What is the “new normal” for body image and girls?

shenae grimes and jessica stroup

Reflecting on the New Normal: Today’s ultra thin standards for the ideal body

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Ahh, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? New actresses- new entertainers– more ultra thin body ideals saluted.

We all know standards of beauty change. Model and actress Marilyn Monroe, who reigned supreme in the fifties as the symbol of a beautiful woman, was undeniably curvaceous. We look at her now and think: well, she could pull off the extra weight because she had such a pretty face…or hair.  But who’d have guessed  that Marilyn Monroe, along with the fashion models of her time, weighed  eight percent less than the average woman.

Today, most fashion models weigh about 23 percent less than the average woman and represent only five percent of women who can actually attain such a figure. Supermodels are often so they thin they meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for anorexia.  Tabloids and blogs feed the misconceptions. Gisele Bundchen was once named Vogue’s model of the year, in part, the magazine stated, because she is not rail-thin. Really? Gisele at the time was 5’11” and weighed only 115 pounds —25 percent below what is considered an ideal body weight.

Earlier this year the world seemed to stop when Jessica Simpson put on a few extra pounds. Magazines shamed the singer/actress for deviating from the thin ideal. Simpson, at 5’3,” weighed in at 130-135 pounds, which would actually put her right in the middle of a medically healthy weight range.  Most of the stars on hit shows viewed by teens look like they haven’t eaten a hamburger or even the side of pickles since the third grade. When the remake of Beverly Hills 90210 came out in the Fall of 2008, US Weekly reported that the only sizes available in the show’s wardrobe range from 00 to 2.   One of the actresses, Jessica Stroup, weighed a whopping 100-105 pounds at 5’8” tall.  A young woman who is 5’8” tall and 100 pounds has a BMI of 15.3, categorized as “severely underweight” and certainly raises red flags when it comes to possible eating disorders. Yet these are the women that star in one of the most-watched shows aimed at adolescent girls.]

We’ve seen impossibly thin television actresses and entertainers before [(think Calista Flockhart, Victoria Beckham, Mary Kate Olson or Lara Flynn Boyle), but the trend has gained ground. A  study done  by three scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan found that the effects of media exposure were stronger in the 2000s than in the 1990s, suggesting that the thin-ideal has become both thinner, more prevalent, and more widely accepted as the standard. The study also found that there is a direct relationship between the media’s endorsement of a thin-ideal and increased levels of body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls.

Think these actresses have no pull?  Just look at what’s on the blogosphere.  Girls are so excited about them– and for many, the thinner the better.  They serve as thinspiration. For example:

“If you want to be thin, you have to have control. I  LOVE Jessica Stroup! She is my new thinspiration! Can’t wait to be that skinny… Started at 155 last week…down to 146 now….my ultimate is 95…. Haven’t hit a wall yet, hope i can just stay strong. Lets do this! xx”

There are a lot more just like these. Good grief. I think the new normal is making me sick.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature