BIG SOULLESS MEDIA takes on TINY BUT MORAL BLOGGER! It’s the stuff movies are made of! No? Ok, so I don’t really watch movies but it’s a story we’re all familiar with and if you are a blogger yourself, you probably already know where this is going. There has been a bit of a legal kerfuffle going on behind the scenes here at The Great Fitness Experiment. You wouldn’t know it unless you are a reader unfortunate enough to have subscribed to the comments of the afflicted post and/or you have ended up on the receiving end of one of my tirade-ish e-mails.
Why have no less than four lawyers been sic’ed on me over the past year? I published pictures of ultra-thin models and dared to say the images promoted disordered eating.
The post, called Functional Anorexia, was written over 3 years ago about the prevalence of women lauded in our society for living an eating disordered lifestyle but managing to stay just this side of living. It’s Tori Spelling quibbling with Star magazine about her low weight (“Tori is a shocking 95 lbs!” “No, I’m not! I’m a whole 107!”) never mind that either weight for her is considered underweight and unhealthy. It’s every starlet who says they’re just born thin when actually they live on Scotch and Swedish fish. And it’s every model wallpapered in the background of almost every magazine, television shows, ad campaign and website targeted to women.
You know the models I’m talking about – they’re not famous enough, or well-paid enough, to actually have names. More often than not they’re just underage waifs from poverty stricken countries who are chosen for their coltish limbs and familiarity with malnourishment. Too frequently they are sexually, physically and economically abused by their handlers. There is a reason this aesthetic is sometimes called “Auschwitz chic.” It is a lifestyle that hurts everyone involved. We see the pictures of them and feel badly about ourselves, internalizing the thin-at-all-costs mentality. They become fodder in a fashion machine that chews them up and spits them out with nothing to show for it but debt and a chemical dependency. To say these images do not promote an unhealthy lifestyle is using the OJ Simpson defense logic: perhaps we can’t say with 100% certainty that OJ killed Nicole (or that seeing anorexic looking women promotes anorexia) but everyone knows it’s true anyways.
Not the lawyers though. If you read my original post when it first ran, you might remember the pictures I used to illustrate the article. Stark black-and-white portraits of young girls so thin they looked like walking anatomy charts, all being aggressively promoted by the same Mega Huge Modeling Agency. For weeks the only people I heard from on the topic were readers – in fact, it became one of my most-read posts ever, even being featured on the Chicago Times and USA Today websites. The popularity began the problem.
Over the ensuing months, I have received e-mails promising a lawsuit from the lawyers of every one of the models I featured, save one. The lawyers allege that my article says their client has an eating disorder which, they claim, she certainly does not and also (you know if perchance she did) that kind of defamation could hurt her career. They demanded I pull the pics and as you can see on the post I obliged. While grovelling my apologies. Because I totally don’t want to be sued. (Seriously, if they garnered all the profits I made from this website for the entire 2 years it’s been running they wouldn’t even be able to get whip on their Starbucks hot cocoa.)
Here’s the thing though: I never said those particular models had an eating disorder – I don’t know them from Barbie – I only said that use of those types of images promote an eating disordered lifestyle. Which I still firmly believe.
The Big Media won. I was censored. My point was buried under their legalese. And yet, there is a strange ending to this story: a few weeks ago I received one of the most plaintive e-mails I have ever gotten. It was from one of the models herself. Her English was very poor and the IP address was from Budapest but she managed to express herself very poignantly. She plead that I remove not only her pictures from my site (which I had already done after her lawyer had threatened me in 3 different languages) but to remove her name as well. Because, she wrote, she desperately needed the work. Her whole family depended on her earnings and she was so new to modeling she just couldn’t take the risk of missing a job because of this.
While I hated her lawyer – and all the lawyers – with their scare tactics, her e-mail went straight to my heart. How could I deny another woman, another sister, the chance to work and support her loved ones? Even if her job hurts us all? I read somewhere that the only professions where women, as a rule, make more than men are modeling, stripping and prostitution.
People think women are vain to worry so much about their looks. Turns out that maybe we’re just pragmatic.
So, what do you think? Did I slander these girls? Do super skinny models, whether or not they are eating disordered themselves, promote eating disorders? Did I cross a line? There is exactly one picture left on my original post. I urge you to look at it before you answer. (Unless you are triggered by these types of images – then please don’t click through!)