Supermodel Tyra Banks has been getting a lot of press this week for her “open letter to models” in The Daily Beast in which she praises Vogue magazine’s new pledge to stop using young teen models and those who appear to have eating disorders.
“When I started modeling, I used to see models who seemed unhealthy backstage at the fashion shows,” she wrote. “They appeared to be abusing their bodies to maintain a certain weight. These girls were booked over and over again for countless fashion shows and photo shoots. I’m sure many of you today have witnessed this, or even live it. Now, real progress is finally on the horizon. Vogue is stepping up, doing the right thing, and protecting that girl. Perhaps that girl is you!”
Well, thanks for the encouragement, Tyra. Sort of. Because, really, that girl is decidedly not me. Or my daughter, I hope.
See, what gets lost a lot in this whole “models are too thin and therefore bad role models for our girls” discussion is that maybe models shouldn’t really be role models for our girls.
There’s nothing wrong with the “Vogue” announcement earlier this month. Nobody is going to take issue with Conde Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse’s statement that “Vogue believes that good health is beautiful. Vogue Editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers."
But the idea that this will change body image problems for girls misses the point. The models in women (and teen) magazines will continue to be thin and beautiful. That’s their job. (I mean, it’s not like aspiring to look like Tyra Banks is not particularly attainable for most women, either.) And having "thin and beautiful" as an aspiration – perhaps not the loftiest of goal.
So as Vogue changes its standards, what we can change at home is how we talk to our daughters about media, about the images in the magazines, and – all importantly – the way we absorb these messages ourselves.
Which brings up my favorite part of Ms. Banks’s letter: “To moms everywhere, we need to educate our girls not to fall prey to thinpirational images of beauty,” she writes. “So where do we start? By being very careful about how we talk about our own bodies in front of our daughters.”