Guest Post: No Signposts in the Sea on Modeling

I am a relatively new reader of No Signposts in the Sea, but once I discovered it, it quickly became a favorite daily read. Its author – who goes by The Waves – possesses an absolutely inspired sense of personal style, a sharp wit, and gobs of curiosity. Her posts inevitably lead me to ponder topics I’d never pondered before, or look at well-worn ideas in new light.

She’s posted in the past about her days as a model, and I found her perspective fascinating. (She is the model shown in the photographs throughout this post.) My views on modeling, how designers view and treat the female form, and implications for non-model women are based solely on my own experience which falls wholly outside the fashion industry. So I asked her to write up her thoughts on how her experiences shaped her. She’s been brutally honest and extremely thoughtful in her ruminations on her time as a model and how model bodies play into body image issues for all women, and I think her insights will spark a lively conversation.

Models, Their Bodies, and Me

When Sal asked me to write a guest post about models and their role in the body image debate, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.The timing couldn’t have been better: the casting of curvier models like Elle MacPherson and Laetitia Casta on the Louis Vuitton fall runway, or Doutzen Kroes at Prada, has finally encouraged the fashion world to discuss the problems related to the exclusive use of very young and very thin models. Usually it is only the world outside the fashion industry that has a problem with models’ bodies, and it is welcoming news that the industry itself is discussing what models’ bodies really mean.

For as long as we can remember, we have been told that models need to be thin because sample sizes are small. Model agencies deny responsibility because designers want thin models. Designers blame the industry, whatever that means. Money is certainly an issue, because smaller sample sizes mean less fabric and less work. But the role of models themselves is not really discussed at all. If anything, they have become the target of some serious public “body hate.”

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine referred to models as “prepubescent women with stick figures” and “Eastern European starvelings.” Around every fashion week, tabloids and blogs start their seasonal campaigns against thin models. Pictures of protruding hip bones, of thighs skinnier than most people’s calves allow the members of the general public to categorize themselves as normal and models as sick, ugly, unwomanly and creepy. We have all heard statements like “models aren’t real women, real women have curves,” “all models have eating disorders,” “designers use thin models because they are all gay, no real man would ever think they are attractive,” and “models look like concentration camp victims.”

In addition to this type of generic slander, I have heard these types of statements about myself, straight to my face, and let me tell you, it doesn’t feel nice. I have been told that no man would want to sleep with me. People have grabbed my hip bones and wrists as if my body was public property, and told me that I was way, way too skinny for my own good, and the good of others. I have been told that I was ugly because I was so thin. I have been accused of triggering eating disorders in others.

I started modeling in 1998, at the age of 19, at 5’11” (180 cm) and 120 pounds (55 kg). I grew up hating my body. I was always too tall and too thin. I loathed every encounter with the school nurse (she used to ask if my parents fed me), and by the time I was 13, I had acknowledged the fact that I was labeled a freak by the society around me. I can’t even remember how many times I have been asked (sometimes by total strangers on the street) if I had an eating disorder. Both of my parents are tall and thin, as are my siblings, but my body was the freakiest of all. I felt abnormal, and now in hindsight I wonder if I felt like that only because of the mean comments people made. I have a feeling I would have developed a more normal relationship with my body if I had been allowed to be who I was.

I entered the world of modeling because I was able to. I had the body. I was also looking for an environment where I wouldn’t stand out so much. I wanted to hear I was beautiful, and it was obvious that the society around me wasn’t going to do that anytime soon. For the next five years or so, my modeling jobs took me to Milan, London, Vienna, Istanbul, you name it. I spent five days a week traveling the complex public transportation systems of big cities, running from casting to casting, essentially using my freakish body to get work. I never made it big, but I made enough money to support myself.

Unlike famous models, your every-day-model does random small catalogue or magazine shoots, auditions for TV commercials, walks runways for obscure designers and does showroom modeling for department store buyers. On the days you are not booked for a job (and those days are much, much more numerous), you see client after client, and listen to them criticize your body. I learned quickly that my torso was too long, that I was too old, and that my skin wasn’t quite clear enough. My hip measurement was acceptable at 35.4 inches (90 cm), but less would have been preferable.

Unlike a lot of other girls, I soon developed a self-protection mechanism in order to deal with the harsh critique. I distanced my personality from my body, and learned to consider my body as a tool. I was, quite literally, a clothing hanger, and acknowledging that helped me deal with the pressures of the industry. If and when I didn’t book a particular job, I didn’t blame my imperfections. Instead I accepted that my tool wasn’t what the client was looking for. I was lucky to be old enough to know how to deal with the realities of the industry. Whatever positive feedback I received, I devoured it and used it to build up my non-existent self-esteem. In time, I became pretty good at the job, and I learned to see that I was beautiful.

