Why Pictures like These Should Carry a Health Warning; from a Mother Whose Daughter Died of Anorexia, a Blistering Attack on Celebrities Who Seem Proud of Their Emaciated Bodies

Article excerpt

Byline: by Rosalind Ponomarenko-Jones, Frances Hardy

THERE they all are in the celebrity magazine Heat this week: a parade of stick-thin stars so emaciated they look as if the slightest pressure would snap them in two. 'The Rise Of The Celebrity Twiglets!' screams the headline, beneath a procession of skeletal young women.

The analogy is entirely appropriate. These women have no more substance than a cocktail snack. Indeed, their limbs are so denuded of flesh that they resemble the knobbly appendages of famine victims.

Who are they? Actually -- and significantly -- they are not identified by their achievements, merely by their appearance.

A gaunt, bony Eva Herzigova (no allusion to her modelling or films) declares unconvincingly: 'I've lost weight without really noticing -- I haven't dieted and I'm healthy.' Alongside her, Derry singer Nadine Coyle, whose legs are as fleshless as the prongs of a fork, attests: 'If anything, I've put weight on since the last Girls Aloud tour.'

A worryingly starved-looking Alexa Chung -- the TV presenter hailed as a style icon -- admits her weight is dwindling, but alleges it's because she 'hasn't got time' to go to the supermarket.

What is happening here? I believe the messages being sent out by such photographs are as complex as they are pernicious. Ostensibly, we are urged to be shocked by these images of women who seem to have whittled themselves away.

However, while the celebrity magazine headline says 'This is appalling', I believe an unwritten sub-text shrieks: 'Isn't it amazing that these women are so thin?' So skewed have our society's values become that there is now a terrible glamour about being preternaturally skinny.

And by focusing on their thinness -- to the exclusion of all else -- the publishers of such photos are feeding our dangerous obsession with weight. We have become a society fixated on diet: rare is the woman who eats unselfconsciously and without guilt.

How many of us agonise over whether to have a dessert or indulge in a slice of cake -- and then reproach ourselves for our lack of willpower when we've eaten it? Food is no longer a simple pleasure. It exerts a disproportionate influence on us. And for the superskinny celebrity, this fixation has become grotesquely exaggerated.

My real fear is that millions of impressionable young women will seek to emulate this new breed of 'twiglet' celebrities.

Small wonder that growing numbers of teenagers are falling prey to eating disorders, when role models in magazines exhibit their jutting bones and attenuated limbs while breezily declaring they've barely noticed their dangerously diminishing size.

Alarmingly, in the unattainable world of the super-rich celebrity the measure of what is an acceptable size is shrinking.

Four years ago, the death of size-zero model Luisel Ramos from heart failure during Uruguay's fashion week sparked a worldwide debate on the scandal of our starving models -- apparently she hadn't eaten for days when she arrived for her appearance on the runway -- and at the same time set an insidious new benchmark.

Since her death, the fashion industry has made half-hearted attempts to introduce 'real' women with curves and flesh on their bones on to the catwalk. So, now and then, we do see a properly rounded female form glowing with good health in fashion shows and magazines.

BUT I fear it is merely tokenism: for every size 12 woman on the catwalk or in the magazines read by millions of young women -- and Heaven help us, even this is below the average Irish dress size -- we see a dozen skeletal ones. So the 'real' women are the exception to a rule, which demands more and more freakish levels of slenderness.

The fashion industry has set a dangerous trend and celebrities are not only imitating it, but exceeding it. It cannot be long before we see clothes on the High Street labelled in minus sizes. …