Avenging Angel

Milan’s Mayor Letitia Moretti is Leading the Charge in Defense of Female Honor

Opinion | Dardis McNamee | October 2006

Milan Mayor Letitia Moratti is tired of seeing emaciated models staggering down the catwalks of the world fashion capital. In the wake of the first-ever ban at the Madrid Fashion Week a fortnight earlier, she – like an avenging angel leading the charge to defend female honor – took on the entire Italian fashion industry.

"Sick-looking" models are out.

"Unless a mature solution is found," she told a Milanese newspaper, the city government would be happy impose one.

Not surprisingly, leaders in the fashion industry protest their innocence, with a remarkable parade of illogic.

Mario Boselli, chairman of the Italian National Chamber of Fashion dismissed the problem saying that, anyway, the "waif look" was passe. "We don’t need regulations," he told the International Herald Tribune (IHT), apparently with a straight face. "We only need to depend on the good sense of Italian modeling agencies" – the same good sense, presumably, that has proved so reliable thus far.  New York fashion consultant David Wolf dismissed the whole controversy as a "media rehash of an old story," calling the Madrid ban "meaningless thus far."

"Yes some models look positively malnourished. This is not real news," he told the IHT.

No, of course not. And that’s the point.  Skinny models are the norm and have been for a long time. In page after page of glossy advertising, in frame after relentless frame of the idealized world of film and television, women are indoctrinated with images of surreal beauty that become standard through repetition.  And as a result, most women feel deeply inadequate.

A 1997 Psychology Today poll on body image documents that 89% of US women want to lost weight, and value thinness so highly that a full quarter would trade more than three years of life in exchange for being thin, and 50% reported smoking as a means of weight control. Of the extremely underweight women in the survey, 40% reported wanting to lose still more weight. Most slender teenage girls (54%) also reported being very dissatisfied.

"The magnitude of self-hatred among young women is astonishing," Psychology Today reported. "Despite being at a weight that most women envy, they are still plagued by feelings of inadequacy."  In a survey by the British teen magazine Bliss, two out of three girls under the age of 13 reported having already been on a diet, and more than a quarter of 14-year-olds said they had considered plastic surgery or diet pills.

Hardly surprising, one supposes, as 90% thought their own mothers had "an insecure body image." And hardly surprising, too, that the girls turned elsewhere for their images of beauty.  A double irony of the Madrid-Milan controversy for Europe is that research also shows a strong connection between the obsession with thinness and low birth rates.

"A fear of fatness may be perverting women’s attitudes toward pregnancy and childbearing," said Psychology Today, with a third of women identifying pregnancy itself is an important source of negative body image.

Thus it seems perhaps unwise to depend on the "good sense" of the fashion industry. Why should Mario Boselli care? There is no connection in his mind between fashion images and self-hatred in young women: Anorexia in teenagers, he told the IHT, has more to do with "psychological problems" than catwalks.

But now we have Mayor Letitia Moratti, and things may finally change.

Other articles from this issue

  • Anorexics Off The Runway?

    A Revolution in Madrid May Just Mean the Days of Emaciated Models are Over (at Last!)
    News | Margaret Childs
  • A Farewell to Arms - For Now

    In Spite of Wide Regional Support, Hezbollah’s Popularity Has Dipped Since the Cease-Fire.
    News | P.C. Prebensen
  • Of Beggars and Buskers

    In the Alarmingly Cheerful New Subway Cars, New Surveillance Cameras are Watching
    On The Town | Dardis McNamee
  • Man and Machine

    Exploring the Dark Regions of Sexuality in the Cold, Sleek Airbrushed World of Fantasy Realism of H.R. Giger
    On The Town | Konstantin Borolev, Isabella Vatter
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review October 2006