The Daily Mail reports today that Whitney Thompson, the plus-size winner of America’s Next Top Model season 10, is starring in an ad for Love Your Body Day, in which she poses nude in order to encourage other women to love their bodies, and beat eating disorders.
Ah, the fantasy world in which ads like this accomplish something! Sure, it’s all fuzzy and nice to have women who don’t meet traditional body expectations get naked in public. I get it. But unfortunately, ads like this — in my humble opinion — do absolutely nothing to promote body love, and in fact might do more harm than good if they’re directed at young women with eating disorders (at least…they would have for me…cue flashback)
Let’s just start with talking about how these ads affect women who don’t have eating disorders. The idea we’re working with here is that because Thomspon loves her body enough to pose naked on a billboard, other women might look at it and start loving their own bodies, too. In other words, the idea we’re starting with is bullshit. Most women I know who hate their bodies need a little bit more help to overcome that feeling than the knowledge that there’s some beautiful chick out there who doesn’t hate her body (Because yes, while Thompson might weigh 15 pounds more than industry standards, she’s still a beautiful. Must be tough to love yourself when you’ve won an international modeling competition.)
So there’s that — now, let’s talk about eating disorders. I’m going to say something here that might not be the most popular thing to say, but it has to be said. Once upon a time I was hospitalized with anorexia (that’s not the unpopular thing). At that time, I had a few major fears that prevented me from wanting to eat. One of those fears was that I would get fat. In fact — here we go — I was part of a support group led by a recovered bulimic. She was chubby. Her chubbiness made me not want to recover.
And such is the perhaps unfair, but honest, kinds of things that someone suffering from an eating disorder is prone to thinking. It’s the same line of thought that made the women I was in that hospital with do 500 sit-ups when the nurses weren’t looking, compete with each other over who could finish less of their dinner, and strive to be the thinnest, even if it meant winding up on a feeding tube. I can’t speak for bulimics, but the one thing I had in common with my fellow anos was that we were all fighting to the death (literally) to not gain weight.
And so, I wonder, why does anyone think it’s a good idea to show people with an eating disorder a picture of a plus-sized model? The only answer I can come up with is that people never tire of wanting to make eating disorders about nothing more dangerous, profound, or dark than wanting to be pretty. Because it would be kind of scary if there were women out there who had real feelings, right? Feelings that might be borne out by starving ourselves or binging and purging or overeating, but that actually have to do with control, fear, shame, guilt, power, family, and everything else that women are not supposed to talk about. Maybe the most helpful thing we could do as a society to battle eating disorders, rather than taking another picture of another beautiful naked woman (shaped a little differently this time!), is to start to take those feelings and the women who experience them (a.k.a., every woman) a little more seriously.