A New Low.

Two days ago I was perusing my feed on Facebook when an image a friend/colleague posted stopped me in my tracks. I clicked on it to get a better look and was beside myself to see that this image of what I thought was a severely anorexic or sick woman was in fact an ad from Saint Laurent’s spring campaign.  Before I continue take a look:


To be honest, I almost didn’t believe it.  I knew that before I could write anything about it I had to confirm it was real first, even though the source of the Facebook image was a trusted one.  I have made the mistake of skipping this step before and learned my lesson from it. Sadly, I confirmed it yesterday by going to Barnes & Noble and seeing it in person in the February issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I don’t even know where to begin to describe my rage and disgust over this image.

But let’s start with this. There is a picture of me taken about two weeks before I was committed to a mental hospital for my anorexia that looks like this picture. Less glamorous, for sure, but the knobby knees, reed thin thighs and sunken eyes are the same. I was about 95 pounds and 5′ 9″ to put this model in perspective (if I could find it I would post it).  I am not saying definitively that she is sick, nor am I “thin shaming” anyone, but I AM suggesting that to portray this image as glamorous and high fashion is brutally irresponsible and dangerous. Yes, there are members of society who are naturally very thin or drastically underweight due to illness or factors beyond their control (like the fabulously inspiring Lizzie Velasquez), but that is not what is being presented here.  This is the kind of image that could (and will) be circulated on the bevy of pro-anorexia sites out there as an example of extreme thinness promoted and accepted by the fashion industry.  Even more heartbreaking is the idea that young girls everywhere, otherwise healthy girls, may see this during a time in their life when they are easily influenced and allow it to make them feel badly about their bodies. It could ignite a dark place inside one of them, a thought, a behavior, a pattern, that could spiral into something devastating. Just as it was ignited in me.

No, one ad will not cause someone to be anorexic, but our society’s  ideals and attitudes towards what is a beautiful body could.  No one could pinpoint what exactly it was that caused me to fall ill- I was never abused, neglected, bullied or tormented- I was just like any other young girl.  But one day I started comparing myself to others and thought maybe I should lose some weight. And then some more. And then even more. Until the prospect of having to eat a single strawberry would reduce me to hysterical sobs of fear. And this was during a time when models like this were not part of mainstream media- in fact, today the girls I admired on TV in the early 90’s would probably be considered “chubby”.  If we allow these kinds of images to become acceptable I am scared of what the future holds for young women- our daughters, nieces and grandchildren. THIS IS NOT OKAY.

Years ago I went to talk by the Council of Fashion Designers of America at Mass General’s Eating Disorders Program in which some famous designers made all sorts of claims about committing to using healthier models in an attempt to promote a more wholesome body image and protect the young models who feel forced to be a certain kind of drastically thin in order to get work.  Well, it seems those statements and assertions were not ones they took seriously.  This image had to go through SO MANY hands to be approved to run in Bazaar- the fashion house, their marketing department, the model management, PR people, the photographer, producers, magazine editors and publishers. This model was lit purposely to exaggerate her breathtaking thinness. The fact that this was PERMITTED to be published is flat out disgusting.  The fact that all these powerful people in the media could look at this and think “Yes, let’s put THIS out into the universe” is baffling.  To be in a women’s magazine is doubly insulting.

For all the progress that the fabulous pro-women ads from Dove and others out there have made, one like this can set us so many steps back.  I have no idea how we can affect change in the fashion industry, but I certainly hope that small efforts to stand up to things like this are a place to start.


  1. Shocking. Absolutely dreadful. As a mother of a curvy teenager (in other words, healthy) this outrages me. I have stopped buying any magazine that shows images like this or heavily photoshopped images, I dont want them in my house. I allow my daughter to see me naked so she can see a real shape (im a size 14), I deliberately seek out images of larger women to show her images other than those in fashion mags, I tell her to make sure she opens her eyes when she goes into public places so she can see we all come in different shapes and sizes but I cannot stop her from viewing things on the internet or buying magazines herself. When when when will these glossy magazines wake up to what they are portraying? Are any of them mothers to teen age daughters? I have made it my mission to get my daughter through her vulnerable teenage years loving herself for who and what she is. Im with you, this image is downright disgusting, a harsh word but it is how I feel about it too.

