Home Beauty Friday 5: 5 Reasons To Stop Looking at Magazine Models For Fitness Inspiration

Friday 5: 5 Reasons To Stop Looking at Magazine Models For Fitness Inspiration

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So. In light of another conversation being had in another space on the blog – that aches my head and my heart far too much for me to draw more attention to it by linking it here – I am reminded of the necessity of hammering home the point of stop looking at models for fitness inspiration.

There’s something in our culture that, despite our common sense being fully aware of the “those pictures aren’t real”ism of it all, still expects us to look like (and, by extension, live like) women who are photographed – and photoshopped – for a living, and to shame those of us who will not and do not. Even though we know better, the sheer normalness of it all is both overwhelming and overpowering.

If you think that’s melodramatic, don’t worry. It gets even goopier.

No matter how many before-photoshop and after-photoshop images you see…

SMH. (courtesy: BuzzFeed. Click to view the article.)

SMH. (courtesy: BuzzFeed. Click to view the article.)

…no matter how many before-photoshop and after-photoshop images you see…

…no matter how many before-photoshop and after-photoshop images you see…

…you’re still refusing to be happy with you because you don’t look like the people in the pictures. Maybe you don’t know enough about why you should let that go?


Don’t worry, baby. Mama’s got you covered. Here’s five plain and simple reasons why you might need to let that go:

1) Let us never forget the degrees to which these people are photoshopped. Bodies, chopped and screwed beyond recognition, to the point where we’re ignoring the fact that ol’ girl’s leg is detached from her hip…

What's going on with her right leg? (Courtesy of Photoshop Disasters. Click the photo to view.)

What’s going on with her right leg? (Courtesy of Photoshop Disasters. Click the photo to view.)

…because we’re so focused on the fact that “Oh my gosh, it looks like she’s had a rib removed, she’s so skinny.”


Chile, bye.

2) Eating disorders. And, at this point, I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t a chicken-and-the-egg type conversation. Are girls developing eating disorders to get in – and stay in – the fashion industry, or is the fashion industry actively pursuing eating disorder patients to model?

Oh, you didn’t know about that? Let me update you:

Modeling scouts—known for weighing young girls in public like cattle and targeting down-and-out families, but perhaps not for exploiting the life-threatening delusions of sick teenagers—were gathering—in the plural, so more than one person thought this was okay—outside of Sweden’s largest eating disorder clinic. They were there to recruit anorexic girls to their agencies, because where else would you search for perilously skinny young women who are unlikely to put on weight? Anna-Maria af Sandeberg, chief doctor at the 1,700-bed Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders, told the Metro newspaper, “People have stood outside our clinic and tried to pick up our girls because they know they are very thin.” “It sends the wrong signals,” she added.

The Local reports that the clinic had to change when and where patients could take their daily walks around the grounds because girls kept getting approached. One 14-year-old was handed a business card; an agent interviewed another girl who was so emaciated that she had been confined to a wheelchair. When care coordinator Christina Lillman-Ringborg tried to explain to the scouts that her charges “suffered from a serious illness,” the article continues, quoting Lillman-Ringborg, “They claimed that they approach healthy, normally slim young people and that they never urge anyone to lose weight; that’s how they defended themselves.”

A remedial business ethics lesson: If you’re looking for “healthy, normally slim young people,” you may not want to start at a medical center designed to treat women whose low weights have resulted in their hospitalization. On the other hand, if you’re committed to “never [urging] anyone to lose weight,” collecting a stable of anorexic models is probably a good move. The eating disorder will do all the urging for you! [source]

Necole Bitchie recently posted an article about Bria Murphy – Eddie Murphy’s daughter – and how she slammed the modeling industry for some of what their girls do in order to stay thin:

She recently sat down with ABC’s Good Morning America to dish on the ugly side of the modeling industry, while revealing the extreme things that girls will do to stay thin.

Lots of girls get addicted to drugs and anorexia, it’s – there’s a whole list of things, because it’s a lot of pressure to be perfect.

I’ve heard of people eating the cotton balls with the orange juice … they dip it in the orange juice and then they eat the cotton balls to help them feel full, because the cotton’s not doing anything. It’s just dissolving. And it makes you think you’re full, but you’re not.

When asked if she has personally felt the pressure to stay thin, she responded:

Oh yeah, absolutely … I’m a small girl naturally, but I can gain weight. And I’m going through little hormonal changes and my body’s changing and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m gaining weight this week, I’m losing weight next week.

It’s your job to go into a room … and some people will just say no without an explanation, and some will be like, ‘Oh, your nose is too big. Your butt’s too big. Oh, your legs are flabby.’ Like, they’ll just go in on you, ‘Oh, you need to tighten that up. But that’s their job. You can’t take it personal.


