If one week ago I was at MIT for my Howard Wolowitz post, yesterday instead I went to the Memorial Church at Harvard (in the picture) to attend a forum organized by the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders. If you wonder why, here is the answer: one of the panelists was Ms. Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia. I have seen her so many times on tv! I learnt who she was, actually, after moving to the States, where she’s more famous than in Italy, probably because of her appearances on American Next Top Model. (btw, I’ve just discovered that the handsome photographer Francesco Carrozzini is her son, which explains his appearances on ANTM :)) And I was there also to write an article for bostoniano.info (read the article here)
I was interested in hearing her point of view about the controversial topic of the relationship between anorexia and the fashion industry, and Ms. Sozzani, with the clever humor that – I must say – characterize so many Italian speakers :), brought to the table an interesting, and little known, aspect of the problem. As she reported, many so-called “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites and blogs can be found online, promoting anorexia and bulimia and creating a virtual community of young people who share tips, ideas and experiences regarding losing weight in an unhealthy and dangerous way.
After discovering this disturbing phenomenon, Sozzani decided to take an active role in the fight against it with petitions and by encouraging people to create an online network committed, instead, to help young people with eating disorders.
I didn’t know about this, so I googled “pro-ana” and “pro-mia”, and I found so many websites on the topic, and even if I usually don’t like to assume a “judging” attitude, I must say that I found them, as I stated before, “disturbing”.
Anyway, what I found most interesting, was her beliefs about the real link between fashion and eating disorders. As Editor-in-Chief of one of the most popular fashion magazines in the world, in fact, Sozzani (in the picture – screenshot from the event of yesterday) is aware of the role played by the fashion industry in creating and spreading a body image that can put young people at risk for eating disorders. However, she doesn’t identify the problem in showing too thin or skinny models. The real issue, she says, is that “all the girls on magazines look alike.”
The fashion industry uses models that adhere to only one image of beauty (she described them as blond, blue eyed and tall, and she joked about the fact that they all come from East Europe, and they’re all named Natalia), and don’t show that beauty can appear in several different forms, no matter your size or, on a different note, your ethnicity or skin color. So, in other words, young people would develop eating disorders not necessarily to get thinner, but while trying — unsuccessfully — to look like the homologated beauty models they see on magazines and TV.
I totally agree with her approach to not stigmatize thinness/leanness as, generically speaking, a bad body image to avoid and to blame, not matter what. As she said, everybody is different, we all have different bone structure, and everybody should embrace his/her own body figure as it is. I am very thin, I’ve always been, and I’ve never had the faintest glimmer of any eating disorder. But, while in the always-political-correct US that would have never happened, in the less-political-correct Italy, people (even totally strangers) have always felt entitled to publicly ask me “if I eat”, “if I had problems”, tell me that I should “put weight”, that “If you don’t eat more, you’re about to disappear”. Even if now I don’t care anymore (and it happens less considering that I’m growing older), I used to care a lot, and to feel hurt. So I can’t agree more with Ms. Sozzani: it’s not necessary about showing “larger” models. It’s about showing a larger range of body types (in magazines, tv etc.), so it’s clear that beauty is not a 1 note song.