  2. 100% agreed, Erin. As a mother of two (naturally very thin) daughters, I see images like this and oh, how I worry how their perspective on what is beautiful and desirable is being colored. As their mother, I know it’s my responsibility to promote and inspire healthy body image but fashion/media sure doesn’t make it easy.

  3. I can’t think of any words to describe how this makes me feel. Thank you for sharing, not only this horrific image, but also your own story. Your honesty is so empowering and I really admire how difficult that must be. I hope YSL realizes what a terrible, terrible mistake they have made.

  4. Thank you for condemning this type of advertising, instead of condoning it. You are such a role model to girls and women of all ages.

  5. Thank you for pointing out what should be SO obvious to the fashion industry. In everything we do, we send messages to those around us. This speaks volumes as to their idea of beauty, which is (most likely) a young woman with physical and mental health issues…And. They. Don’t. Care. It is so very sad.

  6. This image is horrifying and completely unacceptable. Like another reader stated, thank you or condemning this image rather than condoning it. In my opinion it is completely irresponsible of Bazaar, and any other magazine, to run this advertisement and by running it, they are in a sense condoning this body image. And for what purpose? To stay in the good graces of a fashion house and it’s fashion industry darling designer? It really is a shame.

  7. Very disturbing but so well written Erin. You have the power to help others when so many “in power” don’t seem to care. Thanks for your insight and honesty.

  8. That image is highly disturbing. I have an 11 year old daughter who I worry about all the time. Already in 5th grade there are girls who talk about diets and how many calories something has in it. Our family is very active and she plays soccer and dances so we focus on food as fuel and being healthy. It sure feels like an uphill battle, though.
    Thank you for taking a stand against advertisements like this.

  9. Erin, you are so right. When I saw this picture I gasped. I definitely would not want my twelve-year-old daughter to see this! Thanks for articulating this in such a beautiful way. You are just terrific.

  10. Erin i applaud you. I read your blog every day because you not only have great talent but you are an amazing person. In this crazy world we tend to lose sight of what is real and what matters. We are always comparing ourselves to others and trick ourselves into believing that if only we were more or had more we would be more. ..It is a very dangerous mindset. Thank you for keeping it real.

  11. Erin thank you for bringing this ad to your readers attention. You are 100% correct. When will the CEO’s of these fashion houses be held responsible for these unhealthy and irresponsible placed images? Francesca Belletini, CEO of Saint Laurent, I’m talking to you – shame on you.

  12. Erin,
    Women like you CAN change this! Thank you for posting this because you can reach so many people. It is disturbing that this passed through so many hands and no one threw a red flag. Thanks for taking a stand!

  13. How awful of YSL and Harper’s. And they are nuts if they think this looks good. I have three daughters and am always worried that they will fall under the spell of anorexia. Erin, if there are any tips you have about talking to our kids about anorexia that would have helped you, please do let me know. Thank you so much for your honest and poignant post.

  14. This is startling! I have three daughters 19, 18 and 14 and I would be beside myself if this is what they thought was okay. Thank goodness they were startled too, I modeled when 19 and was told 112lbs needed to go to 102 and I did that. I was tired, occasionally faint feeling and thank goodness for my mother ,that career came to an abrupt end. I think a slim body can be healthy but emaciated is never okay! So happy you have brought this to people’s attention and I am glad you are healthy now too!

  15. Thank you for bringing attention to this and for sharing your perspective, of someone who has suffered through this terrible disease. I hope that Harpers Bazaar is ashamed of itself for allowing these images to be published and for Saint Laurent for promoting this as beauty. Hopefully, this can receive enough attention and negative press to make a difference.

  16. OMG – this photo is so disturbing I can hardly look at it! I’m stunned that anyone could see this picture and say “Yes! I want to buy YSL!” Thanks for sharing Erin.

  17. Anyone involved with bringing that photo into publication has no moral compass and should be ashamed. Thanks for shining light on this issue!

