Girl Talk: Body image (again!)

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,, 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.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


jess said...

One of the more positive skinny-to-healthy body transformations I can remember on TV is on 'Make Me A Supermodel', when the top 3 contestant Courtney started with a similar body to Stephanie's (hip bones jutting out etc) and finished the series with a much healthier body - no more bones sticking out, and her face looked much fuller and much more attractive. I was originally annoyed when she got through to the final stage because I thought she was too skinny (the judges also made a note of this), but seeing her transformation (gaining weight instead of losing - gasp!) was good.

Maxie said...

i think it's massively hypocritical that anyone in the media thinks it's ok to speculate on this poor girl's health, simply because she's thin.
If she were a size 16, and defending her curves by saying she ate well and exercised, no one would dare (publicly) accuse her of fooling herself into believing her own rhetoric.

Why is it therefore ok for anyone, yourself included Erica, to speculate about her health?

Sure, you might have said the same things when you were going through your own weight issues, but that means little.

In fact, it says more about your own inability to accept that her defence might actually be valid, when yours wasn't.

Anyone who was under similar attack would say the same thing, does that mean thy're all in denial?

If overweight people want society to accept them for what they are, they need to give naturally skinny people the same courtesy.

That's not to say this girl doesn't have a problem, but my point is - it is no business of ours either way: if it only affects you if you choose to let it affect you.

I think the more we push little girls into believing it's not natural to be skinny, the more we're inadvertantly projecting weight isues onto them. Perhaps if we spent more energy teaching our girls that everyone is different, this kind of crap wouldn't be such a problem.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Amy O'Dell's article. If you want to be a role model judged by your actions and not your appearance, why would you enter what is essentially a beauty pageant?

Kate said...

Maxie, if you're entering a pageant in which you are required to strut around in a bikini, surely you're inviting comment on your body?!

Anyway, on another note, that NW 'skinny and miserable vs curvy and happy' coverline is one of the most offensive, and dumbest, I've seen in ages.

PM said...

I think that both overweight and underweight people are going to be subject to health issues and society needs to be aware of this. If she was just a girl on the street, then no, it would not be any of our business to speculate about her weight/health, but she is a self-proclaimed 'role-model' in the spotlight and thus health issues do need to be addressed. Perhaps she has been undereating her entire life and considers this to be 'normal'. Whatever the case, she has a BMI of 16.8. Anything under 17.5 is considered anorexic.

I am also recovering from an eating disorder and I agree with Erica. I sounded just like her when I was in denial. It took a long time for me to readjust to normal eating habits. An 800 calorie day felt like a massive binge. Even now I'm struggling to eat around a 1000 calories a day and feeling bloated and disgusting with all the food inside me. Yet, I keep telling myself that a girl of my height and my level of physical activity should be eating at least 1600 calories a day to maitain weight. The point is, once you get used to something, it feels normal. So, back when I was eating between 300-500 calories a day, I felt full. I was 'eating' several meals a day - it just so happened that those meals consisted of egg whites, vegetables, tofu, sugar free jelly and oranges or berries. And I was working out at the gym for an hour every day (fuelled by sugar free red bull and a general sense of anxiety) so I was living a "healthy" active lifestyle, eating "healthy" regular meals and slowly killing myself.

Erica - I just want to say that I love your blog. It's really helped with my recovery, in the sense that I see you as a role model. You're seem so healthy and well-adjusted (I love your 'what I had for breakfast' posts) and - I know this will probably sound shallow - but you give me hope that it is possible to recover from an ED and still be slender. Right now, I know I need to be eating a certain amount of food, but all the fat seems to be going to my belly and its very scary. The doctors tell me that my body will eventually adjust and redistribute the weight and I probably wouldn't believe them if I didn't have you as living proof - so thank you. Bless :)

Luiza said...

I agree that speculating on a public figure's appearance is somewhat unfair, but I think when someone is a model - ie. they have put themselves in the public eye as an example of ideal female beauty - then I think it's perfectly fine for us to say: are you ill? And also to point out what a ridiculous ideal it is.

I used to be super thin when I was 19. Not as thin as this girl (I'm not as tall) but enough so that people assumed I had an eating disorder. I didn't - at all. I ate whatever I wanted - I was just slow to develop. It was kind of annoying to have people make up rumours behind my back, but I could live with it. There are worse things.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

PM, please feel free to contact me via email ( to discuss.


Maxie said...

To clarify, i myself think perhaps she's scarily thin, and i think the recovering anorexics here have a great point about the things they used to say to delude themselves into thinking they were healthy.

however my point is that it would be incredibly un-PC for people to accuse a size 16-18 plus size model of being similarly deluded about her own "healthy, active lifestyle".

For example, i know an overweight woman who constantly tells whoever wil listen how healthy and active she is, when i know for a fact she drives everywhere, uses a treadmill to walk for 30 minutes twice a week barely working up a sweat, and whose diet consists of peanut butter turkish toast for breakfast every day, takeaway for lunch, and fatty, creamy pastas, potatoes and other junk for dinner.

Healthy and active? I don't think so....
It seems that we're all so incredibly protective of the feelings of overweight women - we tell them to love their bodies despite the fact their sedentary lifestyle is killing them slowly, and then we don't give skinny people the same coutesy and respect.

There is a double standard, that's all i'm sayin'!

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note - Chloe Lattanzi (and anyone else with these insidious diseases) would probably tell you herself: There is no such thing as a "recovered" anorexic... just someone who is managing better.