Tonawanda News — A little more than a month ago, I ran across a BBC article that hit me on a personal level.
A coroner had determined a 14-year-old British girl — Fiona Geraghty — hanged herself a year ago because of pressure to be thin from the fashion industry.
Coroner Michael Rose called on magazines to stop using images of “wafer-thin” models to curb these kinds of incidents, but Elspeth Geraghty, the mother of the young girl, blamed her suicide and a battle with bulimia on taunting she received from schoolmates about her weight.
When I first stumbled across this story, I was horrified ... for two reasons.
First, I believe it’s incredibly simplistic for this coroner to place the blame solely on a monolithic fashion industry. I don’t deny that the images we see of models’ waistlines (whittled down to where they more closely resemble an alien) are disturbing and damaging, but Rose glossed over the mother’s claim of bullying.
“In the first term Fiona did have some relationship issues with girls in her peer group,” Geraghty told the BBC in an interview. “Fiona said she started vomiting following taunts about her size.”
The head teacher at Fiona’s school shrugged off the bullying claims, saying there was “rather a clash of personalities common in girls of that age,” and the matter was closed.
How many more times can bullying be brushed off as just kids being kids?
I was also horrified because, while I feel strongly about bullying and have written anti-bullying columns in the past, this was the first time I ever felt I could relate personally to the issues that made a young person desperate enough to end her life.
I have never suffered from bulimia, but I have certainly received my share of taunts and teases about my weight. It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life and from about age 10 to 15, the teasing was at its worst.
I can only imagine that the kinds of words hurled at Fiona were the same I heard in the hallways and gyms at school. I know the pain those words inflict and remember the despair they cause.
I never considered suicide because, in truth, things never got quite that bad for me, but when I read that a girl so young ... so young! ... was pushed into the head space to hang herself because schoolmates called her fat, well, that was heartbreaking.
Just as I criticized the coroner for trying to lay the blame on one entity — the fashion industry — I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you the blame for Fiona’s death should rest purely on the shoulders of her peers.
What folks should realize is that it’s a cumulative effect.
It’s not just the media portrayal of how women and teen girls “should” look in magazines and television. It’s not just that jerk who sits next to you in English class calling you names. It’s not just your friends making fun of other overweight people in front of you. It’s all of these things — and more — that can push these young people to despair.
Seventeen magazine editor Ann Shoket, in the publication’s August issue, signed a Body Peace Treaty, a promise to its readers to not Photoshop the body shapes of its models. She said the magazine vows to only alter things like stray hairs, zits and oddly bunched clothing, not waistlines or leg shapes.
The promise came after another 14-year-old girl, Julie Bluhm, obtained 84,000 signatures on a petition asking the magazine to commit to feature healthy, unmanipulated photos of girls of all sizes.
I applaud the magazine and urge other publications — not just those aimed at teenagers — to follow suit. As a teenager — and even as an adult — I never spent much time perusing the pages of fashion magazines, simply because I always believed there’s nothing in them for me ... no clothes to fit me, no body shapes with which I could identify.
Perhaps if I had something I could relate to as an adolescent, I might not have felt so alienated. Perhaps the jeers and taunts could be a little easier to handle. Perhaps the bullying would slowly begin to lessen as it becomes more and more acceptable to see women and girls of all sizes throughout media.
It’s hard to say, but with the full-blown assault of messages girls are receiving on body image, it couldn’t hurt to start chipping away at some of these negative factors one by one. And it couldn’t hurt for young and old alike to consider how it might affect others when they make or laugh at that fat joke.
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.