The Skinny On New York's Beauty Obsession

by AMANDA MELILLO · May 16, 2008

    Ali MichaelFollowing Maddy"s observations Wednesday about the slimming of the "Stop" hand on pedestrian crossing lights, as I was reflecting on New York"s obsession with beauty, I had an encounter of my own that was, well, less incisive than Maddy"s revelation and come about by means of eavesdropping. Being a media junkie, while I usually reflect on the news of the day, sometimes I like to bring you what"s behind the scenes. What I overheard was one fashion and beauty writer bragging to another, "Yeah, I didn"t eat for like two weeks. I took Sudafed, which blocks your appetite and speeds up your metabolism. I totally didn"t eat ANYTHING."

    I walked away disturbed, thinking of what a sign it is of our culture that we"re proud of starving ourselves when we"re trying to fix worldwide hunger, which is an obvious observation, to be sure. And then I read about how Ali Michael, the model who was cast out out of Paris Fashion Week because her legs were "too fat" even though she was an impossible 103 pounds at 5"9", hadn"t menstruated in a year, and eventually decided anorexia wasn"t worth it when her hair started falling out. And then she said something that especially rung true for me after hearing the Sudafed-helps-self-starvation conversation: "It has to change. The fashion industry affects everyone."

    It DOES affect everyone, not just the models but the fashion editors and writers who cover them in their pages, to the women that are not just buying magazines but walking around with their eyes open and taking in the skeletal models on billboards until it becomes totally internalized in our culture. I hadn"t really noticed just HOW skinny models are--after all, the camera adds ten pounds--until I attended a couture photo shoot for a luxury magazine in person. And while the models may have had the most beautiful faces of anyone I had ever seen up close, they had bodies that made me want to gag. They were tall and too thin, like giant praying mantises. You shouldn"t be able to count every vertebrae in someone"s spine. Someone shouldn"t look concave from the side, as if their body is collapsing in on itself. I was surprised they were able to lift their feet with giant shoes strapped to them, or hold up their heads when the stylist put hats or earrings on them.

    Maybe this is my Italian-American side talking, but I think food is one of the best pleasures in life. There is nothing that tastes as good as a home-cooked meal at the end of the day, and few things in life make me as simply happy as a slice of cheesecake or chocolate, or better yet, the two combined. I"ve learned that no matter how much I diet or count calories or exercise, I will ALWAYS have child-bearing hips, and even when I was 20 pounds lighter I still thought my thighs were fat. But several years later, I now feel a lot better about life for accepting my body for the way it was made, and its limitations, even though I"m kind of short and really curvy and would never be pictured in a magazine. And I"m tired of hearing my friends say "Oh my god, I had a candy bar, that"s so bad, I have to stick to salad for the next week!" Because the way I see it? Be sensible. Eat well, and try to be healthy. But it"s okay to splurge every now and again. Because you know what? You"re in New York. It"s one of the food capitals of the world. Why deny yourself cheesecake???