Chong: On the incorrect labeling of models as unhealthy, starved

Each year, the highly anticipated Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show monopolizes the media for about a week, drawing in millions of viewers worldwide. Each year, however, the show is met with its fair share of controversy.

The event has been criticized for showcasing models of a very thin body type and for demeaning women. This year, a reporter from TMZ went around backstage asking each of the models, “What food are you most excited to eat after the show?” Model Magdalena Frackowiak exasperatedly said, “You make me look like an idiot,” and “It seems like I’m starving myself and can’t wait for the show to end so I can eat.”

It is a widely held stereotype that all runway models have eating disorders. This is not true, however. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are very serious mental illnesses characterized by “extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.” Obsessive and distorted body image issues are a main aspect of eating disorders and assuming that all models perceive themselves in this light is incorrect and insensitive.

The diet of a Victoria’s Secret model has been discussed in many nutrition and fitness blogs. According to the Daily Mail, models train with professional trainers four times a week regularly—and then amp it up to five to six times a week during the weeks leading up to the show.

Furthermore, the models must eat an extremely healthy diet to supplement their workouts. When preparing for the fashion show, the lifestyle of a Victoria’s Secret Angel is a physically grueling and mentally exhausting one. This does not equate, however, to anything that resembles an eating disorder. The workout plan focuses on building muscle and losing fat, not losing weight. In reality, Victoria’s Secret Models are more muscular and voluptuous than normal runway models. The models in no way starve themselves for this show. Rather, they eat an extremely healthy diet—one that is necessary for building muscle tone during their workouts.

The culture of runway modeling can be very misleading at times, especially when it comes to discussing what is healthy and what is not. While the diet of a Victoria’s Secret model is not ideal for their level of exercise, it is not completely impractical.

Strenuous workout sessions and limited diets are to be expected for a model for the world’s leading supplier of lingerie. Perfecting their bodies is their job and they are being paid millions of dollars to do so.

The misspeak associating eating disorders with one of the biggest fashion shows in the world is largely due to the fact that many do not completely understand what an eating disorder is. Being thin and toned does not constitute having an eating disorder—having a distorted perception of one’s body does. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are illnesses that prevent those suffering from being able to live productive lives. Because of the physical aspect of eating disorders, many people forget that there is a largely mental aspect to them as well.

While yes, it is highly desirable for Victoria’s Secret to present more equal representations of body types, it is wrong to assume that the models they do present are starving themselves merely because they are skinny. In actuality, the models do much, much more than starve themselves; they train as intensely—or even more than—some athletes while maintaining a limited, yet healthy diet.