Sunday, August 24, 2008

BMGM Weighs In

Do you remember 12 year old model Gerren Taylor? I forgot about her until I read Booth Moore's LAT profile about Gerren Taylor. The article was precipitated by the opening of the new documetary, America the Beautiful, about Taylor's brief career. Her modeling career was basically over by the time she was 15. Moreover, her sense of self was in tatters.

Several things struck me.

She had the unfortunate luck for coming of age at a time when black models were out of vogue, both literally and figuratively. Poof, all but one black model disappeared. (The appearance of one black model is proof that the editors and designers are not racist.)

She was also unlucky to grow 38 inch hips in the era of the incredible shrinking model. In 1997, Tyra Banks posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated at 5'10" and 140 pounds (BMI 20). Gerren Taylor was labeled obese for carrying 140 pounds on her 6' frame in 2005 (BMI 19). "That started in New York, calling her obese at a size 4," says her mother.

Models are getting younger. Fashion's demand for thin hips (Taylor's agent suggested she could get work if she could whittle her hips down from 38" to 35") requires youth. Our eyes adjust. We get used to seeing taller and skinnier figures. Shoes, especially on the runways and the red carpets, are getting higher and higher. Sharing the runways with preteens sets an all but impossible standard for adult models.

And the age-weight issue made me think about age restrictions in other competitive fields like Olympic gymnastics. Why do they even exist? If a competitor can perform the feat, then aren't they competition ready? Who are we to judge what is best for them?

But then, I remembered the words of another coach at an earlier Olympics. He said that the younger girls have higher centers of gravity than the older girls who have developed hips. That changes what is possible and not possible. It is dangerous for older girls to do the things that younger girls' bodies can do. By making them compete on the same field, we push the older girls to endanger themselves.

And I thought about Dara Torres, who developed bulimia in college. (You can read her account in this pdf file or view it in html.) So many athletes and models develop eating disorders in their late teens. In order to compete, we are taught that we have to deny our developing womanhood.

I played varsity volleyball and badminton in high school, played club volleyball through my teens and played in competitive intramural and city leagues in Berkeley and Boulder until my late twenties. Although I never had an eating disorder, many of my teammates did. They gave similar accounts of how they started. A coach told them that they could 1) jump higher 2) be faster 3) win more if they could only drop 5 or 10 pounds. Torres told the same story.

From the archives:
Spring Fashion Preview
What is Wrong with this Picture?

Links:
Still Too Thin, and Getting Younger

Asides:
The article claims, "The average American woman is 140 pounds and 5-foot-4," though I have read figures that put the weight a little higher. Gee, if someone 6 foot tall and 140 pounds is obese, what does that make the rest of America? We must resemble the slug-like humans in Wall-E.

I kept all my sewing notebooks with my measurements. When I worked out 30 hours a week and had a 20" vertical (starting from the 10 foot line), I had the same 39" hips and 22" thighs I have today. Besides being fitter in those days, I had a 25-26" waist. It is now 28-29". I didn't record my weight in those notebooks because that wasn't relevant for fitting.

I should point out that I have a borderline case of hip dysplasia that went undiagnosed until my early twenties, when I developed severe hip pain. By then, it was too late to treat it. But it would explain the 39" hips on a 15 year old with a 25" waist. (Or how, much as I tried, I could never walk without sashaying my hips.)

Do you think I could fit into off the rack clothes back then? I was highly motivated to learn how to sew my own clothes.

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