Whitney Thompson recently won America’s Next Top Model to become the first plus-size model on the show to take away the top prize. But she only celebrated for a brief moment before taking off to speak to young women across the country about body-image issues.
While she’s a part of the fashion industry, she is endlessly critical of the way it treats women. Here are some highlights from a recent interview:
First, you've never suffered from an eating disorder, so why be a spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association?
I've never dealt with an eating disorder personally; I have friends who have. The reason I went on [Top Model] though, is because I wanted to change the fashion industry. Because it obviously affects people and they way that they view themselves. I mean, when the majority of all 9-year-old girls have been on a diet, we're doing something wrong. And so, even though I haven't been personally affected, it's obvious that the industry is affecting people and it does make women feel bad about themselves, or worse.
And it's totally unrealistic and we're setting people up for failure. And I don't think it's fair for especially children and younger girls to see the airbrushed images and think like, oh that's what I'm supposed to look like, or that's what beautiful is, because that's what the fashion industry tells them.
Sometimes with advocates for any kind of change, there's a lot of venom. They sort of say, "Everyone is evil, look at what they're doing!" rather educating. Where do you fall?
Well, I definitely try to offer solutions. There are companies that I don't agree with like Victoria's Secret and I tell people to boycott them and I tell people to write them letters and express their emotions. The thing is that we let the fashion industry define what beauty is and then we're putting our money into their pockets, and so we are fueling this. It's not all their fault, we are equally as responsible.
So I think it's important that you make it known. If you don't like girls who are size two with breast implants being waved around in front of your daughter and being told to them that that's what's beautiful, then don't support it. Cancel the magazines. Write them letters and say I don't want these girls in the magazine. Tell them if you're not going to put a size six, if you're not going to put a size eight, forget it.
Karl Lagerfeld two years ago was saying the only people who care about plus size are the fat mummies sitting on their couches eating crisps. Now he's shooting the plus issue for V, are you kidding? Really V, you forgot about that? I mean, it was a huge issue. And he has a Chanel line for plus girls and Crystal Renn's in it and it's so fake, it's so phony and people just jump on the bandwagon. So I think it's important to do research and be smart about the companies that you do support.
I've heard model bookers say things that made me cringe about models right in front of them. Do you think some people treat models like they're not people?
Oh yeah, models get treated like crap. Worse than anyone. We get fed last, we don't sleep, they treat you like nothing. When you think about it, everyone thinks modeling is so glamorous, but you don't get to say what you wear, you don't get to say how you look, what your hair color is, what length it is, where you live, what you do — you have no voice at all. And the bookers — because I was a straight-size model growing up in high school, and my hips were always one inch too big — and, yeah, you have 45-year-old men saying, "You're too fat." You're a teenage girl. It's really disgusting. It's an awful industry and, yeah, there is no soul in modeling.
A lot of what we hear from straight size models is "I'm naturally thin, don't get on my case about it." True?
The majority of girls who do runway shows are 16 and under. Agencies and designers look for girls who haven't hit puberty yet and so we ship these girls in from Russia and Brazil and they're 14 and they don't speak English and these are the girls that I go to castings with. That's fine, they're all great and young and "naturally skinny," when they're 14 — most people are. But then once they hit puberty, 16 and 17, they have to do drugs, they're doing cocaine, they're smoking cigarettes all day every day, they're doing the lemonade cleanse because if they don't then they get shipped back to wherever they came from, and that's just how the industry works.
A lot of girls get depressed, some girls commit suicide, some girls starve to death, literally, and we kind of just don't pay attention to it in the industry. We don't really talk about it, but it's very common.
I lived in a model apartment with all straight [size] models. One of the girls was on the lemonade cleanse for, I think, three weeks and her skin broke out all over in boils. But she was working in Paris every weekend and that's all that mattered to her. And does the agency say anything? They're not worried she's too skinny, they're worried she looks nasty because she has boils.
But if you were going back to a country where you had nothing, and you were one of many brothers and sisters, and you lived in New York for a few years and they were going to just ship you back — of course you would do what you had to do. It's not necessarily the girls' fault, it's not going anywhere good for them, either. There's no happy ending to any of the stories.
The modeling industry is notorious for being a terrible place for women to work, and this interview confirms it. Change needs to happen, and we’re glad Whitney is leading the way!
[Image via FayesVision/WENN.com.]
Tags: body image, modeling, plus size