There were many girls who weren’t quite as fortunate. Consider the fact that a vast majority of models are in their teens, and you get the idea how well their self-esteem has developed. A lot of them grew up in an environment where they were told they were ugly, disgustingly thin and boyish. For some, like myself, the world of modeling offers the occasional opportunity to feel beautiful, to feel normal. When you are surrounded by girls that look like you, you don’t notice your own freakishness all that much.

For others, the industry isn’t all that kind. When you are told, say, five times a day (no kidding) that your hips are too wide, you become awfully self-conscious. The critique can eat you alive if you don’t have a mechanism or support to deal with it. A lot of models have left home when they were 15, they haven’t even finished school yet, they don’t have basic skills to take care of themselves, and they miss their parents, who really don’t understand what the everyday life of a model can be. I saw many young models lose weight not because they used appetite suppressants, but because they didn’t know how to cook, or they were so busy running from casting to casting that they simply didn’t have time to eat. I lost weight too, just because it was so difficult not to. Models get drunk, they smoke and sometimes even do drugs, but the way I see it, not in order to lose weight. They do it because they are bored, they are not happy and they live in a constant limbo of not knowing what the next day brings. According to my experience, the majority of models are naturally thin. I saw just as many eating disorders in my high school as I did in the countless model apartments I lived in. Having said that, I have a feeling that the pressure to stay thin might be way more drastic in the world of high-end modeling than on the grass-root level.

The world of modeling is a strange little bubble. You work because you look a certain way, and you keep doing it because every once in a while you are told that you are the most beautiful girl in the world. The high you get from a successful photo shoot is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. The emotional toll can be devastating too, but for some, modeling can also provide a shelter from the critique that comes from the world outside the industry. It is easier to hear “you are not right for this job because you don’t have boobs” than “you are too thin to be beautiful.” The girls whose confidence improves due to modeling get hooked on the industry because it makes them feel accepted. Essentially, you feel like you belong because you look like a freak. In the meantime, the rest of the world will continue telling you you don’t belong because of the way you look.

When I hear people say that models are ugly, disgustingly thin, unhealthy and that they promote eating disorders, I can’t help but take it personally. Women have been made to feel bad about their bodies for centuries, and I refuse to believe it is “the other woman’s” fault. I am not going to take the blame, and neither is my body. During my years of modeling, I got to know dozens and dozens of young models, and they are so much more than their figures. Even if models seem to be “free game” for criticism due to the apparent superficiality of their work, they are real young women. They are people who have lives to live. They have boyfriends. They fight with their parents. They struggle with what they want to do in the future. They have dreams outside the world of modeling. They have body issues just like every young woman does, and they hurt. Models hear so much criticism because of the nature of their work, that it seems profoundly unfair to me for them to be accused of giving a bad example to young girls worldwide. During my modeling career I met some models who had issues with eating, but I never met a single model who promoted eating disorders. If there is a body image they have time to be concerned about, it is their own. If anything, the direct public slander of young models’ bodies makes them turn inward even more; They are more inclined to stay in their comfort zone, in the model bubble, for as long as the society around them is only interested in telling them how unnatural and unwomanly they are.

Now in hindsight, I consider myself very lucky to have been afforded the possibility to work as a model. Having said that, if I had a teenage daughter, I’d think very long and hard whether I’d allow her to enter the industry. It is easy and beneficial for some, but difficult and destructive for others. Even if my experiences within the industry were mostly positive, there are times when I wonder what allowed me to come out of the industry stronger than I was going in. Maybe I was just lucky. I sometimes also feel embarrassed by my past. Models are often labeled stupid, ignorant and superficial, and even to this day (I am now 32 and haven’t done a professional photo shoot in seven years) I sometimes have to fight those preconceived notions. I have two university degrees, and at times I still get noticed because of my modeling career as opposed to my brain. People still think they can criticize my weight.

In recent years I have become a full supporter of a more inclusive future for modeling, and I hope there will be a day when we see different shapes, sizes and races in the pages of fashion magazines and on the runways. Perhaps a more inclusive range of body shapes would make the industry less critical of the bodies it employs. But for now, the tall and thin models that stomp down the runway now are not to blame for the ills of an entire industry. They are people just like you and me, and they deserve some respect. These girls deserve to feel beautiful just like everyone else.

