• Tue, May 15 2012

Tyra Banks Likes Vogue‘s New Rules (But Likes Her Own Advice More)

tyra banks

Well, that settles it. Those of us who were skeptical about Vogue‘s vague new “rules” for becoming “ambassadors of positive body image” can now rest assured that positive change is coming, because Tyra Banks said so. In an open letter today, the model-turned-entrepreneur-turned-talk-show-host congratulated the fashion/media giant on their decision…and offered plenty of Tyra-centric advice of her own. Because, you know, she’s Tyra. And while much of it was questionable, she did have some pretty smart things to say.

Banks, who has made a career out of talking about herself (under the guise of helping others) posted the open letter to the Daily Beast, which both saluted Vogue‘s decision to stop using models who “appear” to have an eating disorder, and to create a healthier work environment for them, and took the opportunity to remind everyone about how much work she personally has done to help end eating disorders, like eating pizza. From the letter:

In my early 20s I was a size four. But then I started to get curvy. My agency gave my mom a list of designers that didn’t want to book me in their fashion shows anymore. In order to continue working, I would’ve had to fight Mother Nature and get used to depriving myself of nutrition. As my mom wiped the tears from my face, she said, “Tyra, you know what we’re going to do about this? We’re going to go eat pizza.” We sat in a tiny pizzeria in Milan and strategized about how to turn my curves into a curveball. In a way, it was my decision not to starve myself that turned me into a supermodel, and later on, a businesswoman.

To be fair, Tyra Banks has been a pretty loud and progressive voice toward changing the way the media treats the female body. And the swimsuit finger-wagging clip posted in the article does still give me goosebumps, because it was a very brave move and also one that spoke to a lot of women.

However, parts of her letter get dangerously close to problematic territory of “models eating syndrome,” in which inhaling large quantities of unhealthy food is equated to the exact opposite of inhaling large quantities of unhealthy stimulants…Because, remember, “totally pigging out on junk food” is not necessarily any healthier (or, for that matter, any less of an eating disorder) than starving oneself.

But Banks does get a few good tips in, particularly those aimed at mothers of young women (and, ostensibly, female-identified individuals).

To moms everywhere, we need to educate our girls not to fall prey to thinspirational images of beauty. So where do we start? By being very careful about how we talk about our own bodies in front of our daughters. We can show our daughters diverse images of beautiful women: curvy, tall, short, and everything in-between. Moms, you are the first and most influential role model in your girl’s life. Use that power. Teach her to love herself and everything that makes her unique.

Ah, that’s better. And it demonstrates something that’s been bothering me about Vogue‘s decision, which is that, yes, it is awesome that a huge (and hugely unwilling, it seems) participant in the pro-ana and thinspo community is willing to be part of the solution (even if in a consequence-less, vague-seeming kind of way)–but that’s not the end of the line. There’s still plenty of work to be done, mostly at home. Instead of making images of very-thin, unhealthy women go away entirely (they never will), it’s important to address them and look critically at them.

It’s hard to say if Vogue‘s decision be the game-changer than helps young women feel more positive about themselves, or if it’ll encourage the fashion world start making sample sizes in a 6, an 8, or, heaven forbid, a fit, muscular 12. But it can’t hurt to have vocal members of the industry coming out to support the move–and, more importantly, to remind parents that the problem goes far outside the pages of a magazine.

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