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Skinny Minnie? Our Culture's Bizarre Obsession With Stick-Thin Women

An impossibly thin Minnie Mouse shows that the assault on healthy self-image continues. But so does the pushback.

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Whether Gaga’s new admission and campaign is helpful or harmful or a mixture of both, the fact that so many celebrities are admitting eating disorders--and the way those eating disorders are discussed in public-- shows how far we have come and how far we need to go. As Katie J.M. Baker notes,

These stars are almost always women, and they are almost always "better" by the time they make a public statement. They are also almost always slender. Just this week, Katie Couric admitted that she had "wrestled with bulimia all through college, and for two years after that." Kelly Clarkson has also talked about her struggle with bulimia: "One of my guy friends caught on to [my eating disorder], and I just felt so ashamed and embarrassed," she said. "I literally went cold turkey and snapped out of it." Ashlee Simpson and Snooki have both said their parents helped them quit starving themselves. Brandy said she was miserable as a teenage popstar and was "not eating properly, not eating at all, diet pills, regurgitating, and all of these things that girls do."

The problem with posing these behavioral and mental problems--which deserve serious attention--as “things that girls” do, as a painful but ritual part of growing up, is that we normalize the obsessive desire to be thin as just an ordinary phase women go through--rather than something we need to combat aggressively at the wider cultural level.

Still, this candor isn't all bad, and other encouraging signs can be found on television.

At the New York Times this weekend, Alessandra Stanley observes a changing trend on TV of actresses and female comedians who don’t care much about their weight, one way or another. This, she says, is a real revolution:

And that is what’s so seditious about comedians like Ms. Dunham and Ms. Kaling: Their weight is no big deal. They can be a little defensive when people ask about their extra few pounds, but they don’t let it deter or define them. To prepare for a blind date Mindy changes her outfit, not her dress size. Ms. Dunham has Hannah prance around her apartment in her underwear, unself-conscious.

That’s ultimately the goal for pushing back against toxic body culture, no matter what form it takes. Instilling a lack of self-consciousness, an ability for young people to move their bodies through the world with joy and not subject themselves to endless scrutiny. Lady Gaga’s Body Revolution movement and the petitioners taking on Skinny Minnie have the right idea.


Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at

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