This doesn’t mean we should just sit and let the fashion industry get away with using a single definition for what a model body is. By supporting an all-inclusive future for the profession of modeling, we should aim at making everyone feel good about themselves and their bodies. Rather than calling young, thin models sick and disgusting by definition, we ought to focus on putting pressure on the industry as a whole. Instead of attacking models, we should be writing letters to the editors of fashion magazines and fashion designers. Say: “I want to see diversity.” One letter here and there is not going to make a difference, but maybe a thousand would. Maybe ten thousand. We have a voice and we should use it.

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56 Responses to “Guest Post: No Signposts in the Sea on Modeling”

  1. jungleworldcitizen

    Beautiful post. Reminds us that we are ALL humans but we are not the same.

  2. Jennifer

    Beautifully written. Thank you!

    –your 5'11" curvy friend with her own body image issues.

  3. Natasha

    What an eye opener this post was. I never really thought about what the models themselves have to go through, being rejected so much in comparison to the time when they get a job. I never really blamed models for the fashion industry/body image debate, but I did think that they were somehow part of it. But now I definitely know that they are not to blame – models are just fish in a much larger sea. I have more respect and empathy for them now, whether I see the girls in magazines or on catwalks.

    You're right, there is nothing wrong with being naturally skinny, but being pressured to be skinny by agents, clients, whoever is wrong, too. Diversity is the way forward, as long as you are healthy, and at a natural weight for you as an individual, then we should all be embraced for being beautiful.

    I'll be writing some letters soon! 🙂

  4. La Historiadora de Moda

    This was a great and very thought-provoking post. I'm sorry so many people treated you as a misfit during your childhood and adolescence. It surprises me to some extent because during my own childhood, the kids who were mocked at school for being freaks were the overweight ones, not the thin ones.

    I'm intrigued by what you said about seeing more eating disorders in high school than in the modeling industry. It seems to me that the lack of body diversity in fashion magazines and movies and so forth really contributes to this problem.

  5. Gillian

    Thank you, thank you, and thank you again. I got the eating disorder comment many times, and people still feel like it is okay to comment on my height, my big boobs, and my weight. And that "real woman" comment makes me livid. Whether you were born with a vagina or have a surgically created one, you are a woman.

  6. Leanna:

    How glad I am now that I clicked on this post this morning. I have heard some of those same words directed at myself…and gained a little comfort from the insight provided. Thank you!

  7. Kristen

    VERY interesting post. As someone who is naturally thin (even after having a baby), I've heard similar comments before. "You're too skinny." "Don't you eat?" I never thought I'd have to defend myself because I'm thin. And yes, I eat a lot.

  8. Monkey

    Thank you thank you. I've been thin my whole life and have had the same experiences you described (being told I was too thin by strangers, being asked if I was anorexic, etc.) I've felt unattractive for not having curves and it's difficult for me to find clothes in stores. The worst for me was not being able to eat what I wanted because I felt I was always being scrutinized. If I didn't eat dessert, if I didn't want fast food, it would confirm people's suspicions. Now that I'm older (turning 30) I've stopped caring and am secure enough to be thin and myself. But it never ceases to amaze me that women who would never dream of telling a stranger she was too fat and should stop eating have no problems telling me I'm too thin and should eat more.

  9. Daisy Dukes

    A very heartfelt and honest post that made me think. Especially the part when you said models fight with their parents like everybody else. That really humanized them in my eyes. A lot of what you wrote was very heartbreaking. thank you. I don't know how anyone could see you as anything but very beautiful.

  10. Rad_in_Broolyn

    I've love the Wave's blog, as she's probably one of the most intellectual and thought provoking style blogs out there (as is Sal's, of course). What I see from her post and her comments is not only are thin women's bodies policed, but also heavier women, curvy women, tall women (and often by other women!) And you know that with some exceptions, most men's bodies are not subject to nearly as much scrutiny, as if their bodies are secondary to something else. (I know that there are cases, like folks remark on the slenderness of my husband, but it's not "Doesn't he eat?" It's just a comment). The judgment is harsh. I also find this fascinating in light of the discourse that is common surrounding women in more religious and traditional contexts (whether very orthodox Christian, Jewish, or Muslim), when folks decry and criticize that women aren't allowed to "wear what they want." Such a statement obscures that women's bodies are constantly being policed, monitored, judged and appraised in more liberal contexts as well.
    Thanks again for this great post, Waves. I live in a city full of models and it's always good to be reminded that they are regular folks doing their job, just like me.

  11. Erin

    Thankyou, you said exactly what I've been thinking in this whole body image debate, but you put that much more eloquently than I ever could.

