Fashion faux pas

Seventeen editor Atoosa Rubenstein puts her foot -- and nothing else -- in her mouth during Fashion Week.

Published February 8, 2006 11:34PM (EST)

Yesterday, Atoosa Rubenstein, the 33-year-old editor of Seventeen magazine, was quoted in Fashion Week Daily, a periodical that covers the social and sartorial excesses of New York's Fashion Week, reviewing the runway show put on by Tuleh designer Bryan Bradley. "Bryan is one of my absolute favorite dreamers," Rubenstein told the Daily. "I feel like I want to start starving myself so I can wear those clothes now."

Way to go, Ms. Rubenstein! This nugget of self-revelation was quickly picked up by Gawker, which headlined its item "And a Thousand Teenage Girls Go Running for the Toilet."

I had so many questions for Rubenstein, who was an intern at Sassy and fashion assistant at Cosmopolitan, before becoming the founding editor of CosmoGirl! at 26, and taking over Seventeen in 2003. As a woman who has devoted her professional life to magazines for preteen girls looking for cues about their bodies, clothes and social lives, what the hell was she thinking when she joked about denying herself food in order to fit into some high-end couture pencil skirts? Is she worried that she should be fired from her job as gatekeeper for a magazine for young women? I've read that she's 5 feet 11 inches -- so how much does she weigh that she feels like she'd need to "starve herself" to get into cool clothes?

I've seen pictures of her all over her magazine, and on her recent reality television show "Miss Seventeen" -- she sure looks pretty thin and glamorous to me! What message does she think that sends to all the 12-year-olds who want to be just like her? Is she aware that some of her readers may have body image problems of their own? Has she heard that eating disorders are sort of a big problem among preteen and teenage women? Does she think she should lose her job -- which is supposedly to create a product for those women -- for being so clueless about what kinds of things she says to reporters? Is she insane, or just irretrievably stupid?

Alas, Rubenstein was not able to return my call in person, which is funny because I did catch her on the "Today" show this morning, discussing her concerns about the way young women deal with stress through drug and alcohol abuse. Matt Lauer, sadly, did not ask her if she had concerns about the way they deal with stress by exacting obsessive and unhealthy control over their weight and appearance through anorexia, bulimia, compulsive dieting or cutting. Maybe that's why she talked to him. Who knows.

What I got was a statement from a spokeswoman for Seventeen, who wrote, "Atoosa's comment was a figure of speech. People don't give today's teens enough credit. They are a sophisticated bunch who don't take everything they read literally."

The spokeswoman also noted in her e-mail that "we have nothing further to add" to the statement, which is really too bad, since the response leaves me with so many more questions: What kind of "figure of speech" is "I want to start starving myself so I can wear those clothes now?" Is it figurative in that she wouldn't literally starve herself -- like "not sophisticated urban self-denial but actual poor people who don't have enough food" starve -- but rather just engage in a little light anorexia? And is the problem of not giving "today's teens enough credit" really a bigger problem than making them feel like they're fat? What about giving teens -- many of whom are probably bigger than Atoosa -- credit for reading a comment from a thin, successful, beautifully dressed woman who says she needs to lose weight to wear pretty clothes and thinking, "Wow, if Atoosa needs to figuratively starve herself to get into fashionable clothes, what would I have to do?"

But since Rubenstein didn't want to talk about that stuff, I had to content myself with looking up past interviews and finding this statement she made to the New York Observer in 2000: "When girls don't look in the mirror and feel bad about themselves, then I'll have done my job."

Good job, Atoosa.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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