Guest Post: An Ex-Fashion Editor Reflects on Fat & Repents, Sort of
Ceri Marsh spent a decade editing fashion magazines, including eight years as editor-in-chief of Fashion Magazine. She left her editor position after having her second child. Now she is chief cook and bottle-washer at Sweet Potato Chronicles, a sweet site about the ups and downs of feeding a family. She took time off from recipe testing to reflect on her role as a fashion editor...
I spent a recent evening indulging in a rare pleasure: a whole, quiet, post-kids’-bedtime hour consuming a fashion magazine. Heaven. The April issue of Vogue is their annual Shape Issue. I’ve been reading Vogue since I had the babysitting money to start buying copies at thirteen, but on that evening I thought, “What shapes, exactly?” Of course cover girl Rihanna is lusciously curvy and all the more beautiful for it. But other than Ri-Ri and a story on the Olsen twins (Short! Not model tall!), every image is of a super tall and super thin model. Super eye roll.
Before you shake your head and say that the creators of fashion magazines are at best nuts and at worst going to hell for making women hate their bodies – wait. Because until a year ago, I was one of them. For ten years I worked at a fashion magazine, eight of those as editor-in-chief. I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, I made the Kool-Aid. Buckets of it.
But not to worry, for my sins Karma has handed me a daughter. A smart, beautiful, hilarious girl. And I would do anything to keep her from feeling anything but pride in her own perfect body. Oh, and since leaving my post at the magazine after the birth of our second child, I launched a website dedicated to healthy food for kids. So there.
I confess that I had mixed feelings about the image of women we had a part in producing at the magazine. On the one hand, I felt and still feel that nobody buys a fashion magazine to see their own reality reflected back at them. Life gives up plenty of real. A fashion magazine is an escape: an hour on the couch or – bliss! – in the bath to flip through pages of perfection. On the other hand, the models are very, very thin. Too thin, in some cases. And Canadian editors have nothing like the heft to do anything about the sizes of the samples that all magazines photograph models in. Honestly, one editor in the world has that kind of influence: American Vogue’s Anna Wintour. Finding yourself between that moral rock and hard place, you learn to book models that fit the samples but are as full and healthy looking as possible. And when a model shows up and is much thinner than her comp card suggests, you call her agent and share your concerns.
My four-year-old daughter is too young to be aware of fashion models and has yet to notice the way our culture favours some bodies and, well, doesn’t favour others. But I see it around the corner. Her current princess and fairytale obsession has translated into a lot of peering into mirrors and asking about her relative prettiness. Pretty, I want to answer, pretty doesn’t begin to describe it. Try gorgeous, beautiful, perfect! But instead I always say, “You’re very pretty, but what I love is how kind/smart/funny you are.” I mean it, but I always feel a twinge of guilt. What’s wrong with loving the way you look? When she gets older and starts to ask if her butt looks big in these jeans, I’d hate for it to be because she’s worried about her size. But I also don’t want her to play the self-deprecation game that girls and women can play to fit in with each other.
I don’t know that my time in the fashion trenches is entirely responsible for my own constant desire to be “just a bit thinner” or for my old habit of muttering “I’m so fat” into the mirror without even thinking about it or even meaning it. Having kids puts a big helping of get-over-yourself on your plate. It’s not been that hard to simply extricate “I’m so fat” from my vocabulary so my daughter never hears me say it. But the far more important lesson I can impart, in the hopes of building a positive body image in my daughter, is not about image at all, but about food. When cooking for kids its easy to become caught up in getting them to please eat their broccoli rather than focusing on how delicious food can be. The teachable moments afforded by cooking are endless: nutrition, culture, entertaining, fun!
I want both of my kids to know that when you love food and enjoy cooking you can nourish yourself in a way that makes excess unnecessary. Unless we’re talking about the kitchen sink cookies we baked together on the weekend and then excess is an absolute requirement.
I can’t keep the messages of our culture from reaching my kids – even the ones I had a hand in crafting - but I can tell my daughter about how those images are manufactured and manipulated. And I can teach her to make a beautiful plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And how to twirl her fork so that she pick up every bit of delicious sauce.
For a fantastic spaghetti and meatball recipe (and hundreds of other healthy, family-friendly recipes and articles), visit www.sweetpotatochronicles.com. You can also follow Ceri on Twitter @spchronicles.
What should you do if your daughter says she is fat? Read this.
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