  12. mashiki0603

    Thank you, Waves, for a very beautifully written as well as thought-provoking post, and thank you, Sal, for giving us a possibility to read it. Oh yes, even though it comes from a woman from the other side of the spectrum, i.e. rather short with curves and some extra weight. I do have a friend who is very tall and was into modelling in her teens – she is envious of my ability to wear high heels, since she herself feels that she's tall enough without them and would be even taller (freakishly so) with them on. Guess we all have our battles to fight.

  13. gina

    What a great post. I enjoy reading The Waves' blog. Very interesting issues she discusses.

    I've heard some of these comments as well, regarding "too skinny" and "do you eat?" and assumptions that I have an eating disorder and harsh statements about how I'm too skinny to be attractive to men.

  14. Faith J.

    What a great article! I love models, they are soo beautiful, and it is a gift. I get so unhappy reading or hearing criticism of them. So many people in America are overweight in an unhealthy way, and I think a lot of (but not all) criticism comes from people who are bitter and judgmental. Thank you for showing us the complexity of you and your world.

  15. pretty face

    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for guest writing it, The Waves, and thanks for inviting her to write it, Sal! xxx

  16. Lorena

    Thank you for allowing us to see the other part of a world that we quickly label as superficial. Thank you.

  17. Steph

    Thanks for this post. It's so easy for people frustrated and angry with the fashion industry's narrow definitions of beauty and attractiveness to dehumanize and demonize the women and girls who work in the industry as models. It's not right at all; it's just overspill, I think. The blame really does lie on the shoulders of the designers who refuse to tax themselves by using more varied body types on their runways.
    What's disturbing is that some people can be so aggressive in their criticisms to another's face. It definitely says more about the person doing the criticising than the person being bombarded with it. I really think it's a defensive thing. Someone feels threatened by the way another's body is made, and they begin to fear it for some reason. As if harrassing another person because of their weight–skinny or fat–will prevent the perceived problem from ever becoming the harrasser's problem….I really do think there's a lot of fear and anxiety involved, and that it's almost a defense mechanism. As if it's a reflection on others how fat or thin I am. Society says thin is the only way a woman can be beautiful, but not TOO thin–so anyone who deviates from this norm in either direction is apparently fair game for judgement, criticism, outright harrassment and hateful comments, especially if they feel okay with themselves. How dare they feel good about the way they are when they're so obviously "not normal", right? It's all so disgusting and pointless.
    All women are real women. Fat, thin, super-thin, eating disorder or not, model or average working girl. Dehumanizing others only serves to dehumanize yourself in the end.
    Sorry for such a confused rambling post, but this topic gets me all worked up.

  18. Karenina

    Great post; this perspective is definitely needed. It's time we all stopped bashing each other's bodies! I think it's safe to say that a person's body is their own private business, and does not need to be politicized, criticized or commodified in any way. Thanks for hosting the Waves Sal.

  19. lisa

    What a great guest post presenting a thoughtful, articulate perspective from the other side of the coin. Like some of the other commenters, I've gotten comments on my weight in the past ("You're so tiny!"). At one of my part-time jobs in the past, a coworker just assumed I had an eating disorder because I'd eat before and after my shifts to save money instead of buying food during them. These sorts of assumptions and comments can be damaging.

  20. Sal

    Steph: Not rambling at all. I think you're right. Aggressive, combative body comments – just like aggressive, combative comments of any kind – are all about the insecurities of the commentator. And it makes sense that people would feel insecure in a day and age where body scrutiny is not only condoned but encouraged. We're ALL afraid of what other people are thinking about our bodies.

    When, in reality, they're probably too busy thinking about THEIR OWN to even register ours.

  21. Peldyn

    Great post from another point of view. I agree, we are ALL real women and need to be inclusive in our definitions and the runways should reflect that as well. I will join the letter writing campaign. FYI, there are certain designers that I avoid just for this reason and I think that I will let them know that.

  22. Anonymous

    Thank you so, so much. I've lost weight in recent months/years due to extreme efforts on my part, because from certain family members I was hearing I was getting a bit "chunky." Upon losing the weight, I was told by other family members that I'm now too skinny, that it's unhealthy, that apparently I'm "emotionally starved." What I've realized is that if my body feels healthy & strong and I can do with it what I need and want to, others' opinions don't mean a damn thing. It's a long, tough road on the way to reaching that conclusion and the level of self-esteem that goes with it, and I'm just an ordinary woman. I can't imagine being in the microscope as models are, and at such young ages in most cases. This was a truly life-changing post.

  23. Leona

    Though I'm no model, I have the frame of one – slim, boyish, bony – and this post speaks to me in more ways than you're ever likely to know. Though I've never encountered the same degree of rejection, I have experienced similar situations in my own home town. I've been naturally small and slender my whole life (new though it may be), and at the time of writing this, just merely tip the scales at 5'2 and 90lbs. I'm young, and as such, it's a very frequent occurrence that I'm perceived as having something wrong with me – I'm too skinny, too flat to be healthy. I've never been directly accused of having eating disorders, but it's been implied more times than I care to count.