Chile… bye.

Eating disorders – and disordered eating behavior – are unbelievably dangerous. Don’t even think about trying this at home and, if you do, you may need to consider seeking out help.

3) Booty paint. Oh, so you think that, since the Victoria’s Secret Runway Show shows the women moving in real time, that there’s still something to idolizing them?

Let’s revisit that:

When the Victoria’s Secret Angels strut the runway Tuesday in $3 million bras, larger-than-life wings and barely there lingerie, what viewers won’t see are the countless hours of work that goes into making the most beautiful women in the world look so ethereally sexy.

The show, airing on CBS at 10, was shot at the Lexington Armory.

“It’s all about creating the illusion of this amazing body on the runway,” says Selita Ebanks, who walked her first Armory show five years ago. “People don’t realize that there are about 20 layers of makeup on my butt alone.”

In addition to body makeup, which Ebanks estimates takes well over an hour to apply, the Angels prep in hair and makeup for three to five hours before hitting the runway, with an average of five people – hair stylists, makeup artists and manicurists, working on each of the 38 models. [source]

4) Racism. Want to know why you never see anyone who might could maybe possibly even sorta remotely look like you in magazines, print, or runway?

From Clutch:

When asked if fashion has a problem with race, [celebrity model Chanel Iman] says:

“Yeah, most definitely. A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”

Though Chanel expressed she was proud to be include in Vogue Italia’s legendary All-Black issue, saying “it was a moment for everyone, [black] or not,” The Sunday Times Magazine notes that critics pointed out the 30% increase that issue saw in advertising relied mainly on campaigns with white models. That disconnect between the black faces featured in the magazine and those starring in ads is due to racism as well, according to famed photographer Steven Meisel. He said at the time: “I’ve asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say No. Advertisers say black models don’t sell.” [source]

Need more?

The man, Justin Peery, continues: “But for those lucky few girls who have white girl features…” and trails off. It’s clear that those are the women who get booked. “It’s kind of messed up, but that’s the way the industry is,” he says.

Peery represents the gorgeous Renée Thompson, a model who is originally from Jamaica but moved to New York from Toronto, and has been modeling for 10 years. At the ripe old age of 24, she is at a make-or-break moment in her career, and nearing an age when many models are forced into retirement. The film focuses on Renée, and her dream — to “kill” at fashion week.

Six minutes in, Maurilio Carnino, a fashion week casting director and producer, says: “Black models… they tend to [have] a little bit wider hips… And a little more round… Sometimes, even though the face is amazing, they tend to have a fit problem. ” He explains that white models have the “more skinny” look that the designers want. And: “One time one of my clients said, ‘I need a black model, but she has to be like a white girl dipped in chocolate.'” This is how people are talking about young women they want to hire for a job.

In general, though the subject here is clearly racism, the film — and the people in it — dance around the word racism. Jeanne Beker of FashionTelevision says, “Racism — I hate to call it that.” What else do you call a person being discriminated against for their looks and ethnicity? Beker admits: “Sometimes you do see a black girl on the runway and it’s sort of a tokenism.” [source]


5) It’s potentially hazardous to your self-worth. Aligning yourself with someone else’s standard of beauty becomes a self-esteem issue. I’m inclined to believe that having shoved down your throat – and continuing to swallow – the idea that you are imperfect and must, by extension, bend over backwards in ways that neither your lifestyle nor your finances allow for….becomes a self-hating type scenario.

For some strange reason, I’m also inclined to believe that’s mad unhealthy.

Someone benefits from us believing there’s only one way to be beautiful… it just isn’t us. Selling me a fantasy, and then leaving me to pick up the pieces when I realize just how far-away I am from ever being able to achieve that ideal – even going so far as to hide the fact that models are painting the stretch marks off their size 2 bodies and perpetuating the myth that only fatty fat fatties have stretch marks… I mean, c’mon. This is ridiculousness.

Nothing feels better than being able to learn the things that make us beautiful, all while simultaneously being able to acknowledge your polar opposite as being beautiful at the same time. “Beautiful” doesn’t need to be an exclusive club where only people who look like you are allowed in; if anything, it needs to be a space where we all can be, because it allows for more diverse images to sell, and the presence of more size and skin tone (and hair) diversity in media. People wouldn’t be so obsessed with restricting who can be seen where, and advertisers would no longer be able to claim “Black models don’t sell.”

(The extremely awkward thing about this is the two brands that very openly use Black women for advertising are Popeye’s and Pine Sol… so, Black models don’t sell products well, unless its Pancakes, fried chicken and cleaning products? Awkwarrrrrrrd.)

