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The Skinny Model Diet

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Le sigh.

Is there anything that doesn't make us women feel like monstrous, overstuffed cows?

We know pictures like this and this do the trick.

High school cliques bulldoze body image, sororities are breeding grounds for anorexia and billboards like this throw us into a fat-and-calorie tizzy. Friends make us cry fat tears, too.


But thanks to inane new Italian research, we now know that the real danger lies in images of women that resemble anything other than human praying mantises.

Yes, a new University of Bologna study suggests that being exposed to plus-size models could fuel rampant weight gain among everyday women, and that eradicating rail-thin, emaciated models could actually worsen our obesity crisis. In their paper, Drs. Davide Dragone and Luca Savorelli write:

To promote chubby fashion models when obesity is one of the major problems of industrialised countries seems to be a paradox. Everyone has to trade off in life a number of things like the pleasure of eating and going to the gym or something as a cost. So if you just fix the average healthy weight then maybe you will throw up some incentives to be thin.

They also concede that while plus models might make women feel better inside, they'll make us fat on the outside -- i.e., where it matters most.

My immediate thought: If these doctors think women are such blind sheep, susceptible to imitating any weight-related image placed before us, then what are they doing working for a university named after one of the fattiest lunch meats of all time?

I immediately dialed plus-sized model (aka a size 8) Katie Halchishick for her take on this whole model debacle. At 5'9" and a size 6, Halchishick was deemed "plus sized" by the modeling industry and asked to "just shave two inches" off her bony hips. At size 14 and 200 pounds, she was earning six figures as the face of Torrid but didn't feel healthy. This year, the 25-year-old Hollywood-based bombshell co-founded Natural Model Management, an LA-based modeling created by models for models, with a laser focus on encouraging health and embracing models at their "happy" size. (Their models range in size from a 4/6 to a 10 -- sizes considered too big for straight size modeling but too small for plus.)

"There's this notion that a size 0 is inspiring," she said, her anger barely containable. "These researchers are saying 'We would much rather support eating disorders over a girl with a little bit of weight on her.' They use the word 'chubby' -- who are they referring to? Plus models range from a size 6 to 16, with an average height 5'10", maybe 6'. That's 'chubby'?!"

In fact, the vast majority of plus-sized models would actually be considered thin by most of our standards. Earlier this week, I sat on a body image-and-fashion panel with Ford model Andrea Wozniak - a striking brunette with a killer figure (I'm estimating 5'11" and 130 pounds) who was recently booked for a plus-sized photo shoot. And a few months ago, I appeared on the Today Show with modeling It-Girl Crystal Renn, where I was whomped upside the head with the realization that this plus-size model was not big in any way, shape or form. If you ever saw her shopping in the Plus department of a clothing store, you'd think she was picking up a gift for a friend.

So clearly, the fashion industry's standards are wildly inappropriate and totally off-base. But more to the point, these Italian researchers and their dangerous conclusion is incredibly insulting and shaming. We know, both from anecdotal and scientific evidence, that looking at skinny models makes women feel horrible about ourselves. It drives us to starve our bodies, throw up our food, exercise for hours on end, slice open our bodies and have the fat vacuumed out.

But judging by the massively positive response to images such as "The Woman on Page 194" in Glamour magazine, seeing images of women that resemble our own, real physiques makes us feel encouraged and body-positive.

"Women are starting to call bullshit," Halchishick said. "People were appalled by the Ralph Lauren photoshop disaster. Women spend the money so if we're not happy with how we're being advertised to, we can voice our opinions and make a change. We're not saying only use big models. But the industry's perception of "big" is wrong. They're 5'10" and a size 6. In the real world, you would consider them thin. Our mission is to change that."

One way she's making that change: Her "Healthy is the New Skinny" campaign and Perfectly UnPerfected (P.U.P.) program for high school students. Katie, along with her boyfriend (former model Brad Wilcox) and Dr. Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of gender studies at Pasadena Community College.

We survey these girls and 95% of them admit to throwing up or restricting their food to lose weight. They all want to be a size 0 or 1. They hate their bodies and wish they could be skinny with bigger boobs and perfect hair. Teenagers already feel so horrible about their bodies. This new research tells them 'You need to look up to rail thin models so you don't become fat, worthless women.'

Maybe Drs Dragone and Savorelli need to check out this P.U.P. video interviewing high school women about their before-and-after responses to hearing Halchishick and her crew speak:

Before: "I woke up every morning hating myself [after seeing] constantly viewing petite women on the screen, perfect bodies."

After: "It helped me realize there are a lot of different kinds of beauty and everyone can embrace their own. I feel a lot better about who I am."

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