    It infuriates me more than anything else to hear people rant and rave and say how ugly, unhealthy, unwomanly, unrealistic, and emotionally damaging slender models are, especially while they're in turn trying to enforce their own ideas of body equality. And that, more than anything, speaks volumes about this perception that has been ingrained into the "real" women of today – the idea that it's always the other woman to blame, and never their own misperceptions.

    I think that's why I've become so drawn to fashion and outfit blogs, recently. They feature real women facing real issues and overcoming them, whether their skinny, overweight, short, tall, curvaceous in all the right or wrong places, or as straight and flat as a board. No matter what their shape or size, they all follow the same message – that EVERY woman is "real". No exemptions.

  24. poet

    Great post, and I agree with everything that was said above – especially the last comment by Anonymous (during my teens I often felt like my complete food intake was being supervised by overanxious relatives – if I ate a little more than usually they warned me I'd get overweight; if I ate a little less than usually they warned me I'd develop an eating disorder, when all it boiled down to was normal appetite fluctuations…). I do think, however, that people's commenting on very skinny persons more often than on more curvy persons is to some extent understandable (not that I'd want to say it's good): being seriously underweight poses more of an immediate threat to health; people can directly die of it (and we are all aware that people suffering from anorexia have starved themselves to death), whereas being overweight has more long-term consequences that are not perceived as quite so direct (you can always start exercising a bit later and it still won't kill you) – so being too skinny is much more on people's radar as a source of danger. Shifting the focus from mere shape to how healthy a person looks should be the key…

  25. Charlotte

    Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Yesterday, I was reading an interview with Eva Herzigova*, who was asked "when you see a woman who's had a ton of work done, what do you want to tell her ?", and I was struck by the contempt expressed in the question. Was it aggressive promotion of the interviewer's own "natural" vision of beauty ? Or is there something even more disturbing rearing its head there ? It feels so much like scapegoating — pointing at somebody who's already perceived as weaker, and lashing out at them. I tend to think of a very made-up face (or highly-visible surgery, etc.) as potential signals of vulnerability ; does being very outside the norm for "healthy" trigger that same cruel streak in people ?
    (not a native speaker, please forgive any outrage to the English language).

  26. Sarah

    oh my goodness. it's such a relief that some people recognize this. i'm almost 17 years old, 5'9" and naturally thin, and i get the comments about being too skinny and people asking if i'm anorexic. some of us are just naturally that way, we can't help it! thanks for the post 🙂

  27. Ruby

    This was a great piece. I think one of the problems here, as others have suggested, is that women's bodies are "public property" in a sense–always subject to criticism. The fact that the fashion industry largely uses teens who have not fully developed (and who on top of that match the fashion ideal of thin, tall and angular) gives people more reason to be critical of themselves and others. I agree that the criticism reflects insecurity–but how hard it is not to be insecure about our bodies in the culture we live in. That's why blogs like these are great.

    I was very thin and undeveloped (no boobs, no period, no pubic hair) long after what people decided was "normal" so I was relentlessly accused of having an eating disorder. Then, when I "filled out" I was accused by family of "packing it on." It makes me sad that every time I talk to my mother she asks about my weight, as if it were a problem. Sigh. I've even had to tell my father ("you used to be so thin, why can't you work harder to regain your [16 year old] figure?") that my body is off limits as a topic of conversation. Wouldn't it be nice if we, as women, could collectively say this to the culture?

  28. Stephanie Low

    Thank you for writing this. I am tall and thin myself and it is a struggle to find female friends because I'm often told it's too difficult for them to hang out with me because I make them insecure. I'm lucky enough to have grown into some curves in my late 20's but when I was younger I had the same problems with people asking me if I ate anything. I hated working with women because I couldn't have a conversation with them without it devolving into a body comparison session. "You're soooo skinny. I have to work so much harder than you to stay fit. I wish I could be so tall/thin/etc." No you don't. You would never want to be socially isolated by something you have no control over. The worst part about it is there is no sympathy for people who are defined as an ideal. I'm not allowed to complain. Well, I'll tell you, It's not ideal to be treated as an alien in every public situation and I constantly have to deal with personal issues about feeling accepted and loved.
    I implore all you ladies reading this article to not judge a girl just because you thing she was genetically gifted with something you feel you lack. Trust me that she would most likely prefer your simple, comfortable friendship than a room full of people who tell her she's perfect but they can't hang out with her because she makes them uncomfortable. Isolation is the worst sort of social punishment.

