When Super Skinny Is "Too Fat"
By Alwin Schröder
Heidi Klum is on the lookout for "Germany's Next Top Model." But on the way, her jury is chucking out the super thin because they are "too fat." Germans are not amused.
Irina's misfortune was her height-weight ratio -- she weighed 52 kilograms (114.5 pounds) and was 1.76 meters (5 feet 9 inches) tall. With that kind of body, Irina, 19, was used to being adoringly ogled, but on supermodel Heidi Klum's television show "Germany's Next Top-Model" her body became her downfall. "Too fat," was the verdict handed down by the show's jury. The svelte Irina was sent home.
It was a ruling that didn't stay in the television studio for long. Immediately, a debate erupted in the German press, with tabloid Bild at the vanguard, on just how much pressure is put on young women to be ultra thin in German and western societies. Stories on bulimia and anorexia began making their periodic appearances in the press and politicians likewise jumped into the fray.
"Such dimensions do not make a person fat," said German parliamentarian Gitta Connemann of the conservative Christian Democrats in criticizing the television jury's decision. On the contrary. "That girl is exceptionally slender, almost scrawny," Connemann told SPIEGEL ONLINE, but went on to point out that her being booted from the show is a clear indication of just how extreme standards for models have become.
She's not the only one. Politicians of all stripes have criticized the show as offering up the wrong role models for teenage girls -- exactly that demographic group most at risk of eating disorders. Participants have also complained. Candidate Celine, from Vienna, told the Austrian paper Heute that "the crew is constantly provoking the girls with comments about our weight. Even super skinny girls are judged as too fat."
The show, says Connemann, is "undignified" and makes her sad. "Young women are used to attract viewers. They show beautiful girls that delight the whole country -- and even that is likely an understatement."
The parliamentarian was also quick to point out that such shows are especially dangerous for young girls as they reach their puberty years. "They take the people in this show as the standard they should starve themselves down to," she says. As so often before, "such a show imparts the idea that beauty is the ticket to eternal fame, money and happiness."
But eating disorders aren't the only problems facing Germany's teens. More than a million Germans, according to Connemann, suffer from the syndrome dysmorphophobia -- under which patients are convinced that some part of their bodies is deformed or abnormal in some way. "They think they are excessively ugly, but often they are wonderful people," Connemann explains. "They may not be flawless, but they over-exaggerate the meaning of the small flaws they have. Pictures in magazines or in such shows often confirm their self-doubt," she said in reference to "Germany's Next Top-Model."
One of the frequent outcomes of dysmorphophobia is a trip to the plastic surgeon. Such operations are on the rise in Germany with up to a million being performed each year in the country across all age groups, Connemann says.
Despite the widespread critique, though, the show is going on. Indeed, there is no legal way to prevent the show from continuing, given that nothing in the show offends laws protecting youth in Germany from sex or violence.
The television station that airs the show, ProSieben, rejects the critique. "The show in no way encourages anorexia," the show's spokeswoman said. After all, Klum and the other members of the jury explain during each episode that a model must eat, must stay healthy and needs curves, the spokeswoman continued. "But of course the industry requires certain dimensions."
But even the show's jury seems unclear as to what exactly those dimensions are. In the show after Irina got her walking papers for being too fat, Anne, 17, was likewise given the boot -- this time for being too thin. Her dimensions? The same 52 kilograms (114.5 pounds) and 1.76 meters (5 feet 9 inches) as Irina.