I’ve been watching a docu-series on We TV called High School Confidential. This series follows 10 girls, living in Chicago, for all four years of their high school experience. Some of their stories are heart-wrenching and they leave me wondering how these girls manage their school work along with their home lives (parental illnesses, job losses, foreclosed homes, domestic violence). My heart really goes out to these girls and I’ve been totally captivated by their stories. On last Wednesday night’s episode (1/02/13) there was one story-line that really, really had me fuming.
This episode featured the girls’ junior year. Vanessa has just blossomed into a beautiful 16 year old girl. She is of Italian and Puerto Rican descent. At the beginning of the episode we see Vanessa having professional modeling pictures taken. Her modeling agent is talking to her father (a professional fitness instructor) about how Vanessa’s hips are measuring at 38 inches and they need to come down to at least 34 inches in order for the agency to send her out on professional jobs or else she would be a major embarrassment to the agency. Her father says that because of her ancestry, Vanessa is naturally curvaceous and it would almost be next to impossible for her to lose 4 inches off her hips, but he was going to try! For the rest of the episode that featured Vanessa, she was at the gym, doing school sports, and talking about dieting. After 8 months of dieting and exercising, she goes back to the agency to look at her pictures and her modeling agent measures her again. Vanessa’s hips are now 39 inches. The horror! Later the agent calls Vanessa’s father and tells him that her pictures are going to be immediately pulled from their website and she is suspended, basically, as a model until she loses 5 inches from her hips.
I wanted to scream. This girl Vanessa was tiny to begin with. Absolutely tiny. She looked very thin on TV and that was after the camera, supposedly, makes a person look bigger. She is/was gorgeous. A very beautiful girl. And this stupid freaking modelling agent was making her feel like freaking Quasimodo because of her natural shape. For her to try to go against her Italian and Puerto Rican genes in order to fit this modelling agent’s “standards” she would have to starve herself. This poor girl dieted and worked out like crazy for 8 months and added an inch to her hips, so obviously she would have to become anorexic in order to achieve this stupid standard of beauty. What the hell is wrong with the entire fashion and modeling industry if 38 inch hips are an embarrassment?
Not only was I internally raging at this freaking modeling agent, a woman who is perpetuating body-shame onto a vulnerable and susceptible young girl and all the other high school girls who are watching the series and are now hating their hips for being over 34 freaking inches, but I was mad at her father as well. I know what I watched was extremely edited, but every time we saw Vanessa’s storyline her father was getting after her for not working out enough or eating/drinking such horrifying things as milk. So not only are her shapely hips not good enough for this sycophantic modeling agent and her bullcrap standards of beauty, it’s implied that she’s not good enough for her father either. Telling your very thin daughter she’s too big or too lazy and too unmotivated to be physically perfect is just wrong. That’s a very, very dangerous message to send to a 16 year old girl. He should be telling her that no matter what she looks like she is perfect just the way she is! It seemed like the only person standing up for Vanessa was her mother who argued with the father against putting so much pressure on her. (Like I said, the show is very edited and it’s obvious is other episodes that Vanessa’s dad is a very loving father who is very proud of her…I just didn’t like how the show only portrayed him being on the modeling agent’s side and haranguing Vanessa for not being thin enough).
When is enough enough? That is a question a beautiful young teenage girl asked on the documentary Miss Representation about media/society/culture’s pressure on women and girls to meet an unattainable standard of beauty. This is something I’ve wondered my whole life but it just seems to be getting worse and not better. That is why I love the website Beauty Redefined and their wonderful message of body/self-love for who/what you are.
Vanessa, you are a beautiful, intelligent girl. Please don’t buy this crap the media, that modeling agent, and whoever else is selling you. Don’t base your self-worth on the width of your hips. That measuring tape can only measure inches. It cannot measure the worth of your soul, the depth of your compassion, the immensity of your future, or the expansiveness of the love you have to give. Chuck it, and any body-shame anyone else puts on you, in the garbage where it belongs.