  29. tiffany

    Great post, but I'm still curious how anyone can describe Elle Macpherson as 'curvy' …

  30. Academic Writer

    What a thoughtful, honest, and provocative post. I'll definitely be writing some letters. I'll also be bookmarking this post for use in my Intro. to Women's and Gender Studies course in the fall. Thanks for sharing.

  31. Pattern Junkie

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks so much for sharing your unique point of view.

  32. me

    I don't think the problem lies in that models are too thin and skinny. In my opinion the problem is that fashion designers mostly design clothes for only one body type – namely the boyish one.
    I have curves. Regardless of my weight, I always have the same kind of curves in the same places. And it is these curves that make most clothes look weired on me. But my curves do not disappear even if I lose a ton of weight (I have tried). I came to the conclusion that no matter what I weigh, I cannot fit most clothes because they are designed for a different body type, and not because my body is wrong.
    So, I think the real problem is that most designers only design clothes that look fantastic on one kind of body type.

  33. The Waves

    Wow, I am just blown away by all the wonderful things everyone has been saying here. Thank you, everyone, for commenting, and taking the time to read what I had to say on this rather personal topic.

    I also wanted to thank Sal again for asking me to write the piece – it was a real eye-opening journey, and to reflect on my experiences and put into words what I have been feeling for so long, it was really important to me. So thank you for all of the support, it means a great deal to me! 🙂

  34. Jenny

    What a wonderful post! Like some other commenters, while I don't have a "model body", I am naturally thin and have gotten some of those comments – "God, why don't you eat something!?," "You look like a boy," "Why do you do that to yourself?" I received most of them in high school, probably to make the commenter feel better about herself, but I still get the occasional jab, especially when I was pregnant and still not large. My general comment was "my doctor says I'm healthy, so don't worry." I've just always wondered why it's ok to bash thinner women when it is clearly not okay to bash larger ones. Anyway, thank you for this post, and I look forward to following the author's blog. 🙂

  35. Meli22

    Love this post. It enforces something I have said before- 'real' women are all shapes, sizes, and colors. I think 99% of women go through body image issues of some kind, though some more severe than others. There are all kind of contributing factors to a person's size- the person's emotional state and stress level, things that have happened to a person, their health, their natural metabolisim, genetics, etc. I don't think anyone can look at a person and assume they know ANYTHING. Yes, sometimes you can tell if a person is 'unhealthy' though the line is hard to draw as to what is healthy and what is not. Ultimately, it is not our buisness to judge I suppose. Though for close friends and family, it can be concerning.

    I think I am realatively normal and healthy person- I am not super thin or overweight. However, I get comments all the time! I tend to stay right at 130, but I get the 'have you lost weight' 'have you gained weight' inquirys all the time. I am a medium build, but some people tell me I am 'tiny' and need to eat more, and some people tell me I am 'curvy', 'full-figured' or even 'chunky'. At this point comments across the board are disregarded, and I go with what FEELS right for me.

  36. Eyeliah

    Oh I am so glad you count No Signposts among your favorites, her blog is definitely in my top 3. This was such a great post, although I can be a lazy blog reader (ahem) I can never stop reading a No Signpost post. It is scary to see the sizes of models now, the curvy models of the 90s would be considered plus size today, and in the 90s I am sure they were labeled too thin. You see the models (sitting for portraits) in the 17 and 1800s, why is that no longer considered beautiful? Aren’t women supposed to be soft and round in a few places? I know now that (eventually) I will have to write my story of my brief encounter with the modeling world, though just thinking about being honest about that time in my life is embarrassing.

    • S

      I agree that it would be great if larger, curvier women were still considered beautiful in mass media . . . but this is exactly the kind of body-judging The Waves is pointing out! Who says women are “supposed to” be soft and round in a few places — is a woman less of a woman if she isn’t? Not to pick on you — I think this just shows how much it’s ingrained in all of us that women’s bodies “should” be one way or another.

