A recent article highlights the practice of Swedish model scouts seeking new talent outside of the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders. The doctors at the center reported that last year patients were approached by modeling scouts while on walks outside the clinic. Employees at the center have since had to change protocols to avoid these incidents. From the article:
"Many of the girls approached... were teenagers and some had a body mass index -- a measurement of a person's height-to-weight ratio -- of as low as 14. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 for an adult woman."
As alternative-universe as this all seems, this practice falls well within the parameters of our understanding of western beauty standards, right? That sense of confused shock you might be feeling is perhaps due to the fact that the effort to diffuse the insidiousness of western beauty standards has been ratcheted up recently. The War on Obesity has provided an effective platform for codifying western beauty standards.
The public health rhetoric has allowed for the culture's fatphobia to rear its head under a new, more palatable banner. Yesteryday's "but you'd be so pretty if you just lost some weight" has become today's "I just care about your health."
In a recent radio interview with KPFA's Kate Raphael, I discussed the way that US standards of feminine attractiveness had nothing to do with health, and that, in fact, ill-health was at the heart of what the US (and the west more generally) find most attractive in women. If you're unclear on that, re-read the quote on patients' BMI above.
Keywords: Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders, model scouts, war on obesity, beauty standards
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.