Lizzi Miller: redefining beauty

A recent portrait of this Size 12 model may pave the way for other fashion magazines to adopt authentic over airbrushed beauty.

Walter Chin/Glamour/AP
Model Lizzie Miller is featured in the September 2009 issue of Glamour.

In case you hadn't heard, a popular fashion magazine printed a picture of a model who is about a Size 12 and the magazine didn't implode. In fact, there was a rush of support from women readers.

In a culture that generally only shows models who are no larger than a Size 6, and mostly Size 0, that's cause for optimism. The fashion world should take the response as a wake-up call from women tired of unrealistic ideals of beauty.

In their September issue, Glamour magazine printed a small photo of model Lizzi Miller, prompting other media to broadcast the remarkable news that a fashion magazine had actually printed a picture of a woman representative of the majority of women in America, between a Size 12 and Size 14.

That the photo was printed in a small format (3" X 3") deep in the magazine seems evidence that the editors weren't prepared to risk upsetting fashion convention too much, but were only willing to tiptoe into a new realm of the more honest depiction of women.

Even so, they have done American women a favor. Although there have been advertising campaigns, like Dove's "campaign for real beauty," that depict women of various shapes and sizes, such images are almost unprecedented in the editorial pages of high fashion magazines. The fashion magazines are known for their airbrushing, touch-ups, and Photoshopping. This can leave an impossible standard of beauty for women to try to attain.

The high price many models pay to maintain a stick-thin silhouette for those magazines has been well-documented. Models force themselves to follow unnatural diet regimes and take weight-loss medication, some of which has not been federally approved. Many resort to smoking as an appetite suppressant. It is all part of the modeling world as it has existed under the rule of style arbiters who insist on the super-thin aesthetic as the only acceptable shape for fashion.

The ground swell of approval for the publication of the Miller photograph should help the editors of fashion magazines boldly forge ahead toward more variety and wisdom in the depiction of women.

The influence that the media has on the attitudes and eating habits of adolescent girls is the subject of much research. Magazines can play a valuable part in helping teenage girls formulate a positive image of themselves as being normal and beautiful in a size above 6.

Consider Europe: In 2006, Italy banned Size 0 models from the catwalk and this was followed by a Madrid ban of models with a body mass index of less than 18. And in 2008, the British Fashion Council called for labeling of fashion images that have been airbrushed, a practice that is often used to emphasize distorted images of models.

This set a healthy tone.

The editors of American fashion magazines must follow suit and put a stop to the publication of photos of unnaturally thin models, ending the era of the Size 0 – in favor of a more reasonable standard.

The editors of Glamour have helped lead the way. By putting Miller in their magazine they have made it easier for any other magazine to phase out sole use of extremely thin models and airbrushing that can produce a distorted sense of beauty.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour, widely acknowledged as the most powerful voice in American fashion, could single-handedly resolve this issue. She should take a distinct, public stand for a depiction of fashion models that is not only healthy for models, but for the many adolescent girls who look to fashion photos for ideals of what they should expect of themselves. Other fashion editors – among them the many who are mothers of daughters themselves – would probably be glad to follow.

The American female consumer can help by buying or subscribing to magazines that laud a healthy body image.

Lizzi Miller may not have dreamed that a small photo of her in Glamour magazine would make an important impact. But its publication has the potential for galvanizing momentum of a new trend toward acceptance of the average female form.

This is an important step toward lifting the pressure to conform to an unrealistic and unwholesome model of extreme thinness and contribute to the freedom American girls should have to be themselves.

Katherine Stephen is a freelance writer.

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