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Our Thinness Obsessed Culture Is Destroying Women

One day, we will look back on a time when women aspired to be Belsen-thin with the incomprehension we feel for Chinese foot-binding. But how do we get there?

When did it die? When did our collective disgust at the sickness and sicked-up stomach juices that fuel the fashion industry get replaced by an oh-so-ironic appreciation? When did even most liberals and feminists stop snubbing it and start wrestling their way to the rope-line in search of a goody bag?

London Fashion Week starts today, a seven-day parade of the Emperor's Designer Clothes, made of tinfoil or feathers or rubber. A few years ago, I was sent backstage to cover this event -- and it took more than a few London Un-Fashion Weeks of my own to recover from what I saw. I was forced to peer for the first time into the industry that is making so many of my female friends ill.

At the end of the cat-walk, there stood a parade of young women who looked like they were about to collapse. On camera, fashion models look worryingly thin. In the (non-)flesh, they look so emaciated that the only other place I have ever seen people like them is reporting on African famines. Their eyes are glazed, shut-down because they have no fuel to run on. These coked-out jangles of gristle and bone were smeared with cosmetics, squeezed into a dress design that appeared to be made of rubbish bags, and pushed out to shimmy down the cat-walk, to be applauded by the likes of Kate Moss and Hugh Grant. When they stumbled back, they appeared faint and listless, and leaned against a wall, looking like they needed an IV drip.

The fashion world claims two sets of victims. The first are the women who it uses as models, for a brief window, before discarding them. They are on average 25 percent below a normal, healthy woman's weight. We know how they achieve this, because many former models say so: they starve themselves. They live on water and lettuce for weeks. When they fall below a Body Mass Index of twelve, they start to consume their own muscles and tissues. Several models have dropped dead from starvation after success at fashion shows in the past few years.

But there is a broader circle of victims, far beyond the cat-walk's cat-calls. They are ordinary women who are bombarded with these highly manufactured images of "beauty" every day, and react either by feeling repulsive or trying out semi-starvation for themselves. A Harvard University study found that 80 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies, and only 1 percent are "completely happy." Men, by contrast, were broadly happy with how they look: the accepted idea of male hotness is so broad it can range from 79 year old Sean Connery to twenty-stone James Corden. We are now living through an epidemic of female anorexia and bulimia, with over 50 million victims in Europe and the US. How many women do you know who are happy with the way they look?

The fashion industry promotes this sick vision coldly and joylessly. The recent documentary The September Issue -- following the production of Vogue's biggest edition of the year -- had one great revelation. Anna Wintour - the magazine's editor, and the most powerful woman in fashion -- is a brittle, sullen woman who appears to take no pleasure in anything, and only seems to show any vigour when she is being cruel to those around her. Presented with a picture of a stick-thin woman, she announces she "looks pregnant." Presented with a man with a stomach, she reacts with incomprehension, as if fat is a revolting glitch in the human genome. She is the cruelty of the fashion world rendered into (not very much) flesh. She promotes the use of fur, indifferent to the cruelty to animals it involves. She promotes creepily thin models -- is she indifferent to the cruelty to women it involves?

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