  37. Mary

    Like many of your other readers, I'm a long time fan of The Waves and find her blog always interesting and thoughtful. About the issue of how women's bodies are perceived, commented on and, yes, policed, I do wonder if many women hear the 'negative' more strongly than the 'positive' – depending on what they think the negative or positive point of view is. I'm 1.85m (6'1") and naturally neither very slim nor very solid – if I'm not restricting my food (which I haven't done for years) I seem to hover around 75kg (perhaps about 168 lbs – I'm not quite sure). However in my teens, I was, like many, desperate to have a 'model' body. I could fairly easily maintain a weight of around 126 lbs and with effort, get down to about 120 – which at 6'1" is fairly skinny. I certainly perceived myself as getting nothing but praise for being this size. No negative 'anti-skinny' comments at all – or at least none that I heard. I was regularly told 'you should be a model' and I always took this as praise although I was never tempted to follow it up. My point really is – that women seem to have an infinite capacity to beat themselves up for the way they look. Those who aren't naturally model tall and thin beat themselves up for that and those who are, beat themselves up for not being 'normal'. The world of fashion magazines did, indeed, provide the teenage me with images of what to aspire to – in my case quite realistically – and I did force myself into that mode for some years – it wasn't good for me – I was lucky it wasn't worse. The models are part of a huge media machine one (but only one) of the functions of which does seem to be to continue to set a narrow, and for many impossible, standard that will allow women to continue to internalise messages that there is something wrong with their bodies the way they are (and that buying something will make them right – the marketing impulse behind much of this is something that hasn't been much touched on in this discussion). Sorry for the long comment: I'll stop.

  38. Audi

    Wonderful post, and a great perspective. I've always been thin, but particularly so through my teens, and no matter what I did I could not put on weight (not so much an issue now!). Over the years I endured many, many comments about how thin I was, or how I wasn't eating enough, etc. It made me hate my body for a very long time; I was convinced that I wasn't womanly or sexy and never would be. It amazes me that the same people who would never dare to tell someone that she's too fat don't hesitate to say, even to a child in her formative years, that she's too skinny. The knife cuts both ways.

  39. Anonymous

    This was so wonderful to read! I felt like I was racing through just to get to the next word and at the same time not wanting to finish. Thank you so much, both of you!

    I still don't know if I have true acceptance of my skinnyness at this late stage in my life. Too many years of comments have taken a toll. Even four kids later I still hear the words ("jokingly" said of course) "I hate you, you're so skinny!" I feel like saying "You should have seen me before the kids! Scary thin!" I can't help any of it, it is just the way I am built.

    Skinny is a BAD word to me, not a compliment in the least! It is a Very Negative comment and an invisible slap in the face each time I hear it.

    Someone in the comments brought this up….we dare not complain about being thin, it's just not allowed. Maybe it's only on an anonymous place like the Internet that I can say how I really feel, how I feel when people somehow think it's okay to openly discuss my particular body type.

    I've only acknowledged it to myself but I'm so tired of having to work six times as hard to build true female friendships because of the way I look. I'm sick and tired of being told I could wear anything and look good (trust me, not true!!!)

    I'm worried that my 18 year daughter with the beautiful, perfect body is thinking she's "fat" in contrast to me. I hate that maybe more than the rest of it. I don't want to pass on my own body-loathing to her so thank you again for this post. I need to use it as a springboard to examine my thinking.

  40. Lady Cardigan

    I really appreciate this post. I'm no model, but I have the naturally thin body type, and yes, I get comments. People often act astonished when they see me eat, even people who know perfectly well that I eat.

    I am guilty of being critical of models, not for their weight but for looking childlike and vacant. In the future I'll try to remember that models aren't to blame for that. They just do their jobs and go home. Someone else decides which photos to use.

  41. Nicky

    My teen- aged son has a disease called Marfan Syndrome. It is characterized by a tall thin frame, long arms and fingers. He gets these same negative feedback from people about his appearance. So I can totally empathize with your feelings about the comments people make.

  42. Jaclyn Burton

    As a 5'7" 106lb girl i just want to thank you SO MUCH for this post. My whole life people have treated me the way you described, assuming if i wasn't hungry once i must never eat, or if i got sick it must be from an eating disorder. Everyone in my family is the same way tall and really skinny, but I have all brothers so people just classify them as "athletic" instead of freakishly skinny and unhealthy like they do me. My friends are always criticizing my lack of curves because they say i have the perfect body i just dont have boobs, somehow its okay to criticize my body because im skinny so they assume it must not bother me. I often add up to 5 lbs to my weight when i tell people because they complain and make me feel bad if they weigh more than i do. What they dont realize is that hieght and muscle adss way more to your weight than fat does, so i could have more body fat but just be shorter and less muscular than them.

    If i could gain weight i would, but its just really hard to do. Some women complain about not being able to fit into clothing thats "made for those stick-thin model types" but in reality there are plenty of higher sizes. I had a really hard time in middle school and even freshman year finding dresses and pants that fit me because even smalls or 0's were too big. Its crazy frustrating so i really aprecciate this post as a person who is really interested in the modeling world, hopefully they will diversify their hight requirements too since i am too tall to be petite and too short to be a regular model!

