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Friday, August 22, 2008

Eating disorders and body image problems - it's not just girls anymore

From today's Irish Examiner...
The fashion industry may have just belatedly started grappling with the issue of dangerously skinny female models, but are designers now directing the boys down the same chicken-chested route?

While buff hunks are still on top on most catwalks in New York and Milan, a growing trend has emerged amongst some design houses in London and Paris for stick-thin male models with size 28 waists and prominent rib cages in lieu of abs.

These days, the pumped-up athletic body type associated with Calvin Klein and Abercrombie and Fitch is competing with the scrawny, hollow-cheeked style exemplified by rockers such as These New Puritan’s George Barnett and Josh Beech from Snish, whose gaunt frame recently adorned the cover of Vogue Homme International.

Only last year, the size zero and double zero debate surrounding female models prompted a decisive backlash within the fashion industry, with leading figures like Diane von Furstenburg and Anna Wintour using their positions to wholly condemn the use of skinny female models with obvious eating disorders.

Closer to home, Irish beauty Rosanna Davison recently admitted that her London-based agency, Storm Models, had instructed her not to lose any more weight as it set a bad example for young girls (Davison is a dress size between 8 and 10, depending on the brand).

However, amidst the furore over waiflike female models – and they haven’t gone away you know – some male models started to shrink too. Designer Hedi Slimane has been credited – or blamed, depending on your view – for pioneering the paired-back look in men with his skinny jeans and lean suit silhouettes for Dior, causing other parts of the industry to follow his lead.
It all begs the question: is this penchant for skinny male models here to stay? And, furthermore, does it pose a detrimental risk to the concept of body image amongst young men?

“To a certain degree, there is a current trend for some male models to be super-skinny,” explains Declan Leavy, men’s editor with Social &Personal magazine.

“I call it the heroin chic look, all sunken eyes and cheekbones. Designers like Prada, Burberry and Lanvin tend to opt for this type of model and it baffles me how anyone finds it attractive or appealing.

“However, I think the male modelling industry is still dominated by the traditional chiseled features and muscled physique look.”

That’s a view that is generally backed up by the leading Irish modelling agencies. “The skinny models tend to be the younger guys as that’s when a lot of men are naturally thin,” says Rebecca Morgan of Morgan the Agency.

“The male models that make the most money and get the most jobs are in their late 20s and 30s, and from my experience, those ones would be considered small if they had a 30 waist size. The standard is more likely to be waist size 32 or 34.”

Lisa Cummins, a booker with Compton Model Agency, admits there is a small market for such a look, but dismisses the overall skinny style as a fad.

“That look just wouldn’t appeal to the masses,” she states. “It will have a certain time for maybe one or two seasons and then it will be gone. It’s just some designers trying to do something different and make a quick buck.

“Men can be lean, but have certain amounts of muscle, like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. There are always different markets, but most people in the industry know the ideal man is big, beefy and dominant, a real leader of the herd, and those kinds of skinny models don’t reflect that.”

Be that as it may, this elevation, however minor, of skinny male models, is taking place amidst mounting reports of rising rates of eating disorders and body image problems amongst men (including, most recently, British politician John Prescott).

Experts here and abroad have also identified a growing phenomenon known as athletica nervosa – an obsession with exercise – that is affecting more and more men striving to achieve the bodies they see plastered on the pages of lads’ mags like GQ and Men’s Health.

Ruth NĂ­ Eidhin of Bodywhys, the eating disorders association of Ireland, says that an average of 10 per cent of callers to their helpline are now men.

“We’re certainly seeing an anecdotal rise in the number of men coming forward with eating disorders and body image issues,” she explains.

“I think it’s a lot to do with the fact that similar pressures are now put on men that have long been put on women. But there’s an assumption that eating disorders are something that don’t happen to men, which can intensify the denial already inherent in such disorders.

“There are a number of musicians and band members out there who are incredibly skinny, which does seem to influence fashion trends, and a lot more magazines are promoting certain looks, body types, and images of what a successful man or a “real man” is supposed to look like.”

Whether modern man has a burning desire to be super-skinny or buff and muscular, there’s only one way to tackle any problems that such pressures are placing on men: talk about it.

“I think the biggest thing is educating people,” Ni Eidhin says. “There was a lot of debate in the last few weeks in light of John Prescott’s admission. That was fantastic just to get people to realise that this is about men too. There’s too much pressure on everyone to base their sense of self-belief on what they see in the mirror. Getting this topic out in the open is the first step towards challenging it.”

*Bodywhys can be contacted on LoCall 1890 200 444


the genuine men project said...

Never in history has the subject of manhood been in such need of definition. For thousands of years his role was easily defined, usually in physical terms of being the hunter, provider, breadwinner, or protector. In the latter half of the twentieth century, women redefined their roles in society and the focus for those decades was on women and their struggles. Finally, the tables are turning and men are getting the focus they need and rightfully deserve. Self definition, body image, parental rights, departments of study - these are all issues that are as much a part of men's lives as they are women's lives. The Genuine Men Project is just one of many organizations refocusing attention on men and their needs. The thirty five men profiled are role models for us all - regardless of our gender. We can all learn from the stories of men and make a difference in the lives of men.

Anonymous said...

I'm naturally very skinny, I just can't gain weight/muscle. And no, I don't have an "eating disorder". But I feel bad about my image as you might expect, so I'll be happy to see more skinny models and people in public so that it becomes more acceptable.

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