Stopping Anorexia: An Open Letter to the President of France @fhollande

Dear President Francois Hollande,

I want to start by thanking you for caring enough about women’s wellbeing to make changes in France’s policies. Banishing pro-anorexia websites and not allowing anorexic models to walk your nation’s runways could help minimize the epidemic of body-hate and responsive self-harm that runs so rampant. I’m also grateful for the conversations your campaign to stop anorexia has spurred, and feel compelled to offer my own thoughts.

I realize I’m one voice amid countless, and it’s likely this won’t even reach you. For this reason, I’m sharing this letter publicly, with hopes its message might make a positive difference—if not for a country or industry, then for someone.

These issues are dear to my heart. I modeled for years, and nearly died of anorexia while working in Paris. I’ve since fully recovered, and spent over 8 years as a nutritionist, offering dietary therapy for people struggling with eating disorders and related issues. Now, as an experienced health writer, radio host and public speaker, I routinely interview experts in psychology and medicine, as well as women who’ve overcome severe self- and body- shame. As someone who can speak from multiple sides of the body-shaming epidemic, I thought my insight might prove helpful.

Real beauty quote

On BMI as the Determining Factor

Others have expressed concerns about your new law, prohibiting anyone from hiring a model with a below healthy BMI. I share those concerns. (For those who aren’t familiar, Body Mass Index is a tool used to determine body fat content based on weight and height.) BMI is sadly inaccurate as a measure of health for many people, and I imagine many models will find ways to falsify their results.

Secondly, I’ve known models who were tall and lanky naturally, to the point of being bullied in their youth. Modeling gave them a sense of empowerment; finally, they weren’t being ridiculed for their atypical thinness, but celebrated. These women would undoubtedly fail the “healthy” BMI test. Ostracizing naturally thin women isn’t right.

Many women with eating disorders, including models, partake in dangerous tactics to maintain a slimmer physique—yet aren’t underweight by BMI standards.

In some ways, focusing on “the numbers” perpetuates the damaging notion that they matter most.

It’s understandable why you and your associates have taken this route, given the fact that anorexia diagnostics are based on such numbers. (They shouldn’t be, in my opinion.) But I side with others who’ve suggested alternate means of determining models’ wellness, such as thorough health exams. While helpful, however, I don’t think such measures would suffice.

More Effective Steps Toward Positive Change

Attempting to regulate the health of models, but still allowing the standards of thinness over all to carry on, won’t solve this epidemic. The standards need to change. While this is a huge task, it’s doable, in my opinion. Here are some powerful steps that would help:

♦ Require fashion shows and magazines to depict a broad range of body shapes and sizes, as well as ages.

♦ Encourage fashion designers to create clothing for those shapes, sizes and ages.

♦ Don’t merely show women seducing cameras in editorial shoots. Show them working, creating art, raising kids, being human.

♦ Require medics and other health/safety measures at fashion shows and photo shoots. (Show models that their safety and wellness matters as much as that of Hollywood actors.)

♦ Prohibit modeling agents from making harsh comments about models’ weight.

Placing the pressure on those who hire models actually puts more pressure on the models themselves. If someone had landed in jail for hiring me when I was anorexic, I’m not sure I would have forgiven myself—and most women with anorexia are already crippled with shame.

One of the most important ways we can all contribute to a world that empowers, rather than shuns, women is by embracing ourselves.

I’ve personally boycotted fashion shows, publications and work I find de-powering. (The narrow definitions of “beauty” were a major reason I quit modeling, even though I had an ongoing career after healing.) I’ve stopped saying anything negative about my body, which has cultivated more positive thoughts. I’ve embraced my sexuality—a lack of which is another issue underlying many women’s body hate. And I’ve learned to pursue my passions, to stop living up to anyone else’s standards, knowing that in doing so, I can live a happier and more meaningful, impactful life.

Here’s hoping that no matter what efforts you and your administration prioritize moving forward, more women will start questioning whether those “extra” pounds are worth the time, tumult and energy making ourselves smaller requires—and that living largely means recognizing the existing real-beauty inherent in ourselves.

Sincerely,

August McLaughlin

A note to other readers: I’ve included President Hollande’s Twitter handle in the title, in case you’d like to use the share button to help alert him of this post. Regardless, thanks for reading!

