The ideal of a beautiful woman has significantly changed over the decades. In the 1950s, society found women with bodies similar to Marilyn Monroe
and Aubrey Hepburn most attractive (Lamb, Jackson, Cassiday, and Priest, 1993). Then, in the 1960s, society fell in love with the “Twiggy” body type. Ever since the “Twiggy” body type became popular, society sees the most attractive women as being very thin.
Studies have shown that women are generally dissatisfied with their bodies, rating their ideal body type as significantly thinner than their current body. Furthermore, women believe men desire women who are much thinner than they are. In fact, however, men prefer significantly heavier women than what women think men find attractive (Lamb et al., 1993).
It is interesting that fashion and women’s magazines possess ten times the ads promoting thinness and dieting than men’s magazines (Anderson and DiDomenico, 1992). It is no wonder women are much more dissatisfied with their bodies than men!
Some international fashion designers are beginning to realize how thin models affect young girls and women. For instance, in a recent fashion show in Madrid, overly thin models were banned. The organizers of the fashion show claimed they wanted to portray beautiful, healthy body types. They required women to be in a healthy weight range in order to participate in the show, meaning that a women who is 5’9 needed to weigh at least 125 pounds.
Yet, many American fashion designers and modeling agencies deny thin models affect young girls’ and women’s perceptions of their bodies and their perceptions of what they believe is a normal body type. For instance, one of Ford’s representatives asserts that obesity is the largest problem in the United States and that obesity and anorexia stem from a multitude of issues. Thus, it is impossible to attribute women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies and disordered eating to the media.
Additionally, the editor in chief of Glamour magazine tells the press that while you will see an occasionally overly thin model on the runway, a responsible model booker will reject models who are too thin.
Furthermore, the owner of People’s Revolution, a corporation that produces international fashion shows, believes that the models this year are no thinner than they have been in previous years. She also tells the press that when models bend over, you can see their rib cages; however these models are “naturally” thin. Even more shocking is her statement that models are generally a size 2 or 4, and if models are bigger than a size 4, they will not be able to wear the designer’s clothes. She further asserts the designer’s clothes look better on women who are very thin.
Fashion designers and modeling agencies mostly deny that anorexia and bulimia are astronomical problems in the modeling world. However, a few fashion designers and modeling firms are taking small steps in promoting an image of more healthy looking women. For instance, in season 5 of America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks, J Alexander, and Jay Manuel accepted a plus-sized model, Diane, on the show. Small steps such as this let women know that all types of bodies are beautiful.
Extremely thin models are beginning to be banned internationally. Perhaps the actions of international fashion designers and modeling agencies will influence American modeling agencies and fashion designers to require models to be of a healthier weight. In doing so, perhaps young girls and women will feel more satisfied with their bodies, reducing the prevalence of disordered eating in the American population.
Lamb, C. S., Jackson, L. A., Cassiday, P. B., & Priest, D. J. (1993). Body figure preferences of men and women: A comparison of two generations. Sex Roles, 26, 345-358.
Anderson, A. E., & DiDomenico, L. (1992). Diet vs. shape content of popular male and female magazines: A dose-response relationship to the incidence of eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorder, 11, 283-287.