Model Cassi Van Den Dungen — known for her turn on "Australia’s Next Top Model" and for her coveted spot on the Calvin Klein runway last year during New York Fashion Week — is now making headlines for a different reason: responding to critics of her slight frame.
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“I think a lot of Overweight girls are hypocrites. I’m naturally tall and skinny, I eat what I want, I don’t starve myself, and I am beautiful,” Van Den Dungen posted, along with a rib-revealing photo of herself, to Instagram on Wednesday. “So why are you allowed to love your ‘curves’ but It’s wrong for me to love my ‘Bones’? Why is it okay for you to call me anorexic, but horrible for me to call you fat?”
The model’s frustrated response comes after Sydney Fashion Week, which took place earlier this month. That’s when her gaunt appearance on the runway for designer Alex Perry drew a stream of public concerns from those in the industry — including Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank, who was reportedly horrified. “When I saw those legs I nearly died,” Frank said. “I rang the model agent and said ‘Why is that girl walking down the runway when she’s clearly not healthy?'” In response to the public criticism, Perry apologized for having a lapse in judgment.
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“I look at that footage and recoil from it,” Perry told Nine Network’s "Today" in Australia. “I don’t like it …. that was the wrong image to present but I think there are a lot of people complicit in that and that’s from media to designers to everybody, we’ve all got a hand in that.”
That’s a notion that has been pointed out before — which, in turn, has led to a smattering of measures being adopted within the industry. Israel, for example, banned too-skinny models in 2013, and the Madrid Fashion Show, Milan Fashion Week, and even Vogue magazine have done the same. Still, Sara Ziff of the Model Alliance, a New York-based not-for-profit giving voice to the modeling industry, doesn’t think that’s helpful. “Some models are naturally thin, whereas others are naturally curvier,” she tells Yahoo Shine. “Of course, we want to see healthy models on the runway, but body-shaming and banning thin models is not the answer.”
Body image expert Claire Mysko agrees. “If you care about promoting body acceptance, here's a general rule of thumb: Don't make disparaging comments about other people's bodies. Period,” she tells Yahoo Shine. “The goal is a healthy body image for all .… At the end of the day, sizing people up won't tell you about their health. The real problem lies with the industries that set such narrow and unrealistic standards of beauty.”
This is far from the first time a model has been criticized for looking skeletal on the catwalk. In September, for example, Dutch model Bette Franke was called out during New York Fashion Week for her skinniness on the catwalk. But Van Den Dungen’s candid response — whether or not she is in fact a healthy weight — is rare, particularly when compared to similar controversies surrounding the body shaming of plus-size women.
“If you can tell me to ‘gain weight,’ why can’t I tell you to lose weight?” van den Dungen continued in her Wednesday Instagram post. “If you can feel beautiful for being big, I can feel beautiful for being small. Get over it.” Earlier this month, she posted an Instagram photo of herself with fellow model Ruby Rose, captioned in part with the hashtags “#BullyingIsWrongNoMatterWhoYouAre,” and “#IDontTolerateBullying.” That post launched a back-and-forth stream of attacks on and defenses of the model, with some noting that they could relate to her.
“Cassi I am currently being bullied at school for being to [sic] thin!” wrote one follower. “People spread rumors that I am anorexic and bulimic and they also say I have an eating disorder and I don't! Seeing how well you have dealt with this has helped me because I understand how you feel!”
In 2013, British author Emma Woolf wrote about “skinny-shaming” in her memoir, “The Ministry of Thin: How the Pursuit of Perfection Got Out of Control,” and in a related Guardian essay. “What could I, recently recovered from anorexia, possibly know about fatness?” she notes in the piece. “I know the experience of feeling that one's private pain is on display on one's body, of being stared at, and feeling horribly conspicuous. I see clear parallels between fatness and thinness.”
Karen, a 40-year-old Brooklyn retailer who did not want her full name used, tells Yahoo Shine that she has been naturally “underweight” her whole life. “As a teenager, I was accused of being anorexic all the time, even by my pediatrician, and it used to really upset me. I did — and still do — have a healthy relationship with food, but I did develop a complex about being too skinny.” To this day, she says, she avoids situations that require her to wear a swimsuit in public, and she recoils when strangers think it’s OK to say, “You’re so skinny!”
“I know people don't think it's offensive because skinny is considered the ideal, but it still makes me cringe a little,” she says. “I'm sure people who think it's OK to comment on my skinny body would not think it's OK to comment on someone who is overweight. There is definitely a double standard.”
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