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27 Comments

  1. A wonderful piece celebrating not only France’s choice for improved health practices, but your own journey, which could only be described as hellish, by an outsider. Proud of you. August!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for offering some ideas about what could REALLY make a difference. The impetus behind the BMI-based policing is noble, but I agree that it may have unintended consequences. And thanks for being a voice on this issue!

    Reply
    • Cheers, Audrey. Glad the ideas struck you! There’s much good intention out there when it comes to managing eating disorders, but the whole system could use some tweaks. IMO, more effective changes could help us all. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Reblogged this on and commented:
    An exceptional “letter” regarding the “Eating Disorders”. This issue is being more frequently in children – not just teens! Read and PASS IT ON!

    Reply
  4. Wonderful post. Like you, I was pleased to see France taking steps, but I worried that by focusing on a number, those whose bodies naturally fall below the number (and there will be a few who do) would be punished whereas those who fall within the range may still be engaging in risky practices to lose weight. But at least it’s a start. May other steps follow, like those you’ve listed above.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Carrie! There are also ways to “fake” a healthy BMI, which I purposefully didn’t explore here. So glad more light’s being brought to these issues, if for sad reasons.

      Reply
  5. Jean Franzblau

     /  April 6, 2015

    Hi August,

    Your writing is blowing me away. The Rivetor blog and picture is fantastic! It feels like you’re everywhere at the same time. I’m just so touched by all you’re doing.

    I wanted to touch bases with you about the GB book. You mentioned a soft and hard deadline of April 15th and May 1st. May I send my first pass to youby April 15th with full knowledge that I may need to do some rewriting? Then I could complete re-writes by May 1st. Is that okay?

    Just want to make sure I’m timing my projects correctly.

    Thanks for letting me know!

    Jean

    Reply
  6. When I heard on the news about the new French law, I immediately thought, “August is gong to be so happy about this!” It is a huge step, but you are right, the BMI is not the best standard. Still movement in the right direction!

    Reply
  7. August, your honesty in your writing and speaking has helped a lot of women embrace their true selves. When I saw this announcement on the news this morning, I immediately thought of you and your messages to women. Thank you for being our representative.

    Reply
  8. You know, when I read about this one of the first things I thought of was… Great! But what about those who are naturally slender? Should they be prohibited from the ability to work simply because their genetics and metabolism make it difficult to gain weight? There’s got to be a happy medium. Glad you addressed that!

    Reply
    • Exactly, Kitt! The changes need to be more about health, which requires broadening the beauty standards to feature more variety. It’s the spice of life for good reason! 🙂

      Reply
  9. This post and letter is phenomenal, August! This is not only an open letter to a President. It’s a reminder to women in general that they shouldlike themselves no matter how they are.
    I am glad I read this today. You are an ambassador for us girls, August!!
    Thank you!!

    Reply
  10. Reblogged this on Musings of an Art Therapist/Artist and commented:
    very good points.

    Reply
  11. This is a great letter and eminently sensible! Congrats on getting into the HuffPo with it, good stuff. There’s no question in my mind that much of the pressure these days on women – especially – to conform to a specific ‘shape’ or ‘look’ is driven by a brew of not just distorted social ideation but also commercial enterprise – each driving the other in a vicious spiral that basically disempowers women while enriching a small number of businesses. The French initiative is a start but, as you say, more needs to be done, and it’s a general health thing.

    If we look back through history, this sort of thing has been a general accompaniment to human societies – but today, like everything else, it’s been industrialised and pushed to levels that would have been impossible 200 years ago. Couple that with the rise of personal disposable income and – well, we can see what’s happened.

    (Should also add that BMI is a rubbish measure for men too – for instance, New Zealand’s All Blacks are stunningly fit, but by BMI standards, are ‘obese’ owing to muscle mass weighing more than fat – go figure…)

    Reply
    • Excellent points, particularly on industrialization pushing these pressures to extremes, Matthew. I really appreciate the thoughtful remarks!

      So true about BMI not working well for guys. My husband comes out at nearly obese, and he’s simply strong and active.

      Reply
  12. This is a beautiful piece. I suffered from anorexia and bulimia for 12 years, and know the pain. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this!!!!

    Reply
    • I can’t tell you what those words mean from someone who understands the illness from the inside, Jana. Then again, you probably know! 🙂 Much gratitude and wishes for continued health.

      Reply
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