A segment by online news show The Young Turks, which takes T magazine to task for featuring a thin Julia Nobis on their cover, recently went viral. Co-host Cenk Uygur refers to Nobis as "disgusting" more than once during the course of the video, adding that she's "obviously anorexic," prompting no less than Nobis's dad Eddy to chime in, blasting Uygur in the comments.
Now Uygur's at it again in what is ostensibly intended as an apology video, but which ends with Ugyur blasting the fashion industry as a whole. He finishes the video visibly heated, saying that "the fashion industry is full of shit" and that they "don't know what's appealing on this planet."
When I saw model Joan Smalls at last night's CFDA red carpet, I asked her how she felt about Uygur's comments regarding Nobis. Smalls had this to say: "I think people shouldn't really draw conclusions about how thin a girl is because it might be natural. That's just the body that she has and it shouldn't be criticized or looked down upon, or [trying to make] her feel guilty for just happening to do photo shoots."
I one hundred percent agree with Smalls, and I want to tell you why, starting with a personal anecdote.
I don't remember when I really started feeling like I wasn't good enough, but I do remember the first time it came to a head. My mom took me on a shopping trip when I was 14. As with any other high school, all the cool kids wore Abercrombie and Fitch, so that's what I wanted to wear. As I tried on graphic tees and swimsuits, I realized that the clothes weren't fitting me like they did my classmates, and I grew more and more frustrated.
Finally, I erupted into hysterical tears, right in the middle of the fitting room.
(So obviously, Mike Jeffries's strategy to make Abercrombie & Fitch for "the cool kids" worked--and I definitely was one of the customers who "can’t belong" in their clothes. The result was this event that would ultimately shape my self-esteem well into adulthood. I wonder if Jeffries might consider how his policy affects individual kids rather than just the ways he can find to get young men half-naked in his stores and ad campaigns.)
I might not remember what I was trying on that day, but I will never, ever forget the way I felt as my mom quietly lead me out of the store: Worthless. Humiliated. Disgusting.
I have never met Julia Nobis, but I am 100% certain that at some point in her life, she felt the way I did that day as my mom comforted me the ladies' lounge at Dillard's. I know this because feeling inferior is the shared experience of womanhood. And while for many women that issue centers around their weight (either feeling too big or, yes, too small), there's an entire laundry list of things that can be "wrong" with a woman physically.
Karlie Kloss--my favorite model who I find absolutely stunning (and incredibly big hearted, to boot)--recently emphasized to me several times over the course of an interview how insecure she felt about her height growing up. Smalls admitted to MTV Style that despite the crazy heat of her home in Puerto Rico, she wore multiple pairs of socks to hide her skinny legs.
In both videos, Uygur says the reason Kate Upton has become so popular is because she "looks like a regular person who's super hot. She's a woman!"
That must be great news for Upton, who has faced near-constant criticism of her womanly body from the fashion set--a group that deems her too curvy, or "fat" as many have called her, to fit into the world of high fashion (see: the comments on our recent article about Upton's Vogue cover).
It would be ignorant and irresponsible of me to claim that there aren't dangerous standards of thinness and beauty in the fashion industry, standards which merit a discussion too complex to enter into here. But it is downright cruel to center this discussion around one woman--let alone to tear her apart as Uygur does.
"She looks like she just came out of a camp," he says at one point in the initial video. "That is not desirable. It looks disgusting."
Growing up, it wasn't the fashion models who made me question my own body. It was boys: My middle school crush who told me he wouldn't date me because I was "too fat," the high school boyfriend who made me cry for over an hour when he told me that he had a problem with my weight, the complete stranger who told me I should consider jogging when I refused to give him my number.
Boys who learned from men like Uygur that it's okay to criticize a woman's appearance in a public forum--whether in a classroom or on YouTube--and to tell her that she doesn't live up to his standard of beauty.
Uygur says in the most recent video that he has a daughter--I certainly hope he doesn't speak to her the way he spoke about Nobis. While I can see that he meant well enough with his comments, intentional or not they reflect everything that's wrong with our beauty standards. Uygur isn't particularly concerned with whether or not Nobis is healthy, per se--he just does not find her attractive, a fact upon which he builds his whole argument against the fashion industry.
It may be hard to believe, but models--no matter how gorgeous or highly paid they are--have insecurities, just like the rest of us do. I seriously applaud Nobis's father for standing up for her. We need more men like Eddy Nobis--and way, way less like Cenk Uygur.
Smalls agreed with me. "I think as a family member, that's something that's really respectable that you have someone who really cares about you and knows your lifestyle, and is obviously going to stand up for you," she said.
If we really want to address the problems plaguing the model industry, we have to start by standing up to men like Ugyur, who despite saying he feels like he's "helping women," is part of the problem.