Saturday, April 4, 2009

Debate on Britain's Next Top Model

I admit one of my guilty indulgences is catching a rerun of America's Next Top Model every so often. I'm truly not triggered by it, it's just the cattiness of it all that I find super funny. I don't know exactly how ANTM works, but I know on other reality shows, there's a lot they do to make sure audiences stay glued to the tube, like making sure contestants have easy access to alcohol, are deprived of sleep, and hear circulating rumors.

Reality shows also like to have a bit of controversy to spark audiences. Well, it looks like in the next cycle of Britain's Next Top Model, airing later this month, there will surely be some debate. Apparently, one of the contestants (Jade) is anorexic. According to the UK's The Sun, Jade has been anorexic since the age of 8. Now, at 21, she is receiving treatment (some through the show) and has gained weight, though still underweight for her height.

This is all good and well, but I think there is an ethical issue. Should someone with anorexia be permitted to be on a show, promoting modeling? Even Jade herself asks this question:
"Do I deserve to be here as I’m promoting an unhealthy image? But then I was determined to make myself happy. And it’s helped me put on weight...I never wanted my weight to be an issue. I came into the show with literally zero confidence and I’ve got so much more."

Again, this is superb that the show has helped. However, what I don't understand is why she could not have finished treatment or been in more recovery, then allowed on the show. Perhaps, this show thought it would be helpful for audiences to see what someone who is being treated for anorexia has to go through, but still, there is a cost to the contestant with that. Maybe the show thought this would help deter the size zero debate in modeling in that models did need to gain weight to book some jobs.

Whatever the reasoning, the bottom line is that it is a reality series where having a problem, a good back story, an eccentric/cool personality are part of the casting calls half the time. Case in point with The Real World auditions where "weight issues could be welcomed again this time," according to the producer. In the end, it just becomes about drama and ratings.

What's your opinion? Is this ethical? Does this harm the contestant? Does this make you want to watch the show?

Note--*This reminds me of Jamie Lynn-Sigler when she got the part of Meadow on the show The Sopranos. However, from what I remember reading, I'm pretty sure casting directors were surprised at her gaunt appearance from anorexia as she was not at the point of the audition. She did receive treatment and says she is recovered now.


Kim said...

I don't think this is ethical at all. If anything, it just perpetuates the already-existing misconception that modeling and anorexia are in some kind of causal relationship. Plus, showcasing this woman's struggles is wrong. Then again, she put herself in the situation, knowingly. I just fear it's going to present even more stereotypes about EDs.

As a sidenote, I also don't mind catching an occasional episode of ANTM. I used to make a point of watching the first few seasons. Now, whenever I happen to catch them, I'm amused :)

Lisa said...

I also admit to the occasional ANTM marathon, though I've never seen the British iteration. I don't feel entirely comfortable with the situation you describe - it just rubs me the wrong way. I'm all for raising awareness, but I don't think a side plot on a fluffy show is the way to do it. I'll stick to the US version, unless they do something similar.

Kara said...

My guilty pleasure is ANTM too. Shhhhh. :)

Whatever the benefits are of a girl with anorexia on the show, I don't think she should be allowed on. I morally oppose. It's the principle of the matter. I think it will do more harm than good.

Cammy said...

Note that the article mentions it is a first to have an *openly anorexic contestant. Would there have been any alarm over her weight if she was exactly the same size and we knew nothing about her history, or would we have just chalked it up to her being another thin model? I don't think it would have warranted discussion, and I think there are probably plenty of people that had/have had ED behaviors that have been on the show in the past.

This is a hard issue, because while she shouldn't be punished for having a disease, there is always someone that will twist the message and see AN as a way to get on TV. Hard call to make, because none of these ethical situations are ever black and white.

Tiptoe said...

Thanks for discussion everyone.

Cammy, after posting this, I did think about the scenario you brought up. I'm sure there have been other contestants in the past who have had ED or disordered eating but kept it out of the limelight.

If this young woman had never said anything, I think rumors would have sparked anyway just due to her very underweight status. The I have a "high" metabolism line can only go so far (just using this as an example)

I think the thing that really hits it home for me is that just months before the show, she was hospitalized for her ED. It doesn't specifically say the producers knew this, but it sounds like if she was truthful to them about the anorexia, then she also told them about this. I'd just think that if they really had her best interest at heart, then they would have asked her to wait a year when she was more healthy. I guess it's just good they are helping.

Cammy said...

I agree, if I were a producer I would have 2 main concerns:
1) General hesitance about the message it could send (or how even a pro-recovery message could be twisted)
2) Effect on Jade herself. She's barely out of treatment, and thrown into a highly competitive environment where the entire world is scrutinizing her body...yikes?!

I understand what she expressed about using a passion or career goal to move forward in recovery, but this specific path just seems to be a bit risky, especially when it's being televised...

curioustudent said...

I do not think that this is ethical at all. I think that it promotes an unhealthy image to young girls. It shows that although Jade is anorexic, she is still desired by the modeling world. Therefore, her eating problems have actually helped her gain admittance into the fashion industry. Even though the show is trying to help her get better, I think that it would have been more beneficial to have her receive treatment before being on national television. In my opinion, this simply promotes the hegemony of super-thin models and that thinness equates to success- regardless if it is unhealthy habits or not. I'm aware that most likely the show wanted her on because it would bolster viewers, however this is such a touchy issue that I wish the media would stay out of it and allow Jade to recover in privacy.

curioustudent said...

In addition, the TV show probably wanted Jade on the show since eating disorders are not such a "taboo" topic anymore. It has become perfectly acceptable to discuss it openly. By having it on a television show, viewers gain a sense of connection to Jade. Also, by having a recovering anorexic on a modeling show, it appears that the modeling industry is trying to promote change in unhealthy eating disorders by aiding those who are struggling. As a result, advertisers will want to support the show since it appears that they too are promoting a healthier lifestyle and image for women.

Anonymous said...

Having watched Jade on the show so far, and on several tv interviews, she is a great model and impossible to dislike. She herself has stated that she would never want anyone to look up to her as a role model and that she considered dropping out of the competition because she didn't want to promote an unhealthy image. Obviously there is a question as to whether she should've been allowed to compete in a competition centred around such a notorious industry. However, I think she could be a help to other people trying to get out out the same situation she has been in by talking so openly about it. I once had a conversation with my best mate who had been suffering from an eating disorder for several years and she said she'd always been terrified of talking to someone about it because she honestly believed they would find her 'weird' and wouldn't associate with her any more. I think there's a chance that people could benefit from Jade's honesty and her willingness to talk about something that a lot of people find it hard to.

Tiptoe said...

Anonymous, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly hope that good does come from this. However, my main issue is with the producers of the show for allowing her to go on it. Whether she knew or not if it would be helpful to her recovery, someone should have been looking out more for her best interest IMO.

Shivva said...

Having watched the whole series so far, Jade has not changed in weight and is still severly underweight. She now seems to be on the right track to winning. What message does this end out to people, be the skinnest girl and win the comp- yeah great well done Living TV!

Tiptoe said...

Shivva, thanks for your point of view after watching the show. It sounds like the show may have backfired if Jade is not healthier. I hope she can receive more treatment.