We’ve gotten used to the idea that female models starve themselves and torture their bodies in the attempt to meet the demands of the fashion industries ideal. An article in The Sunday Times exposes what some male models do to their bodies to live up to modeling’s standards.
This came as a surprise to me. I had always assumed that the male ideal was the product of a healthy, if perhaps a bit obsessive, exercise regime while the feminine ideal was based on starvation and was destructive to health. It turns out bodily abuse in the name of beauty is an equal opportunity malady:
Daniel Martin regularly puts his body through hell. For days at a time he restricts fluid intake so severely that the resulting dehydration causes headaches, haziness and overwhelming fatigue. Having trained for weeks like an Olympian with high-intensity circuits, running and weightlifting, he then cuts out exercise for 48 hours and opens a bottle of red wine to drink alone. A six-day carbohydrate-depletion diet, in which he eats little more than chicken and broccoli, leaves his muscles weak and his brain so starved of glycogen, its source of fuel, that he feels dizzy and disorientated when he stands up. He can barely walk, let alone hit the gym. And the reason for this torturous ritual of self-deprivation? Martin is preparing to bare his abs in a photoshoot for the cover of one of Britain’s top-selling men’s magazines. At 33, Martin is a veteran of the fitness model circuit, his finely etched torso having gleamed from the pages of Men’s Health, the market leader, more often than that of any other cover model.
The article goes on to describe some of the false promises of the articles and advertisements that are presented along side the images of men with six-pack abs.
The word “unattainable” comes up a half dozen times, which brought to mind an article I posted here back in March. I argued then that the real danger was not in the images themselves, but in the idea that model’s bodies are something we are meant to “attain.” I wrote:
For some time American women, and to a lesser extent, men, have been made to feel threatened by images of beautiful people. We have been trained to see beautiful fashion models and actors as a commentary on our plainness. But why?
When exposed to a painting of a reclining nude in a museum, or a statue of Venus or Michelangelo’s David, we appreciate the physical beauty but we do not take it as a commentary on ourselves. We do not resent the artist for presenting an idealized physical form. We simply delight in its beauty.
We relate to media images of beautiful people in a different way…
Our deeply held assumption is that we are not only meant to look, we are meant to look like the beauties we see in media. Who said that? Who told you that someone else’s beauty is something you should strive to “attain?” My guess is that they were trying to sell you something.
The problem is not that models are beautiful. It is not even that they are impossibly beautiful—extraordinarily young, skinny and photoshopped. It is only our relationship to the images that is unhealthy and dangerous. The danger is in our unshakable belief that our beauty ideal is aspirational, that perfection is something we should always strive towards.