France has recently passed a law which means that photoshopping commercial images without disclosure will be illegal as of October 1st. This means that if a model is made to look thinner or curvier in photos without a warning label that indicates that it was edited, the owner of the edited images could be fined €37, 500 (£33,000) or up to 30 percent of the price it took to produce the advertisement.
Marisol Touraine, former health minister who introduced the new law, said it was created “to avoid promoting inaccessible ideals of beauty and to prevent anorexia among young people.” This is huge! What will this mean for those battling anorexia or bulimia? What could it have meant for me?
Most eating disorders all have one thing in common- the need for control. Whether it’s the result of a lack of control at home, needing some sort of consistency, losing someone, or rejection, being able to control something, no matter how small, makes you feel like you’ve regained your power in some way. For my 14 year old self, the thing I was able to control was food.
I remember when I was first interested in becoming a model. Seeing the statuesque physiques, the flawless skin, the glamour, I wanted to look like them, be them. But I didn’t see any girl who looked like me, and I felt like I wouldn’t be good enough. I told my mom I wanted to be a vegetarian, in an attempt to begin restricting myself from food without causing too much attention from my already health conscious, sometimes vegetarian eating family.
I’ve always been pretty slim and had a pretty big appetite. Eating was something I loved to do, and never considered it as a “too much” thing. But I was insanely insecure, and things at home weren’t great. I craved that need for having some sort of control in my life, even though it was self-sabotage. I trained my mind to believe I was overweight, reciting hateful things to myself so I could actually go through with starving myself. Sounds absolutely mental, I know. I thought so, too. But I didn’t care. Your words are powerful, and if you tell yourself something long enough, you’ll believe it.
I literally taught myself to hate everything about myself. My skin complexion, hair, body, personality… they all seemed like flaws. It came from a place of needing control of course, but also wanting to look like the models I would see in the huge collections of Vogue issues that I would beg my mother to buy me.
I would come home after school, take off my clothes except for my undies, weigh myself, look at my body, and then binge eat for an hour. After, I’d look at my body and weigh myself again. It was compulsive; I had to do it, like it was programmed. When that was done, I’d look at my favorite fashion blogs online to keep me focused on staying skinny. I believed that if I maintained how skinny I had become, then there would be no room for criticism when the time came for me to actually model.
I was about 5’7/5’8, and had maintained a weight of 100lbs for a year. Ironically, I made a promise to myself to never go below that, as to prevent myself from getting further and further sucked into anorexia. I would constantly catch colds or the flu because my immune system was weakened from lack of nutrients. My thick bra length hair thinned and would fall out during class. I was constantly in a state of anxiety, thinking someone would think I wasn’t skinny enough, even though the most I had ever weighed was 111lbs. It was my own inner voice making me believe I wasn’t good enough. It was the disease. The doubt. The hurt.
I would take in any criticism that I heard and internalize it, feeding the disorder and making it stronger. People would say how much I looked like a model and it would make me feel justified for doing starving myself all day, wearing two layers of spanx under my clothes, obsessing over calories, and binging on food for an hour. I was always exhausted. My skin lost its vibrancy. My bones hurt and would crack. I was weak, both physically and mentally.
It was a different time then- for me and for fashion. It was 2009. There weren’t many models of color. There were a few, but none that made me feel like I was being represented. There weren’t body positivity advocates like Diana Veras, or Barbie Ferreira. Just the unrealistic ideals that models had to follow in order to make it in this cut throat industry. Ideals that I had also adopted.
As embarrassing as it sounds, 14-year-old me used to think that models actually looked “perfect” in real life as they did in magazines, commercials, and shows. Their thick eyebrows and flawless faces. I didn’t know photoshop existed, or that models bodies were often modified, and their skin complexion altered. And that’s the problem- most young girls may not know if a model was photoshopped. That molded the way I viewed beauty (in other people as well as my own), my blackness, and my body.
I wanted to stop. I was afraid of who I was becoming and where I was headed. Fortunately, I had confident older cousins to look up to, which ultimately helped me make the change. Since then, I’ve gotten healthier, found a new passion for nutrition, and I am now a working model in the industry. This law is so important because this means that maybe, just maybe the illusion of perfection will be shattered, and girls and boys will be able to see that perfection doesn’t exist.
Written by Teresa Johnson