This morning, I was forwarded a link to images of the "extremely thin" lead model in J.Crew's new spring catalog. The original e-mail read: "She is so thin her arms are like twigs, her collarbones jut out and her face is gaunt and drawn." I clicked the link to the photos and -- huh. I saw a woman looking to be just your average, run-of-the-mill model. Was there a link mix-up, was I looking at the wrong photo?
Then the responses from the e-mail's other recipients began pouring in: "My girlfriend gets the J.Crew catalog, and we were gawking at the alien-like skinniness of that girl the other day. Her girlfriends at work were all talking about it too." Then another: "Ugh, one of these pictures is almost sickening. ... A thigh, about the size of my forearm." And another: "I have NO idea who, outside of petite Asian preadolescents, fits into their fucking clothes." They all echoed the shock and dismay of the original e-mail.
So, I took a more careful look at the photo: OK, yes, her arms are very thin, it does look like her head could topple off her brittle body at any moment and, by god, her calves are almost indistinguishable from her forearms. But her body didn't strike me as shocking or unusual -- not upon first glance and not even upon further inspection -- even though I logically know it to be so. The women in my real, everyday life do not look like that, and if one of them did, I would probably be sick with worry for her. However, the girl in the photo exists in an alternate universe where the usual rules do not apply. I was primed to see the image as a grotesque example of impossible beauty standards run amok, but all it elicited from me was a half-hearted shoulder shrug.
I wrote back to the group, "I am slightly disturbed by the fact that these images didn't even strike me as unusual, at all," and a friend quickly responded: "You and me both."