Friday, September 17, 2010

Tyra Banks and Model Health

Ok, I admit it. I watch America’s Next Top Model. Not proud of it, but you know what they say: admitting you have a problem is the first step toward getting better. And Anamaria, the contestant who was eliminated this week, has a problem that she refuses to accept is a problem.

We all know that models are expected to be tall and skinny. Well, apparently not too tall, as contestant Ann (not to be confused with Anamaria) can tell you: she’s 6’2” and was repeatedly rejected as being too tall, so apparently models have to be between 5’10’ and 6’1”. But I don’t want to talk about height issues, as you don’t choose how tall you grow. I want to talk about weight. We all know that models are expected to be rail thin; hence the jokes like, “She’s angry because she’s hungry!” or “Oh, girl, eat a cookie!” or “The other day, my roommate – the model – asked me if I wanted to split a grape.”

All the girls on this cycle of ANTM are thin, some thin enough to make me worry as a physician. But the fashion industry wants them thin, right? So you would think that a model, or aspiring model, would get the clue when her peers and potential employers tell her she’s too thin.

Yes, the other models and the judges all told Anamaria she was too thin. During the discussion of the photo shoot for judging, Tyra Banks said, “This is your best photo, because in the photo you are hiding your body. The other photos made us uncomfortable.”

Anamaria’s response? “Maybe you’re not used to it, but I am. I like my body.”

First, as a contestant in any competition, that is a stupid remark to make. Second, if you are going to be a model, the hope is that your pictures will be seen by millions of people, and initially they will also not be used to it. And if someone who knows what it’s like to look at waifish models tells you they’re uncomfortable with your body weight, so will those other millions. And thus ends your being seen by millions of people.

So Anamaria was dinked. Her parting comment? “I like being this thin. If I get rejected by a lot of agencies because I’m too thin, maybe I’ll think about gaining some weight.”

I don’t believe her. I think she has an eating disorder and an unhealthy body image that will only be changed if there is an intervention. Modeling agencies may reject her without ever telling her why, or they may make up an excuse, or give another true and valid reason for rejecting her rather than tell her to eat the damn cookie. In the end, I think she will always walk away from each rejection saying, “Well, what do they know?”

To an extent she is right: what do they know? They’re part of the problem, and they err on the side of “too thin.” Someone needs to take that girl to a doctor who can give her objective measures of what is too thin and what is healthy. While there is no one parameter that fits all individuals, common indicators include the BMI (body mass index) and TBF (total body fat). The first method is the least accurate but the easiest to calculate, the second is more difficult but a better indicator.

BMI is basically a way to say, “How fat (or thin) am I compared to my height?” It is calculated by dividing your weight by the square of your height (in kilograms and meters, respectively). There are online calculators that will do this for you automatically, in kilos or pounds and inches or centimeters. There is also an app for that on iPod touch and iPad. As for percentage of body fat, there are machines available at Brookstone or Sharper Image and probably a lot of other stores), as well as bathroom scales at Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond, that will measure your body’s electrical resistance and calculate how much body fat you have.

Women should never have less than 10% body fat. Men may go lower, but still should not go below about 4%. Anyone below these figures will have heath problems, and a woman who wants to have a baby will not be successful below 15% body fat (18% or higher is suggested). Still, it’s hard to measure total body fat, as the machines currently available are inaccurate and most people don’t have them on hand, so I like to use BMI, and a healthy BMI is between 20 and 25 (some people say as low as 18; I don't like it, but there it is).

SOOOoo...A model, at 5’10” tall with a BMI of 18 should weigh at least 56.9 kg or 125 pounds. Bare minimum. Ideally, that same woman should weigh 153 pounds (BMI 22).

If Anamaria asks, “What do they know?” I respond: Tyra knows. She herself was accused of being “FAT” by the tabloids in 2008 when Australian paparazzi snapped unflattering pictures of her, reporting a 40 pound weight gain. Tyra set the record straight by going on TV in her bathing suit and admitting she had gained 10 pounds, reaching 160 pounds. At 5’9” tall, that means she has a body mass index of 23.75. Tyra seems to know what is healthy, and what is not.

So when Tyra, who is judging whether or not you can be a good model, tells you that you are too thin, think about it.