  43. Jenny in MSP

    Thanks for that post. Wow, it's nice to know that I wasn't alone in being teased by others. I was extremely thin growing up and heard so many of the same taunts that others have shared – "disgustingly thin", "gross", "are you sure you're not sick/don't have cancer?" I had terrible self-esteem because of all the awful things people would say to me. My metabolism has slowed down quite a lot in the last 15 years. Now I'm on the chunky side, and still trying to learn to love the body I've got…

  44. Veronica

    Thank you thank you thank you.
    It really brightened my day to read this. As someone who's been 5'7" and 105 pounds for the last 8 years, I've really gotten tired of the shit people say to me about it. It seems that people don't realize it's socially unacceptable to say rude things to people about their weight, whether they are big or small. STRANGERS have asked me "Are you anemic? You're so thin and pale!"; co-workers have told me, "That outfit looks great on you, but only because you're so skinny"; and (my favorite) a stranger yelled at me, "You need to get some weight on you. You look like you've got AIDS."
    Thank you for a great article, and for calling attention to this behavior. People think it's appropriate, but it is just hurtful.

  45. Heather

    Wow, what a great post. Hopefully it encourages young women to be supportive of one another and to relate to each other based on our characters rather than our figures or faces. I really can't stand the term 'real women' – it's cruel to naturally slim or 'boyish' women. Good on you for learning that you are so much more than just a body (regardless of its shape & size). I imagine it must be very hard to distance yourself from critique & learn to view your body as a 'tool'.
    I'm very short & petite & I'd LOVE to see smaller women in the media. I think the push for a more diverse range of models needs to be through positive encouragement rather than critique of exisiting models. I'd love to see the media relecting all women whatever age, race, height, size….I'd love to see more diversity on the runway & in magazines 🙂

  46. Andromeda

    For some, like myself, the world of modeling offers the occasional opportunity to feel beautiful, to feel normal. When you are surrounded by girls that look like you, you don't notice your own freakishness all that much.

    A friend of mine, who went to Caltech, loved it because for the first time she wasn't "that girl who did science" — in a world where everyone did science, she could be appreciated for her music. I had similar experiences in other nerdy settings; when nerd's normal no one writes you off for it, and people are able to see and value other things.

    I can't say I ever knew that this was an experience nerds and models have in common. Fascinating.

  47. Julianna

    I read this a few minutes ago and left the site, but I keep thinking about this post and I feel like I need to get some of my thoughts out about it. First of all, obviously no one deserves to feel ugly or freakish for the way that their body is. It is truly shocking to me that anyone would feel entitled to comment on someone else's physique like that.

    At the same time though, I know that I feel envy when I see models. I feel envy when I see girls around town who look like models. The image that is sold is that of the girl who has it all, who is beautiful, and clear-skinned, and has all the best clothes and great hair. Most of those mean comments that the author had gotten over the years probably stemmed from this sort of ugly jealousy. The public gets the message that models=beauty, which I think is largely what people are talking about when they generalize about how these images hurt the self-esteem of the general public. I know that my self-esteem continues to suffer, because I still have that knee-jerk reaction of "if only I looked like that." This is the fault of the industry– models are used as advertising tools, so it's no wonder that you look at an ad and feel like the girl in it has something that you don't. But this ad-image is obviously not the same as the person who leaves the shoot and goes home and pays her bills. Obviously models are real people and deserve to feel beautiful. But I think that in the cultural consciousness, thinness is on par with wealth as something that we want without thinking about it, and there is far less scorn for a thin person than for someone who is obese. Neither should be acceptable, but I do find it a little hard to feel the same amount of sympathy for the author (and let this be clear, I DO feel tremendous sympathy for the young girls that are abused by this system) as for someone who is fat, or ugly, and therefore treated like crap because appearance is so important in our society. I know a lot of people won't like that, but that's really how I feel.

  48. Emma

    Thank you for writing this. I have found myself cursing models for their thin bodies, because I've always wanted to be super slim. And then as I grew up I became more comfortable with my body but still had this disliking for these girls and said they aren't "real women".

    I've recently come to realize through this blog post and others on feminism that I shouldn't continue behaving in such a destructive way against my own sex through jealousy! Or in any way!

  49. Anahita

    I cannot believe the extent to which this post has altered my mindset. To be honest, I’ve probably been one of those people that say things like “they’re too thin to be pretty”, and I have to admit it’s almost completely out of jealousy for those women that get to be society’s definition of beautiful and wear wonderful clothes. I’ve never once thought that maybe they were uncomfortable with their shape at some point or that they were even bullied or made to feel like freaks because of it. That really opened my eyes. This post was beautifully written!