With hip New Yorkers focused on Fashion Week, including the designers setting trends and the models bringing them to life, many experts are warning that the skinny women walking runways are not only at risk for eating disorders themselves, but could cause eating disorders in the young women who admire them in magazines and on television.
I disagree-at least with the latter concern. Certainly, women (and men) who make their livings by marketing their physical presence-and being acutely aware of how others are reacting to them-may be more prone than others to psychological disorders connected with self-esteem and unresolved emotional turmoil deep beneath the surface. This not only includes anorexia and bulimia, but conditions like depression, panic disorder and substance abuse. The same could be said, however, of those who gravitate toward the acting profession or any other career in which success is partly determined by the way the person looks in front of a camera.
I do not believe, however, that young women who see thin models in magazines or on television become eating disordered based on those images. In order for anorexia or bulimia to take root, a woman has to have a pre-existing vulnerability of brain chemistry or a life history of emotional turmoil or both. Seeing thin models in Vera Wang or Calvin Klein won't distort the body image of those whose self-perception has not been made fragile, whether by complex psychological dynamics or complexities of neurochemistry.
For me, part of the evidence that thin models don't spread eating disorders is that fashion designers use these women to market to all consumers, not just the ones who are razor thin. The marketplace is still a pretty smart barometer of the American psyche and that means that, like it or not, women who are size 12 are just as likely as size 2 women to be motivated to buy clothes worn by today's "Twiggy." And America is getting fatter despite our collective ideals of beauty, not slimmer.
If size zero fashion models cause anorexia, why have decades of exposure to them resulted in an epidemic of obesity among young people.
I maintain the same position about violence in movies. No amount of watching violent films can make otherwise healthy people turn into thugs or killers-any more than watching films about heists turns moviegoers into thieves.
I believe the same can even be said for advertising of alcohol and cigarettes. The advertising itself doesn't create addicts. The desire to be repeatedly intoxicated by alcohol or nicotine resides in the brain chemistry or life circumstances of the users, not within the text or photographs of what is used to promote their drugs of choice.
There are many powerful and toxic influences that fuel the millions and millions of cases of eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders in the United States. The most significant of those influences, however, are to be found not in the magazines we read or the television programs we watch, but in the disintegrating and traumatic relationships that unfold right in our homes.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including
. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at