Healthy is the New Skinny: Group Challenges Body Image Stereotypes

Healthy is the New Skinny: Group Challenges Body Image Stereotypes

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Life, liberty and the pursuit of skinniness, it sometimes seems, has become America’s new motto. Whether it is the influence of parents, friends, or images in the media, young men and women cannot seem to escape the pressure to be “thinner” or “sexier.” Not surprisingly, recent studies show eating disorders and self-loathing are on the rise among children and teens, as many young people who differ from the cookie-cutter mold dictated by the beauty and fashion industries strive to obtain an unhealthy and unrealistically thin body.

But the founders of a new organization, the Perfectly Unperfected Project (PUP), are hoping to change all of that by replacing what they say is a distorted image of beauty with one that is more authentic.


According to the National Eating Disorders Association:

• 91% of college women have attempted to control their weight through dieting.
• 81% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat.
• 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
• 41% of men are dissatisfied with their weight.
• 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.
• More than half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives.
• Despite its prevalence, there is insufficient research funding for eating disorders and inadequate insurance coverage for treatment.

How to Get Involved

Healthy is the New Skinny is actively recruiting high school and college students for its ambassador program. Student ambassadors represent the HNS message to their schools and communities by staying committed to health, beauty and the pursuit of self-acceptance.

For more information please email Angela Jones at

PUP uses multimedia workshops to transform the way young men and women think and feel about their bodies, and to teach them to think critically about the images used by the beauty and fashion industries, that they see on a daily basis. What makes PUP all the more intriguing is that it was founded by a fashion model, Katie Halchishick, who together with Dr. Hugo Schwyzer makes up the outreach arm of Healthy is the New Skinny (HNS), a PUP campaign that aims to change the way young adults think about beauty, health and happiness.

“They are bombarded everyday with this image of a super skinny, glamorous girl with big boobs, and that’s not even real,” explained Halchishick. “These images of girls who fit this unrealistic stereotype are everywhere — on advertisements, television shows, magazines. We are giving people this false image of what guys like and how girls should be.”

After surveying young women across the country, Halchishick and her team found that 90 percent of the girls surveyed admitted to skipping meals, not eating at all and/or binging and purging in order to lose weight. Many girls who said they were a size 4 or 5 believed they were fat and desired to be a size 2 or 0. They also discovered that most girls would starve themselves or work out excessively if it would make them look like models.

“Losing weight is celebrated in our culture,” said Halchishick. “Research shows that girls’ number one wish is to be skinnier, but their number one wish should be to be healthy.”

Halchishick and Bradford Willcox launched the HNS campaign last year and co-founded Natural Model Management (NMM) in Los Angeles, an agency for models sizes 4-16 who have been told they were “too fat to model” and are considered plus size in the modeling industry. Halchishick says the agency values models and their natural build and body size, and encourages them to find a healthy balance in life and in their bodies.

Alex Ferguson is currently a model with NMM and an adamant supporter of HNS. She tried modeling for the first time when she was 17, but was told by an agency that she was too old to start modeling. And even though she was 5’10” tall and weighed 115 pounds, she was also told her cheeks were too big and that there was “something wrong” with her stomach.

“So many girls at this point are growing up with a false image of what beauty is, and I want girls to know it’s okay to be curvy and that there are so many different body types,” said Ferguson. “I hope they can grow up and accept who they are.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women. While the average woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds, the average model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds. Research shows this disparity has a profound affect on society and contributes to negative body image, as over 10 million females and 1 million males in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder.

“No one talks about eating disorders,” said Halchishick. “Everyone’s afraid to touch the subject; it’s almost taboo in a sense, but when you open that can of worms and talk about it, you begin to realize that everyone feels the same way.”

Danika Brysha, a model and recent graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder, believes HNS will allow young people to come together and address society as a whole, bringing the problem of negative body image to the surface.

“Hearing the stories of those who have suffered similarly in an effort to appear beautiful, thin or perfect to fit the ideals of society will allow others to really look inside themselves and question their own health and self-acceptance issues,” explained Brysha.

Halchishick also has a new project in the works. She plans to open a clothing store in the near future that will boast three different sized mannequins for each item. This unique approach will allow shoppers to see how an outfit looks on different body types, giving them a more realistic portrayal of how the outfit would look on them. Halchishick plans to include shoppers’ reactions to the store in her research data, and hopes the results will show that consumers want to see models that look more like them.

Natalie Michajla, a junior at Montana State University, believes promoting healthy models will make a difference and hopes young girls can learn to stick to a healthy lifestyle without hurting their bodies.

“Staying positive, exercising and eating healthy allowed me to feel better about myself,” explained Michajla. “With confidence, I have learned to appreciate and love who I am. I am not trying to be someone else or who another person wants me to be, and I hope young girls will begin to feel the same way I do.”