Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fashion ecology

Here's a questionable benefit to poisoning one link on the food chain: the vultures of Nepal are getting their own restaurant. The daily daily special is diclofenac-free cow. Apparently, the vulture population in South Asia is threatened by the widespread (though illegal) use of the drug diclofenac to treat inflammation in cows. Drugged cow carcasses poison and kill vultures. The restaurant managers are attempting to boost the dwindling vulture population by collecting sick and dying cows that have never been treated with the drug. Once dead, the cows are presented for local vultures to snack on.

In unrelated news, a popular London restaurant is currently offering up free meals to models threatened with an unhealthy Body Mass Index. Minus-sized models can present an identification card with their clothing size on it to receive the grub. The restaurant is getting some good press for the program; whether they save any dwindling models is another matter. Skinny models may find eating to be so detrimental to their livelihood that offering the cow (or, if they prefer, "charter pie containing leeks, chicken, and bacon") for free may be insufficient incentive to fatten up.

In Madrid, a larger carrot is being dangled. Models there can now be denied runway access if their BMI drops into carrion territory. The policy was set after a rise in eating disorder-related death within the modelling community; recently 5 models were barred from appearing on the Madrid catwalk until they "fatten" up.

Though other fashion capitals are talking about adopting a similar policy, unhealthy body and body image has poisoned the water, and it could be some time before cultural obsession with the unnatural evaporates. In Spain, for example, plastic surgery, often with walk-in appointments and financing plans, is so common it was recently added to the monthly inflation equation.

(Sadder still is what is being dropped from the equation. Apparently money once spent on cloth, upholstery fabric, and most appliance repair has been diverted for the repair and maintainance of a certain corporeal aesthetic.)

But it is not just our wallets that are affected. A recent study highlights the deep inner reach of body image consciousness, and the detrimental effects negative self-image can have on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Dr. Lora Park, of the University of Buffalo, New York, developed the appearance-based rejection sensitivity (ARS) scale to measure "the extent to which people anxiously expect to be rejected by others based on their looks." People with a high score are those most likely to think of themselves as unattractive and to base their general self-worth on their appearance. In Park's study, a high ARS score predicted that subjects were also likely to be anxious, neurotic, insecure, and to not eat well.

These results are disturbing given the current push for heightened image consciousness. The question is whether kicking a few models off a catwalk will do for the general human population's body image what the diclofenac-free cafe has done for South Asia's vultures.

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