Saturday, 3 March 2018

recovering from an eating disorder as a fashion lover

This year eating disorder awareness week and Paris Fashion Week overlap. Some might find this ironic given that the fashion industry is often targeted as a leading cause of eating disorders. To view mental illness as having a straightforward cause and effect is easy and that is why we so often believe this, and even want to believe this to be true. However, it is not that simple. Eating disorders are much more complex than that. Fashion does not cause eating disorders, but that definitely does not let it off the hook. The industry and its leaders are still complicit in a society that values women by a number on the scale, and to suggest that models and magazines play no role in poor body image is even more naïve than implying that they are the only cause.

Fashion definitely played a role in my eating disorder, but I have always found that hard to admit. Partly because it seems so trivial, especially compared to people who develop eating disorders as a result of bereavement or trauma, but also because I love fashion. How could something I love so much hurt me so badly?

Fashion did not cause my eating disorder, but it did validate it. I followed a lot high fashion Twitter accounts at the time. One moment I might see a tweet about, say, Paris Fashion Week and the next someone would be posting thinspo, or their weight goals. This made fashion and weight loss seem synonymous.

However, it was often the clichés from outsiders that fuelled my illness the most. If your only knowledge of fashion is from films like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (great film, but it would be sooooo much better if they cut out all the comments about dress size and dieting, yes it’s satire, but it’s still unsettling) then you would think that being super skinny is mandatory for any career in fashion. Of course, none of this is true, unless you’re a model (more on that later.) When I was at Vogue people were literally eating bacon sandwiches at their desks. This surprised me, but it shouldn't have done. People eat food. Fashion people are people. So they eat food. Radical, I know. 

Still, recovering as a fashion fan is hard. My Instagram feed is full of fashion models who are skinnier than me. Come fashion week I’m scrolling through collections and sometimes have to remind myself to look at the clothes rather than how thin the models’ legs are. I find myself talking about body shape and appearance perhaps more than most because of how prominent it is in fashion. I still admire models who have obviously worked hard for the body they have, but it’s hard not to sometimes judge and worry. I hate judging other women's bodies, but the fashion industry’s treatment of young models is deeply troubling.

I recently read a sociological case study for my dissertation about a woman who went undercover as a model. She described standing in line at castings whilst she was measured with a tape measure and being sent away because her hips were 1-inch too wide or being told by her agency to lose weight. The most recent story to catch my attention was Cindy Crawford expressing her concerns that her 16-year-old daughter and up and coming supermodel Kaia Gerber would be put under pressure by the industry to lose weight, telling her to "enjoy carbs while you can."

I refuse to blindly blame fashion for eating disorders, but there needs to be change. Models like Kaia, Kendall and the Hadids all have the agency to call out the industry, but they don’t. Gigi has been very vocal about people judging her weight loss, but she has failed to speak about the unrealistic pressures agencies put on models. Teenage models relying on castings to provide them with an income are most at risk. Influencer-models would get jobs regardless. It shouldn't take models speaking out for agencies and fashion houses to realise it's treatment of models is wrong, but models with such a huge platform could catalyse industry change. 

Fashion is changing in terms of diversity, but too often it feels like tokenism and it is moving too slowly. The industry is taking precautions, but it is going about it in the wrong way. Last year France introduced a law banning models with underweight BMIs, but it is well-known within the eating disorder recovery community that BMI is a hugely inaccurate way to judge health and weight. More widespread and effective action is necessary for causing the structural changes within the fashion industry that are absolutely imperative. 

Loving fashion and loving your body are not mutually exclusive. You can read Vogue every month and also have a healthy relationship with food. You can love your body and watch runway shows. The skinny fashion clique myth needs to die. Being a fashion fan and recovering from an eating disorder is hard, but recovery is hard full stop. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. One day you might even find yourself eating a bacon sandwich at Vogue.

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