Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani — who is always so sensitive to mental health issues — delivered a long speech on eating disorders and body image at Harvard last night. Sozzani has posted the text online. Let's investigate!
Sozzani spent a lot of time talking about the complicated etiology of eating disorders — family, psychology, the social environment, genetic heritage, and biology are all believed by researchers to play some role in diseases like anorexia and bulimia — before turning her attention to the fashion industry and its reliance on imagery that glorifies extreme thinness, to the virtually total exclusion of other body types.
One of the reasons why a girl starts a too-strict diet is the necessity to correspond to an aesthetic standard which rewards thinness, also in its excesses. According to numerous psychiatrists, in fact, the current inclination to embrace a female beauty standard that exalts thinness has devastating consequences on many adolescents' eating habits. And this is where fashion comes into play, alongside models, fashion magazines and everything regarding aesthetics. What lead us to establish that thin is beautiful and that thinness is the aesthetic code we should follow? 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?
Why, indeed? Could it be that magazines play some role? And it's worth pointing out, by the way, that those supermodels we are always told were so damn "healthy" and "womanly" were also under extraordinary pressure to lose weight. Many of them maintained their bodies via distinctly unhealthy means, like starvation and cocaine.
Sozzani also used her speech to rail against pro-ana and pro-mia Web sites, which she has campaigned against in the past and is lobbying to ban. Again, Sozzani failed to acknowledge that what unites the sites and online communities that promote eating disorders as a personal "lifestyle choice" is their overwhelming reliance on imagery culled from the world of high fashion for "inspiration." But she did say that "fashion becomes one of the causes" of disordered eating.
The Vogue editor also made sure to give equal time to the perils of obesity — and she announced that her magazine will be doing a special issue "dedicated to health, that is to say featuring curvy and not curvy women, but all healthy." Kind of like the magazine's famous "all black" issue of July, 2008, which drew attention to the issue of racism in fashion, the health issue will draw attention to the need for greater body diversity in fashion. But lest there be any misunderstanding when she says "healthy," Sozzani clarified, "I'm not saying fat."
My Harvard Speech [Vogue.it]