Seeing all of this, we should feel encouraged. There is hope; it doesn’t have to stay this way forever. Regard this stuff for what it is – artwork, beautifully – and carefully crafted – to perpetuate a myth, a false reality. Not fitness inspiration.

Those of us who have jobs and lives and responsibilities that require us to learn how to live healthily… we can appreciate the artwork, and set realistic goals for ourselves. I’m almost certain that our bodies – and our sanity – will thank us for it.

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Kitana June 14, 2013 - 2:16 PM

Please continue speaking the truth! That is all.

Anna June 14, 2013 - 5:49 PM

Stumbled upon your blog and am absolutely loving it. What a powerful, insightful post. Way to put it all in perspective.

Jayde June 14, 2013 - 6:22 PM

Smh, I remember growing up and reading Teen Vogue. I wanted to be a model so bad but I just knew for a fact that I was never going to be model thin (and still not). By the way, those pictures remind me of the model pics I used to put on my wall and praying that one day i would look like them. It’s really confusing us women about body image.

MrsDiva June 14, 2013 - 11:03 PM

This article hit home with me. I am currently trying to lose post pregnancy weight (I use to be naturally rail thin), and it has been very hard accepting the larger me. I am not fat, but I am not happy with the extra weight either, and I am sure the media images doesn’t help much. Great post!

AshBash June 15, 2013 - 10:56 AM

You know, I’m going through the exact same thing and for me, I had to turn off the tv and kill the magazines because I was becoming discouraged ab reading 3 weeks after having a baby so in so’s wife is in a bikini

Kami June 15, 2013 - 8:47 AM

I stopped looking at models for being body inspiration at the age of 24. At this time I knew these images were unrealistic. I am just now accepting that I have dimples in but, stretch marks and imperfections. Even though I will keep on working on my fitness and strive for having a healthy body and spirit. Now even looking at commercials such as wen they compare the hair textures such as black women’s hair as course, rough, dry and brittle while the white or asian girl hair is just frizzy which to me also does damage to self esteem.
As a female I had people tell me your a pretty girl to have “niggar features” I have full lips and a medium sized nose. Its confusing when someone that is white with those same feature are considered beautiful. Lastly reading these articles make me not want to support these designers at all.

Hi Erika,

Would I be able to email you a personal question about something?

Gillian June 15, 2013 - 5:25 PM

Another great post Erika, women need to be educated that the media tends to be about gloss and perfection not always based on reality. We should focus on being the best that we can be via having a clean healthy diet and maintaining regular physical activity

Betty Taylor June 16, 2013 - 10:42 PM

I think some people really believe those photo-shopped pics are real. Men think women should look like that.

Eriza Lee August 1, 2013 - 12:44 PM

Erika! I absolutely love your blog and your keeping it real attitude! I have stopped looking at magazine covers for the very reasons you have mentioned. I had my epiphany on weight loss and keeping it off when I started law school back in 2009. At the time I was studying more than I ever had and got up to 164lbs on a 5’5 frame. I have struggled with my weight since my early teens. I started winning the battle when I realized that exercising and healthy eating is lifestyle change and not something to start and stop.
Since late 2009, I have lost over 30lbs and kept it off. I completed a half marathon and plan to do another one. However even with this weight loss I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. Looking at magazines and seeing how “fit” they looked and thinking I wasn’t doing enough to look like that.

Then I learned about photoshop and how even the models don’t look like what the magazines would have us believe. Women are under so much pressure. Pressure to have small waistlines but big butts and breasts which in many instances is unrealistic without serious intervention (plastic surgery). I exercise to be healthy and everything else is secondary. It has taken a long time to love myself regardless of my flaws and to do what is best for me. Further my healthy habits have rubbed off onto my son. Our children are often a reflection of their parents. We exercise together and maintain a relatively active lifestyle. I applaud your blog for helping women understand that society’s view of what we should be are unrealistic and that health comes first. There are things we can do to look and feel better but sometimes we have to look inside ourselves for true affirmation! Continue sharing your journey because it gives women like me hope and strength to put ourselves first so that we can be the best versions of ourselves!

Amanda November 2, 2013 - 4:14 AM

This has, by far, been the most beneficial piece on body image that I have ever read. I constantly yo-yo back and forth between trying to eat healthy and abandoning healthy habits and eating anything I know is bad for me. And I’ve recognized that the “eating anything I know is bad for me” comes right after seeing an advertisement – print or television – that features some woman who looks absolutely perfect. Knowing I’ll never look like that, I abandon any ideals and start up the self-sabotage. I’ve never loved my body, not a day in my life. But pieces like the one you’ve written give me a little more confidence that one day I could maybe at least learn to be okay with, or possibly even like, the body I have.

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