that this can happen even when we are around family members with whom we have supportive and loving relationships. I guess that’s what took me by surprise: I’ve always been close with these cousins, I’ve always enjoyed their company, and never once have I thought that they were judgmental about the way I look. So why did my self-perception change so dramatically when I saw them?

The first thing that might have played into this change is the way my cousin Jim looked. Most of the people on my mother’s side of the family are solidly built, and as a former high school football player, Jim has always been broad shouldered and brawny. But when he walked through the door of my favorite Nashville restaurant last week, he was so thin that I barely recognized him. Jim had slimmed down after high school, but he still always had that hulking footballer look. This was not the case last week. The man who met us for dinner was a far cry from the Jim I had grown up with. In fact, he’s now what I would call model thin—not too thin, but thin enough that it’s easy to imagine him posing for an underwear ad. I was, of course, surprised by the change in his physique, but more than anything, I was surprised by how handsome he looked. Never a bad looking guy, Jim is now a bona fide hottie.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if underneath his former football player body, this model had been waiting to come out all along.
You can probably guess what I thought next—is there a model inside of me waiting to come out? Could I look that good if I lost a significant amount of weight? Have I been approaching this whole weight loss thing the exactly wrong way???
After dinner, my other cousin Jeff got out his camera for a few pictures, but when I looked at the first one, I was horrified by what I saw. I had turned to the side for the photo, and when I looked at my image on the tiny camera screen, all I saw was arm. A huge, flabby, fleshy piece of whale arm. I was disgusted with myself.
I had not seen Jeff or Jim in years, and here we were, finally reunited—Jim looking like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ and Jeff as boyish and cute as always—and I imagined I must have reminded them of the fatty ham our grandmother put out every year at the family’s Christmas dinner.
Admittedly, this is exactly the kind of talk—exactly the kind of thinking—that I want to steer people away from on this blog. But that doesn’t mean I’m entirely immune to it.
Yes, I was feeling horribly unattractive in the moment, but I was also simultaneously angry with myself for breaking the very rules I set forth on this blog. So if I understood even then how wrong it was to see myself that way, why did I still do it?
The answer is probably too complex for someone who’s not schooled in the psychology of the mind to fully understand, but I can take a guess: when we’re around family, we revert to the roles of our childhood, whether they be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. When I saw Jeff and Jim, I became the person they grew up with—the insecure, awkward, somewhat nerdy child of my youth. I often become this way around my immediate family, but it surprised me that I would do this with my cousins as well. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in me. It’s that they reminded me of the person I used to be. And maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to remember whom we used to be. Otherwise, how would we be able to recognize how much we’ve changed and grown?
Maybe there is a model lurking somewhere deep inside of me. A model I might be able to find if I were willing to starve myself for the rest of my life, which is what I’d have to do to lose and keep off the fifty pounds I’d need to shed to find that model. But what’s different between the me I am now and the me I was when I was a kid roller-skating with Jeff and Jim in our grandmother’s basement is that I no longer want to be that model. I no longer believe that I’ll finally be happy when I look like I’ve just stepped out of the pages of Vogue.
No, I no longer believe that happiness is something I’m waiting for. Now I believe it’s something I already have.
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