Dutch fashion model Anandon Marchildon won her lawsuit against a modeling agency who dismissed her, saying her 36.25-inch derriere was two centimeters larger than they say it had been before, making her unsuitable for work. The case really wasn't about her expanded girth but about whether the company, which had taken over another agency, was obligated to retain the other agency's contracts. After two years of litigation, during which time Ms. Marchildon took up work as a cabinet-maker, Netherlands courts decided yes, the new agency should have kept her.
The case, however, elicits ire because it raises the question, "Who you callin' FAT?" The five-foot-eleven-inch 25-year-old, as winner of the fourth round of Holland's Next Top Model, had been guaranteed a three-year, $98,000 contract, but was axed after she'd earned only about $13,000, when the Modelmasters agency was bought out by another, Elite Model Management.
According to an email exchange made public, she'd tried to work with the new agency over several months to diet down her hip size. She apparently succeeded in June, 2010, according to the Associated Press, but by September she and Elite had "parted ways." Just to demonstrate her talents, Ms. Marchildon did a one-time Sloggi lingerie modeling gig, and a company spokeswoman said "It's too crazy for words that a model who's her size would be written off as too fat."
Rising to her new status as crusader, Marchildon responded to her court victory saying, "I'm proud to be a good role model, that's how I see it, for young girls. If you can't be a model for high fashion, you're still beautiful."
Absolutely. But in her shape, Ms. Marchildon offers a nearly-impossible ideal for most. Certainly she is far from fat, but given that about 30% of American adolescents are overweight or obese, her figure in the Sloggi ads can't count as encouraging. In fact, it could well be disheartening: If her hips are too wide, most women have no hope at all.
I can't resist reference to my current book project, Eat What You Want. Researchers are stymied in finding a real cause for the 20-year jump in obesity rates (that has leveled in the past decade), and until they can sort out why some get fat and others don't, the most sane approach is to eat only when hungry, enjoy one's food but stop eating when satisfied. Cyclical dieting means ongoing stress and usually a higher "normal" weight; even reasonable eaters (and research has shown little difference in consumption between the overweight and those of "healthy" BMI) now seem to be heftier than in generations past.
So indignation over Ms. Marchildon's extra inch means little for the millions who are far from a model's silhouette. A serious question is whether a chunky norm should be accepted and even lauded, since "overweight," according to Paul Campos, is associated with best overall health; only extreme obesity, as extreme thinness, brings real risks.
And, there's also the question, equally legitimate, about whether an agency can require those it represents to maintain a standard relevant to its business. I wouldn't be so quick to tell modeling agencies how to cater to their clients, especially if the models they represent agree to their rules when they sign up. At the same time, I do think that particular occupation leads women--and our culture--toward destructive behaviors, self-hatred and emphasis on the superficial. But can we restrict or outlaw all the negatives in society?
Bottom line--no pun intended--is that Ms. Marchildon put herself forward into a competitive business well-known for its insistence on thinness. She competed on TV for her entry into that contorted world, and then, when it turned against her, she railed at its injustice. I don't blame her for seeking legal means to the prize she thought she'd won. But I don't think it's time to claim a triumph for larger women everywhere, as this story is slanted. More significant triumphs occur every time teens look in the mirror and see their potentials instead of their sizes.