Today at the Daily Beast, readers are being subjected to a pseudo-intellectual essay on why we’re all misguided in thinking that eating disorders are actually a problem, and that the fashion industry plays some part in their onset and popularity among women. Lisa Hilton, an Oxford-educated (good god) author of two books, has written a column called “What’s Wrong With Skinny?” that makes me – and presumably thousands of other readers – wonder, “What’s wrong with Lisa Hilton?”
If you’ve been living on black coffee and cigarettes, and are therefore too exhausted to read over the entire three-page masterpiece, allow me to summarize. Lisa Hilton just wants us to enjoy Fashion Week this year. Models who subsist on diet soda to squeeze into size-zero frocks aren’t disordered or naive, she says. In fact, they’re actually disciplined and empowered. Little pocket-sized entrepreneurs. Of course, she admits, eating disorders are terrible. But obesity is much worse, and afflicts far more women than anorexia and bulimia. Oh, also, women have always tried to be thin. Fashion won’t sell unless women are thin. And why isn’t anybody upset about male jockeys trying to make race weight?
Sure, I get that Hilton and the Beast are trying to be provocative. But can’t they manage to be intelligent and reasonable at the same time? Here are a few examples of misguided, disordered thinking at its very worst:
1. “Anorexia and bulimia are horrific psychological conditions, destroying lives and families, and carrying devastating long-term health risks even when not fatal. Sufferers deserve nothing but respect and support for their condition. But is that condition nearly so prevalent as the barrage of attention it regularly attracts actually deserves? And are women really so pathologically stupid that they are unable to distinguish the fantasy of the runway from the realities of their own bodies?”
She’s got the first part right. Eating disorders are pernicious, incredibly damaging and even life-threatening. Sentence three is where things really veer off-course here. If Hilton had done her research, she might have realized just how many eating disorders go undiagnosed. Not because a sufferer doesn’t seek medical attention, but because their illness simply doesn’t match the strict criterion to qualify as either anorexia or bulimia. Women and men are skipping insulin shots, spending six hours a day at the gym, waking up at 1 a.m. to binge on chocolate cake, puking up dinner “every once and awhile,” or obsessing over their food intake in the form of journals, charts and lists. Disordered eating and exercise, yes. Eating disorder? No.
That’s why these “conditions” receive a “barrage of attention.” Because they are incredibly prevalent, and either go under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed or are never even detected.
And no, women aren’t stupid. But thank you for asking. Actually, I think Hilton sums it up quite nicely when she describes “the fantasy of the runway.” Exactly. Fantasy. Runway models, and the fashion industry more generally, have taken on an aspirational, fantasy-oriented identity. Teenagers, and adults, aspire to that ideal. We aren’t deluded into thinking this is reality, but we can’t help but let it soak in a little. After all, these are the images we see every single day. So excuse us for our pathological stupidity, but sometimes, when we’re surrounded by it, we just can’t stop the fantasy from trickling in.