Pursuing perfection

Allison Tomei

As “thin” becomes “in” for the global modeling industry, one local model fights the pressure to conform

Marianna Hewitt has appeared in magazines such as Teen and Seventeen, Wendy’s commercials and the Nickelodeon television show “A Walk in Your Shoes.”

She was Miss Teen Galaxy last year and runner-up for Miss Ohio Teen USA in 2005.

Yet the sophomore pre-journalism major said she still feels the pressure from friends, parents and peers to be thin.

“The media praises the skinny,” she said. “People think it’s rewarding to be thin, so it gives girls no incentive to like themselves for how they really are.”

Drawing the line

In September, the Spanish government and fashion show organizers banned excessively thin models from walking the runway at fashion week in Madrid, Spain.

The Associated Press reported that all models were required to have a body mass index (a ratio of height and weight) above 18 — the minimum limit considered healthy by the World Health Organization.

That means a 5-foot-7-inch model must weigh at least 115 pounds.

According to the Associated Press, when 21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died in November from kidney malfunction, her body mass index was slightly above 13, which the World Health Organization considers “at or near starvation.”

This is just one of the rude awakenings faced by the fashion industry and models across the globe.

A dangerous trend

Hewitt is aware of the dangerous worldwide trend in the fashion industry.

“I just didn’t think it would get this bad,” she said. “Maybe now they (the industry) will realize that they are hurting women by making them be thin.”

Hewitt said there are many girls in the industry who have eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

“I know people who have gotten help for it,” she said. “But I know a lot more who know they have a problem and refuse help.”

Dennis Boyles, owner of IMI Talent and Modeling Agency in Cleveland, said in his 10 years in the business, he has only seen a few instances of women having eating disorders.

“A lot of it has to do with the market the woman is in,” he said. “Thankfully, I am in a market where companies are looking for realistic people.”

Because of this, Boyles said some of his most popular models are larger than a size six.

“In advertising, the goal is to have the person look like most people,” he said. “If the client likes the model’s look because it will help them market a product, they don’t care what her tag says.”

An inner battle

Boyles said he thinks a lot of the issues with models having eating disorders stem from an internal struggle, not pressure from the industry.

“It’s just like alcoholism,” he said. “You can’t tell someone to be an alcoholic, and you can’t tell someone to be anorexic.”

However, psychology graduate assistant Taryn Myers said there is a lot of pressure for women to be thin and meet an unreasonable standard the industry puts on them.

“There is this idea promulgated by society that to be thin means to be successful,” Myers said. “Unfortunately for models, the industry has made it such that that is the truth for them.”

Myers said women in general feel being just a few pounds thinner will help them attract attention from friends, romantic interests and associates in the business world.

“Women receive messages from family and peers saying they should be thinner,” she said. “And when they are thinner, they are praised for losing weight.”

Hewitt said if she could tell girls one thing before they start going to extreme measures to be thin, it would be that there are a million opportunities and jobs out there.

“You aren’t going to get everything you try out for,” she said. “But there is a modeling job specifically for you – the way you are, not needing to change.”

Contact features reporter Allison Tomei at [email protected].