The fashion industry is constantly under fire for its perceived permissiveness with regard to the promotion of unhealthily thin female bodies, both on the catwalks and in the pages of fashion publications. In April 2013, the head doctor at Sweden's largest eating disorder treatment centre spoke out about modelling scouts accosting her patients, an example of the dark underside of fashion's reputation for worshiping the super-skinny. Research from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence states that 1.6 million people in the UK currently suffer from an eating disorder, which provides a good indication of why fashion publications (among other media sources) should do all they can to place emphasis on varied bodies, not just the thin ones.
As a devoted Company reader, it was with a mixture of disappointment and disgust that I read 'This Is Skinny Club', an anonymous opinion piece in their June issue. 'Anon' describes how she lies to close friends about what she has eaten to avoid their concern, forces herself to exercise even when watching TV, and spends 90% of her life denying herself food. These behaviours are worryingly familiar to those who have experience of eating disorders, whether as sufferers or as friends and family of someone suffering. Of course, the views of the anonymous contributor do not automatically reflect that of Company itself, but the irony of their decision to print this article in the so-called 'Feminism Issue 2013' was not lost on readers. Lancaster student and beauty blogger Ebony L Nash remarks that "to be so blasé about something so potentially devastating is just terrible journalism." Her blog post can be found here: http://elnfashion.com/this-is-skinny-club-company-magazine/. Eating disordered behaviour is not a 'club' and should not be championed in a widely-read magazine with impunity. Anon's justification for her regimented lifestyle, that she can "parade around in a denim mini-dress with Alexa-worthy pins" serves to normalize and make desirable the kind of behaviour that those who have suffered with anorexia must spend painful years unlearning.
I expected the article to be accompanied by a message about maintaining positive body image, an encouragement to eat in a balanced and healthy manner, or at least some information on what constitutes an eating disorder and how to get help. Company provided no trigger warning or disclaimer, only a space for comment at http://www.company.co.uk/magazine-hq/theskinnymyth, encouraging readers to state whether they found the piece 'offensive' or 'refreshingly honest'. Their response, published on their Facebook page 'The Company Collective' after strong reactions from many readers, does little to redeem the situation. The assertion that "the girl in the story is not anorexic she is simply always watching what she eats" is small comfort when her article, filled with positive messages about eating disordered behavior, has already reached a substantial readership.
I firmly believe that one can appreciate fashion and still take a stand against the shameless promotion of unrealistic and damaging body expectations. After struggling with a mixture of anorexia and bulimia for seven years, I am finally able to celebrate my love of clothing and style without extending that affection to the size of those who march the catwalks. In the world of fashion things are changing, H&M's use of size 12 model Jennie Runk in their 2013 beachwear campaign and refusal to label the collection as 'plus size' providing a good example of this. I remain disappointed with Company's decision to print such an immensely triggering article, but hopeful that they will balance this out with a future feature on body confidence or the kind of support available for eating disorders. 'Anon' may believe that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" but she's obviously never had my mum's coffee and walnut cake.
Follow Harriet Williamson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/harriepw