"What lead us to establish that thin is beautiful and that thinness is the aesthetic code we should follow?" Franca Sozzani asked an audience at Harvard University on Monday. "Why the age of supermodels, who were beautiful and womanly, slowly started decreasing and we now have still undeveloped adolescents with no sign of curves? Why is this considered beautiful?"
The Vogue Italia editor-in-chief emphasized, along with Doutzen Kroes and The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, that negative body image and the prevalence of eating disorders are insidiously related. The three discussed the issue at "Health is Beauty: Defining Ourselves," a panel convened for the 15th Annual Harris Center Public Forum at Harvard and attended by a crowd of about 600.
While Doutzen was highlighted as a healthy model once described as "curvy" (at a size six, no less), Arianna spoke about her own daughter's eating disorder and the steps she's taken, privately and professionally, to combat the negative body talk that inspires such disorders.
Franca, as we well know, has taken similar steps, most famous being her mag's famous "curvy" issue. But in her Harvard speech, published today on Vogue Italia's website and Stylelist.com, the outspoken editor emphasized that fashion magazines cannot be the only ones making a change:
Psychological or family-related issues and bad role-models, just like too-thin models, bad company and negative influences from our society. It is all true, just like the inability to educate our children to healthy eating since a very early age. Snack and sweets at all hours. The lack of alimentary education for kids may change their attitude towards food, that is not seen as the enemy, because if they eat healthily they will not gain weight. Not to mention all the pills and medicines advertized [sic] to lose weight in few days and the quantity of books published every day on "miracle diets." All this information appears every single day in newspapers, on TV and radio and on the web.
Fashion is obviously guilty too, she admits, "but I cannot help but mention all the negative tools that society employs to spread false information on food and aesthetics."
So what to do? Well, events like the Harris Center Public Forum, run by the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders, certainly help. As does cracking down on pro-ana "thinspiration" content on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest, which Franca also addressed in her speech.
The role of celebrity would be another good place to start. While there are plenty of healthy-sized stars, Sarah Palin pointed out on the "Today" show "that Hollywood image is full of itty bitty people, unrealistically tiny."
So what else can be done to address the problem of negative body perception and the rise of eating disorders? We'd love to hear your thoughts, stories and suggestions in the comments. Also be sure to read Franca's full speech, which she shared with Stylelist.com.