Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Size 0 models draw my attention, again

Yesterday I touched upon Size 0 models (a memory that will live with me forever!).

Today, Tristan has noted and condemned the Liberal Democrats London Assembly motion on this issue. He writes inter alia “Size zero models are not causing direct harm to others [so] it is not government’s place to force restrictions upon them…”

I think the counter-argument is that the modelling industry is causing harm to women and particularly to teenage girls by socialising them to believe that a distorted parody of the natural human physique is an ideal-type to which they should aspire.

Implicit in this argument is the assumption that women, and particularly teenage girls (“Won’t somebody please think of the children”), are too stupid to make an informed judgement and too easily influenced by corporate imagery to be trusted to care for their own health. There follows the classic argument for censorship: the people are stupid, so must be protected from themselves.

It seems ironic to me that a nation that spends a historically-unprecedented amount of time agonising over obesity should also think that we are in danger of starving ourselves to death. Perhaps (radical suggestion, I know!) people are making their own decisions based on a multiplicity of information and imagery. Should we control all information, vetting it to ensure it promotes only a benign or (in our opinion) positive image?

Even if it is true that the existence or prominence of “Size 0” (actually Size 4) models adversely influences people’s behaviour (which has in no way been proven), it is still not government’s role to protect individuals from their own actions. The state’s role is to protect people from being coerced by other people; to allow the individual the maximum freedom that does not restrict the freedom of others. If an individual leads an unhealthy lifestyle, the government should not interfere to make them more healthy. We would not countenance force feeding or forced exercise, and I hope that we would not ban tobacco. Similarly, we should not ban images of thin models, people sitting on their sofas eating chips, or smokers (a ludicrous suggestion, I’m sure you’ll agree).

This is a classic censorship issue, an attack on freedom of expression masked as a (paternalistic) effort to protect individuals from themselves. It is a shame that our London Assembly members support it.

1 comment:

julian said...

I see your point. However, as a woman who is size 0 in the USA, which would be a size 4 in the UK, and who is a lifelong vegetarian, a healthy eater who loves eating whole food and deserts, I personally get sick of this debate because I find it almost impossible to shop in North America unless I do step into high-end boutiques which will carry my size. In brief, we need to start examining why in France and Italy, for instance, women in general are much thinner than in the UK or the USA. Instead of coming down hard on most size 0s or 4s who are not diet freaks but who live healthy and active lifestyles, we need to examine why so many women and men, refuse to look at their expanding waist lines and their apocalyptically unhealthy diets.

There is a lot of bizarre, albeit unspoken, projections of unhealthy lifestyles in this discourse of the "thin woman" which maintains quite a mysogynist undertow: that being that women, once again, need to be disciplined into "sensible" beings who can participate in the newest cultural and media wars about which "type of" woman is really best and most valid for public viewing, scrutiny and participation.

It seems to me that the Taliban and these kinds of cultural subjects have much in common: both seek to underscore and define what women really "should be".