Recently, I was working on a part of my PhD thesis wherein I had to describe why my research about body image is important for the broader public. Piece of cake.
But my supervisor wasn’t pleased with the final product: “You need to make it crystal clear that body image is a hot topic in the Netherlands right now. You need concrete examples. Like Nienke van der Peet.”
What makes van der Peet so unique compared to most models? She has a size 42-44 (US 12-14) — the size of the average Dutch woman. She’s a self-proclaimed “curve model” and “healthy body image advocate,” and wants to show that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
For this next season of Holland’s Next Top Model (HNTM), fans could vote for the model that they wanted to see in the competition. From the top ten, the HNTM jury would select one. My supervisor told me that van der Peet was surpassing all of her competitors by a long shot. “This is a good sign,” she said. “Dutch women want to see a model that looks more like them. They’re making their voice heard.”
van der Peet came out way on top: She received nearly 11,000 votes — over 7,000 more than her nearest competitor. Everyone expected HNTM to choose van der Peet. It would be the first time that a so-called “plus-size” model would appear on the show.
That’s why I was shocked to hear that HNTM has chosen another model from the top ten. Their reason? van der Peet “didn’t fit the HNTM look.”
Like many others in the Netherlands, I feel extremely disappointed.
HNTM had the chance to set a good example, to show that beauty isn’t size-dependent. Instead, they’ve thrown that chance away, sending the message that average-size women are less desirable. They could’ve taken a step forward in increasing model diversity. Instead, they’ve taken a step back, and have decided to play it safe.
I also feel very angry. van der Peet was a clear-cut fan favorite — the Dutch fans proved that they wanted to see a model break the mold. For HNTM to choose another model seems inexcusable.
I’m still inspired by the overwhelming support van der Peet has received, but it’s clear that some things will be hard to change — like the opinions of those in charge of the modeling industry.
Even though the belief that “thinness sells” has been scientifically debunked, people still stubbornly hold onto it. Further, fatphobia remains rampant: Model Ashley Graham was told numerous times that she’d never make it big — because of her curves. And isn’t it very telling that van der Peet and Graham — women with average–sized bodies — are labelled “plus-size” by the modeling industry?
America’s Next Top Model has regularly included larger models since 2008. HNTM: Isn’t it time for you to catch up?
Let HNTM know you disapprove of their decision by contacting them via their Facebook or Twitter pages.
Jessica Alleva is a PhD student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on interventions for improving body image. She is also passionate about research on the impact of media and sexual objectification on body image.
The US version includes larger sized models for purely commercial reasons. The Dutch version doesn’t include them for purely commercial reasons too.
There is nothing ethically pure about the US version, nor is there anything morally right in campaigns from Dove and the like. They are just different ways of captitalizing on the audience.
These days, ‘real bodies’ make you likeable in the eyes of the audience. The US version knows that. They also involve the audience more in voting schemes (which brings in money, did I mention these are all commercial interests?). The Dutch version appears to be more keen on making money off the show via product placement and using these girls as cheap labour.
No analysis of this phenemenon is useful without looking at the political economy of television production.
Perhaps is had something to do with the information in this piece:
Nynke already has a career and contract by a famous bureau in NY. So she doesn`t fit in the format of HNTM as a innocent unexeperient girl who do whatever the judges pleases…
Get your facts straight 😉
Thanks for your insightful comments. I agree with you, television programmes are complex to study and evaluate. You are right that they are primarily there to make money. I do not refute that.
However, aside from the “hidden agendas” they might have, the fact remains that viewing extremely thin women (and the absence of a variety of body shapes and sizes) can have a negative impact on women’s body image.
Regardless of whether we agree with what’s going on “behind the scenes” of television programmes and politics, I think that it is still worthwhile to advocate for a change in the way women’s bodies are represented in mass media.
Thanks for sharing this interesting blog post!
I hadn’t seen it before, and it is certainly good to consider the other potential reasons why HNTM might not have chosen van der Peet.
We can indeed never know for sure, what their “real” reasons were. But I think it is still important to consider what their decision reflects from a body image/diversity standpoint.
All the best,
Yes Jessica, I agree.
My comment mostly stems from a critical view on media literacy, which is often advised as an antidote to media influence (ie, if young girls are just weaponized against media, then their effects will be less harmful).
Good luck on your project, I’m sure we’ll meet some time!
Something which bothers me with every “plus-sized” model pictures: they are just as photo-shopped as their “classic” counterparts. Never any shadow under the breasts or belly, never anything hanging, over-use of the smoothing tool on the thighs… These are at least, if not more, destructive to women’s self-confidence. Now you must ask yourself why you look like a toppled bag of potatoes despite being several sizes smaller than what these women are reporting to be! (and even at a comparable height in my case!). With skinny models, a teenager might think if she hit the gym and diet… but with these lies it brands every “average” woman as ugly. Who averagely looks like this?!