A good thing: addressing healthy weight in the Fashion world. A seriously mixed message: doing it in Vogue.
Look, we're all for discussing healthy weight. And good intentions. And, of course, real change in the Fashion industry's standards. So, in one sense, Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America doing a "heath initiative" is vital and cause for rejoicing. However, there are a few things about this story of one chosen model's learning "to feed body and soul" that feel, well...let's just say not well thought-out. Begins Vogue's fashion news and features director, Sally Singer,
In January 2009, a 22-year-old Dutch model named Kim Noorda came to my office to discuss her relationship with food. Kim had been identified by her agent at DNA as a young woman on the precipice of an eating disorder, and therefore a worthy candidate for an intervention underwritten by the CFDA Health Initiative.
Now, if someone wants to confront her eating issues by going to the Vogue offices and addressing an editor, well, that's certainly her prerogative. Kim, explains Singer, is a successful model. But:
what was apparent by fall of 2008 was that Kim was now very thin-very thin for a statuesque Amsterdam beauty who should have been coming into her own as a woman instead of shrinking to the proportions of a naturally scrawny fourteen-year-old. (At five feet ten, she weighed 110 pounds.) Our goal, I told her, was to help her see how she could diminish the centrality of food in her thinking to ultimately have a richer and more fulfilling adult life, in and out of fashion-to, in a sense, learn to be "a little more."
Kim enters the Renfrew Center for "multi-pronged" ED treatment and, says Singer, "this was the start of Kim Noorda's journey of self-discovery and wellness." While there, Noorda journals her experience, and Vogue reprints this at length, from Noorda's initial denial and unwillingness to gain weight, to her struggles with the center's rules and strict meal plans, to recovery - or, at least, a healthier weight and more active lifestyle, although she seems highly ambivalent about her weight gain. On the one hand, she's distressed that her face is fuller and says "I really need to do something about that." On the other, "I had had my period the day before, and it had made me so happy. It felt as though I had achieved one successful result in the center this month." She also gets mixed results from the industry: while the casting people at Chanel compliment her appearance, several stylists give her negative feedback and her anxiety, to the end, is palpable.
The journal is tough to read, almost achingly personal, and I don't know why it's excerpted to the extent it is, since after a certain point this young woman's personal pain becomes too specific to serve the larger purpose the project, presumably, intends. There's a weird dichotomy at work: Noorda writes things like,
During a show season, when a model is not slim enough, people tell her, "Oh, you look so good, so healthy!" whereas the agencies recommend she lose weight. . . .
or, "I do not know how to talk to fashion people about what I have been doing lately." And then you remember that you're reading this in Vogue. These mixed messages also come through in Noorda's accounts of dealing with her agent (who, we initially learn, has encouraged her to put on five pounds.)
I was fifteen when I started, and by the time I was eighteen I did my first catwalk shows. I struggled to prevent gaining weight, whereas already I was considered to be a "heavy" model compared with the others. My agent told me I was beautiful as I was, but I had to make sure that I would not gain more. She encouraged me to lose at least some of my weight. I was ashamed that I had to diet.
It goes on like this, and Noorda never seems to really achieve the peace Singer's introduction implies - for every gain in health, she seems to become more anxious about the repercussions on her career, and it becomes increasingly clear that, CFDA-sponsored though this recovery may be, it's still at odds with the dictates of Fashion.
There is an unacknowledged tension here between the raw reality of this young woman's life and what one Jez editor terms the "uncomfortably manufactured" setup. The premise is: we care, we'll cure you, and then you can go back to work. The end. The reality is that it's much more complicated and initiatives like this one, while well-intentioned and laudable, are nearly Kafka-esque in their contradictions. Get better - well, five pounds better. Be healthy - but you may not work. Support healthy weight - while everything surrounding this article tells another story. At the end of the day, although it's a long piece, it's a small beginning indeed.
More And Less [Vogue]