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Former reality star Bethenny Frankel has never been one to shy away from discussing her obsession with body image and dieting. But her latest move has some accusing the Skinny Girl lifestyle brand creator of being a downright trigger for those battling demons of their own. Her offense? Posing in her 4-year-old daughter Bryn’s Hello Kitty pajamas — which fit Frankel’s tiny frame — and flaunting the photo as proof on Instagram.
“It’s violently irresponsible for several reasons,” charged Meghan McCain on “The View” Monday. “I have been fat-shamed my entire life, and for her to act like fitting into your 4-year-old’s pajamas is some kind of accomplishment is absolutely irresponsible.”
Frankel, 43, posted the controversial photo on Sunday with the following caption: “This is my daughter's nightgown and PJ shorts. Think we’re ready to start sharing clothes yet?” So far it’s gotten more than 9,000 likes, though opinions have been split. “Wow, way to go, you just destroyed the last 50 years of women who are struggling with body issues, get help!” wrote one annoyed Instagram user. Another noted, “This is sickening. You're an attention seeker and you're doing it at your daughter’s expense,” while yet another expressed her disapproval with simple hashtags: “#formerfan #youneedmoretherapy #sicko.”
Plenty of followers jumped to her defense, though, with comments including, “Shaming someone for being skinny is just as bad as shaming someone for being overweight,” and “Omg people get over it. She’s a petite woman. That’s how her body is and she can’t do anything about it. I fit into 4-yr-old’s clothes too, so does that make me skeleton too? I eat a lot (junk food) and I'm still tiny. Some people are just born with small bodies. Deal with it.”
On Twitter, commenters implored Frankel to “get help” and called the photo “CREEPY, DELUSIONAL, TONE DEAF," while Frank Spinelli, MD, Sirius radio host and author, noted on Twitter, “You sell women ‘skinny’ alcohol & wear ur 4 year old's clothes. Add body image distorter to ur credentials.”
Body image expert Renee Engeln, psychology professor and director of the Body & Media Lab at Northwestern University, tends to agree. “There are a few ways images like this can hurt women,” she tells Yahoo Shine in an email. “Even a woman who has a critical reaction initially can begin to wonder if she should be that thin and begin to compare her own body to this woman’s body. This is especially worrisome for women already struggling with eating-related concerns or body image issues. This image becomes just one more of the unhealthy ‘thinspiration’ images available online.”
Additionally, Engeln notes, media activists have long noted that models often have the bodies of preadolescents. “Surely adult women aren’t now expecting to be praised if they have the bodily proportions of preschoolers,” she says. “I imagine Ms. Frankel posted this image in fun, but there are real consequences to the lives of girls and women when they live in a culture where the easiest way to draw attention is to show others how thin they are.” But the worst offense, she says, is that the image has launched yet another round of discussions about women’s bodies, rather than women’s truly conversation-worthy attributes.
But Frankel, who commented on the controversy via Twitter on Monday, is laughing the whole thing off. “BREAKING NEWS! World Scandal: Former reality star, failed talk show host & cocktail maven jokes by wearing her kids' pjs! #itcantbetrue,” she wrote. Plus, she notes, she had no choice in the matter, explaining, “When ur 4 year old peanut says ‘mommy please put my dress on’ & giggles uncontrollably, u do what ur told.”