  18. Thanks so much for posting this. I cannot even believe this photo, nor can I understand how they could think it’s attractive or what would possess people to use an image like that. Thanks, too, for sharing about your own experience. My sister has gone through treatment for an eating disorder, and it is hell watching someone you love go through that. The standard that the media and fashion industry set for women is ridiculous. I’m actually returning to school to study nutrition in hopes of working with women to help them find freedom in this area and to live full, healthy (read: balanced) lives. Thanks for being a voice in this battle.

  19. So well said Erin, I applaud you. As I mentioned before my 8 year old daughter has claimed she is fat. It starts young and I will do everything in my power to make sure she realizes that this image is not one of health or glam. Thank you for your voice on this incredibly important subject. You speak from experience and I will gladly share your response – we shall shout it from the mountain tops!

  20. This is terrifying. And what’s more, she looks exhauted, weak and depressed. Nothing about this is beautiful. It’s just sad.

  21. I’m 32 and thank god over my insecurities over my body. I’m happy and healthy. But I have a 3.5 year old daughter who absorbs everything I say and do. That she will soon be off in the world and exposed to disgusting messages like this horrifies me. I want her to love herself. All of her self.

    The dark sadness this image portrays is just as shocking as the thinness of the model. Shame on them.

    Good for you for being such a strong voice for this issue.

  22. Totally agree. It’s horrible. The sickly-thin body, the pose – her head hanging down, and right above it, a big chandelier – it’s almost as if she’s hanging from the light fixture. I think this is done on purpose. So f’ing sick. What has this image got to do with beauty & fashion? Nothing. Did they do it on purpose to be controversial? I don’t get it.

  23. I think the most important point you make (among many) is the number of people who had to examine this image and approve it in order for it to get to the point where the masses see it. Each one said “Yep, this is great.” That is sad and wrong. There are so many people who have to wake up and understand the impact their decisions have!! As someone who struggles with eating issues as a teen, this is incredible disturbing. Thanks for shinning a light on this!

  24. As a mother of two young girls, this is very disturbing. I stopped getting these types of magazines years ago because I didn’t have extra time to read them, but I don’t think I’ll ever subscribe again mainly because as they get older I don’t want them flipping through images of what is considered an ideal figure. This model looks like someone in the concentration camps.

  25. It just makes me sad. I do love the positive healthy body images we see, but it’s the exception, alas.

  26. Erin, thank you for sharing your story. As for the image, I agree that it is the completely wrong message to send and am actually ripping it out of my copy of the magazine so that my daughters don’t catch sight of it. I hadn’t even cracked my copy yet, but after reading your blog post I grabbed it before one of my girls decided to go through my stack.

    Awful decisions here by YSL and Bazaar.

  27. Even if this girl is fit and healthy, which I struggle to believe,
    this is the body they think looks great in their clothes?
    Represents their customer base? Ridiculous.

  28. Erin, thanks so much for posting this. I think the best way that we can fight damaging messaging like this is to remain aware, and call it out for what it is when we see it, like you have here. I think all women and girls are susceptible to being lured into the trap of glamorizing unrealistic, and unhealthy standards, so you are really doing a great service as a public voice rejecting the status quo.

    I read your blog because I’m a complete design nerd, but also because I relate to so much to your outlook on life. Keep up the great work!!

  29. Just disgusting…so sad. Not only they pictured malnourished woman…they picture extremely young malnourish girls.
    I wonder what the heck are they thinking? I didn’t know a 30 something year old woman (who earned her way up and can finally afford a splurge) will related to adds like that when she buys a handbag.
    This doesn’t make ANY sense.

  30. Erin, Thank you for writing this!! Outrageous. Although I have never suffered with a true eating disorder – I certainly have done my fair share of disordered eating and struggled with body image issues. Thankfully – I see this image and I think “eek – poor girl” I think “too skinny” “sick” “sad.” These words aren’t said to put her down in any way. They just go to show my perception of what is good and healthy now vs. in my past. Since having my son two years ago I have struggled with my own body image quite a lot. Now pregnant with my second child – I’m already quite conscious of how I look so early on in this pregnancy. A comment was made to me by a family member last weekend, “next time I see you, you’re going to be really fat.” I just about lost it. I couldn’t believe someone would say something like that. It brought me right back to that feeling of wanting to be really skinny. But then I put everything into perspective and realized that what I see in the media is not the way I want to be. I want to be healthy and active and that’s where it ends. Thank you again for writing this post – I think it’s up to each and every one of us to teach ourselves and our kids what is important. We will always be bombarded by things like this in the media and I commend you for calling them out on it publicly!!

