Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit, a regular column on spin and skulduggery, pseudoscience and shenanigans. This week we’re looking at Mattel’s decision to make a bald Barbie.
Bald Barbie – or bald-friend-of-Barbie – will be distributed in hospitals to kids with cancer, or other conditions which make them lose their hair. Mattel said it “demonstrates Mattel’s commitment to encourage play as a respite for children in the hospital and bring joy to children in need”. Aw.
Mattel are responding to a Facebook page calling for a bald doll to help all children suffering hairloss, and only the cynical would suggest it was also responding to the February announcement that Barbie’s main competitors – Bratz and Moxie Girlz dolls – would be getting hairless friends.
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Full credit to designer and Australia’s Next Top Model judge, Alex Perry, for declaring he would never call a model “fat”, and that his fashion embraces curvy women.
Perry took a media beating this week, and with what seemed good cause: Appearing to suggest that a size eight teen was too fat to model.
Not only was comparing her to “overstuffed luggage” offensive (even if he was referring more to her pose, in a coffin of all things, than to her body), it was dangerous. Mountains of research attests that “socio-cultural” pressure - ideas picked up from TV, fashion magazines and other media - is a leading cause of the eating disorder epidemic among young Australians.
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Of all the sick and creepy subcultures that flourish on the internet, few are more disturbing than the pro-ana websites devoted to the celebration of anorexia - not as a mental illness but a lifestyle choice.
There are dozens of these shocking sites. Some of them are big-production numbers with well-designed photo galleries of scrawny models and external links to websites selling food substitutes and appetite suppressants.
Many of them are just sad little blogs by individual women who diarise their battle with their own body and share tips on how best to emaciate themselves.
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Repeat after me: Models do not cause eating disorders. Really, they don’t.
The news which hit the headlines this week that nearly 100 children between the ages of five and seven had been diagnosed with eating disorders in the UK in recent years immediately prompted some stock-standard finger pointing (“It was the models wot done it!”), but it’s time to dispel a few myths about eating disorders.
For years, the scrawny, malnourished-looking girls who haunt the runways of Paris, Milan and New York have been accused of shoving women the world over just that much closer to starving themselves or sticking their fingers down their throats.
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“No fat chicks” is not just a Homer Simpson-esque T-shirt slogan. It’s also the bottom line of the fashion industry. And when I use the word “bottom” here, I’m not referring to a voluptuously padded Venus of Willendorf derriere but one of those pointy Paris Hilton numbers that look like they could deliver a nasty needle-stick injury.
Cast an eye over shots from the big 2011 couture shows and you’ll see scores of emaciated young women limping down the runways with flesh-less knees, stringy necks and rib cages that make ET the extraterrestrial look like a fatty boomsticks.
These human coat hangers are held up as exemplars of feminine beauty yet are eerily reminiscent of Sidney Nolan’s infamous photos of dead-but-alive-looking cow and horse carcasses from drought-stricken Queensland during the 1950s.
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Last week’s news of the death of anti-anorexia billboard model, Isabelle Caro, came one day after I gobbled Portia de Rossi’s graphic memoir about her battle with anorexia in almost one sitting.
An Unbearable Lightness intrigued and terrified me. De Rossi’s obsessive calorie counting, exhaustive exercise and waifish results seemed strangely juxtaposed with the delicious gluttony I’d experienced over Christmas - nine weeks after the birth of my third child – weighing my heaviest.
Female body image is a complex beast. It wrestles at some point with most of us - regardless of the skin we’re in.
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