Australian Miss Universe finalist Stephanie Naumoska, 19, is stirring global controversy for her thin frame and defending herself against anorexia accusations to Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America after the UK's Daily Mail picked up on the story last week (ironically, garnering more press than Rachel Finch, who won the contest).
Naumoska told Sawyer, "I've always been naturally tall [she's 5'11"] and naturally slim, so, for me, it's just normal...I've never been anorexic, never been bulimic, don't have any kind of eating disorder, I'm not malnourished, underfed...I eat six small regular meals a day and nutritional meals...I don't deprive myself of anything; I believe you can have everything as long as it's in moderation." (Note: She looks apprehensive when Sawyer shows her a plate of food).
"I feel fine; I feel great. I don't feel malnourished... if I was, my skin would be suffering, my hair would be suffering, I wouldn't have any energy to enter pageants or to be a model... I would be lying to myself if I said there wasn't pressure in the modelling industry, but I have such a supportive family and supportive friends that I would never let myself get to a stage... I think that I'm a positive role model for girls out there because I live a healthy, active lifestyle and I advocate other girls around the world to do the same... I want to defend all the skinny girls out there, all the skinny men, all the celebrities, all the people out there who get criticised [for] their appearance. I don't think it's fair because there are people out there who are naturally skinny and naturally slim like myself and I don't think it was fair that I was judged by the whole entire world based on a photo and my appearance...a role model shouldn't be judged by their appearance but rather by their actions or their lifestyle."
Amy Odell of New York Magazine notes: "It's not fair for so much attention to be placed on any 19-year-old girl. Being 19 is hard enough without the world staring at a photo of you in a swimsuit. But also, if Stephanie didn't want to be judged on her appearance, why did she enter a beauty pageant? And why is she a model? Surely she could have made a better case for herself and the skinnies she's trying to save."
My thoughts? It takes one to know one, so there's little doubt in my mind that Stephanie has an eating disorder of some description. On listening to Stephanie, my husband said, "That's just how you used to sound and defend yourself." Nicole Richie has trotted out a similar, well-rehearsed defence. Unfortunately for Stephanie, pictures do speak louder than words. Height, ethnicity, BMI, weight history and healthy food intake aside, if there's a general consensus that you are too thin – that you are not looking your best – then you probably are. And you need help.
It is unfair to judge, of course, and there are many naturally thin women who are ostracised unfairly, but Stephanie makes me uneasy: she even admits to feeling pressure to stay slim. While she may be eating, I can bet you the portions are super-small, with an emphasis on "healthy" foods (veggies, fruit, perhaps a little protein), and that she overcompensates with exercise (i.e. her "active, healthy lifestyle").
At 19, even at 5'11", a girl should be putting weight on her hips, butt, tummy and thighs in preparation for baby-bearing. She may have "always been naturally thin", but young women simply don't have the same bodies as their pre-pubescent selves. Sadly, when you work in a field like modelling (or, heck, the media), as in Hollywood, your perceptions of what looks good/healthy/normal can become warped.
What's more, by publishing Stephanie's image so widely (TV, internet, magazines, newspapers...um, blogs), I think the media are doing impressionable young women a serious disservice, even if there's reason for discussion. I can just see Stephanie making the next round of tabloid glossies. Not that publishing pictures of the emaciated Lindsay Lohan, Victoria Beckham and Antonia Kidman are any different. The media is certainly not doing women with eating issues any favours.
On a more positive note, Chloe Lattanzi – daughter of Olivia Newton John and a recovered anorexic – appears on the cover of the May edition of The Australian Women's Weekly with her mum. The singer tells the magazine, "I know the stigma is always going to be there. Not only am I Chloe Lattanzi, daughter of Olivia Newton John, but I am always going to be known as Chloe Lattanzi, anorexic. As proud as I am, it's only a part of who I am."
Sadly, Stephanie Naumoska is likely going to experience the same stigma. Let's hope her supportive family and friends continue to rally around her, love her... and perhaps encourage her to eat a little more food.
Girl With a Satchel