  31. Erin, I popped on over to your blog, as I do everyday and low and behold I saw that image. My mouth literally fell open. I thought, “you have got to be kidding”? In what Universe is this OK?? I personally don’t care the reasoning behind why the girl is the way she is (not that I am unfeeling). What I do care about is that an image like this was even thought of being Ok in anyones Universe. Good Lord! Thanks so much for outing crap like this. Until enough voices cry out that it ISN’T OK then nothing will change. I have never and will never understand the mind of “high fashion houses”. Don’t get me wrong I love the fantasy aspect of fashion like the next gal, but really, I will never understand a photo or campaign like this. DISGUSTING!! Thanks as always.

  32. I debated whether to leave a comment while reading this, because looking at this image brought me to tears. I also spent time battling serious anorexia during my teens, and while I’m much healthier now, images like this can still trigger something deep inside me that causes me to question my now healthy physique. I hate that an image like this can still percolate those insecurities that I’ve worked so hard to address for so long. However, what I think I may hate even more, is that I know that right now some girl is tearing out this image from Bazaar and sticking it on her closet door or bathroom mirror to serve as a constant motivator not to eat that next meal. Thank you for exposing this type of wrongful advertising and making the point hit home by telling your own story. I’m sure I’m not the only one that this resonates with on a very personal level.

  33. Agree completely! I actually wrote briefly last night about a memory from ballet class where a girl complimented me because my thighs didn’t touch. I remember being baffled, having never given that any thought or value before. I wrote about it because I saw a fantastic 3-minute documentary by Dove about Real Beauty that everyone should see. All these years later, my body is completely different and much thicker than when I was a 15-year old dancer, but my legs have carried me through several marathons and while my thighs touch, those legs are strong!! There needs to be a new, mainstream dialogue about beauty and I think Dove is doing a great job. YSL and these publishers should be ashamed.

  34. I am glad you called our Bazaar on this image as well. I remember that CFDA talk and while they did talk about wanting to put healthy girls on the runways and in ads everyone seemed to pass the buck. The designers said the agencies didn’t send healthy girls. The magazines blamed the designers and the agencies, but if you print it in your magazine, you are responsible for it. Bazaar (Hearst Media) may get great ad revenue from Saint Laurent, but they have the power to reject that money or that image and say it is not appropriate for their image, company and reader. Where will the buck stop?!?! I hope this post gets someone’s attention at Hearst and other companies. We will probably (unfortunately) be seeing this same ad campaign in Vogue or Elle.

  35. disturbing and sad don’t even begin to touch this ad. and what’s more sad is that no one thought about this poor girl, who may be very young – under 18…where is her protection?? who’s looking out for her, and how many other girls are being coerced into looking like this, being told that it makes them beautiful???

    I showed this to my nearly teen daughter and asked what she thought about it. She believes it to be gross, and feels very bad for this girl.

    Erin, if you write a letter to Saint Laurent or Bazaar, I would totally add my name to it. This is not okay. Can we even do anything about it??

  36. I agree completely. All shapes and sizes are beautiful, but the fashion industry should be promoting a healthy look. There has been a lot of focus on the healthcare debates over the past few years, with a lot of pressure on the FDA and the food industry to cater their brands toward a healthier, cleaner lifestyle. However, the fashion industry is a huge culprit and I think they get away with a lot of their bad behavior for the sake of “art”. I recently picked up a copy of Glamour at the airport and was happily shocked to see a focus on feminism and recapturing the power of how we are portrayed in the media. It was REFRESHING to read a fashion focused magazine that had respect for women, rather than exploit and corrupt them.

  37. If we want this type of statement to stop I truly believe we have to speak with our wallets by not purchasing the magazines where these images are published and not spending our hard earned dollars on the clothing, handbags, cosmetics, etc…offered by companies who send out such disordered messages.

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