Following the death of Ana Carolina Reston this week, a headline in a Brazilian tabloid screamed "Dictatorship of Skinny Look Kills a Model." The 21-year-old died Tuesday from a generalized infection stemming from anorexia; according to some reports, she subsisted primarily on apples and tomatoes.
Reston had modeled internationally and worked for fashion heavyweights like Giorgio Armani -- who, it should be noted, blames stylists and the media for the prevalence of "too skinny" models. At 5 feet 8 and a mere 88 pounds, Reston's body-mass index was 13.5; the World Health Organization considers a BMI of 15 a sign of starvation, CNN reports. Still, the reality of anorexia chic is that even in the weeks before her death Reston was scheduled to fly to France for modeling jobs.
Of course, this sad event isn't a novel development in the fashion world. Earlier this year, Luisel Ramos, 22, died shortly after traipsing down a Montevideo runway; she'd favored a strict regimen of lettuce and diet soda. This summer, Spanish officials made an unusual attempt to regulate ultra-skinny chic by banning models with a BMI of less than 18 from Madrid's Fashion Week. Stateside there's been similar discussion, but the prospect of the U.S. regulating models' BMI is unlikely (and, arguably, inappropriate).
Per usual with stories like these, there's the idealistic impulse to cheer: "Well, maybe this will send a message to the fashion industry!" Or alternatively, "Maybe Reston's death will discourage models and everyday girls from aspiring to unhealthy skinniness." But there's also the danger Reston will instead be seen as the extreme exception to an otherwise glamorous lifestyle so exhaustively chronicled and fetishized by fashion and gossip rags.
Indeed, even the reporting on Reston's death falls prey to skinny chic; the shock of her low BMI is mitigated somewhat by accompanying photos of Reston looking like an exotic, doe-eyed model, not noticeably thinner than the fashion industry's other muses. We don't see the disturbing reality of anorexia; we don't see Reston confined to a hospital bed for three weeks before her death. Viviane Setti, the mother of Reston's boyfriend, put it clearly: "There's nothing glamorous about an ending like hers."