Backlash Against Big Beauty Queen

Is English model a "fat, lazy, poster girl for bad health?"

April 4, 2008 — -- Chloe Marshall's tiara tumbled this week as the British press chided the size-16 Miss England model as "fat, lazy and a poster girl for ill health."

The curvaceous 17-year-old beautician trainee, who was the first plus-sized model in British history to make the July finals of the annual contest, was the butt of numerous assaults in a story in London's gossipy "Daily Mail."

"Feted and fawned over for her courage in daring to break the mould, Chloe boasts she wants to be an 'ambassador for curves'," wrote columnist and former Miss England judge Monica Grenfell. "Who does she think she's kidding?"

"What she's demonstrating isn't bravery but a shocking lack of self-control," she wrote. "Instead of flaunting her figure, Chloe ought to own up to the truth. She is fat and she got that way by over-eating."

The visceral reaction to the model's rotund bikini-clad photo underscores the confusion and complexity in the ongoing debate over weight on and off the runway.

Marshall is far outside the norm in fashion, which critics charge encourage anorexia in teens. At the same time, childhood obesity is reaching record proportions in many Western countries.

Marshall responded to Grenfell's skewer as a publicity stunt, claiming that she does, indeed, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, having slimmed down recently to a "normal," 5-feet, 10-inches and 176 pounds.

The pretty brunette has touted herself as a role model for teens and an outspoken critic of the fashion industry's celebration of paper-thin models.

Self-Hate and Anorexia

"It is a shame that this kind of criticism could give young women complexes that force them into self-hate and anorexia," Marshall said in a prepared statement.

The Miss England pageant is a welcoming platform for plus-size girls because the winner is chosen in part by the public.

"We don't deal with catwalk models, and we always encourage them to eat correctly and not to lose weight," Angie Beasley, Miss England Pageant director, told ABC News. "They are judged also on personality, confidence, beauty, and they also have to be photogenic."

The model has heralded her success on the catwalk as a vindication for all young girls who fret about their body image. But Grenfell claims she is a "terrible role model" and shouldn't win the title.

"It would send an appalling — and very dangerous — message to other young women that it's OK to be fat," the writer said. "Chloe is a stark reminder that obesity is now virtually normal in our society — and we should all be hanging our heads in shame."

Fashion critics this side of the Atlantic are just as tough. When the tabloids got hold of an unflattering photo of "America's Top Model" host Tyra Banks, whose waistline had expanded, they screamed, "America's Next Top Waddle" and "Tyra Porkchop."

Backlash against the round-faced ingenue quickly backfired.

"This is absolutely ridiculous," her agent, Model Plus's Stevie Walters, told "She's just a large-framed girl. It's an outrage that a woman could say something like this. Meanwhile, everybody is rooting for Chloe."

In fact, Marshall is "perfectly normal," according to Carla Wolper of the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.

'Not Obese at All'

The British press cited the model's body mass index (BMI) — a key indicator of healthy weight — at 26.03. Wolper, a research associate with a doctorate in nutrition, said Marshall is, "not obese at all."

Body mass index is a measure of an adult's body fat based on height and weight. The normal range of BMI for a woman of Marshall's height and weight is between 20 and 25, according to Wolper. A BMI of 30 indicates obesity.

An estimated 65 percent of all Americans are considered obese. Britain, too is struggling with a childhood diabetes epidemic and the perils of anorexia.

The European fashion industry has been lambasted about the anorexic look of its models, but some industry observers wonder if the top houses will ever embrace the big-is-beautiful look.

Italy has applied weight limits and required some its models to carry medical certificates, proving they are healthy enough for the catwalk. In both Britain and in France, government campaigns have pushed for more regulation, believing celebrity-worshipping teens are vulnerable to anorexia.

Anorexia is not as prevalent as obesity, according to Wolper, but the psychiatric disorder kills 40 percent of its victims.

Defending the model's weight, provided she does not progressively gain more, Wolper countered that the Daily Mail critic "doesn't like the way [Marshall] looks."

But Grenfell insists, "It's a total fallacy that young girls are being pressured into near-starving themselves into being too thin. Take a look around you and you will see that the total reverse is true. Teenage girls aren't in danger of falling victim to an epidemic of anorexia — but of obesity."

One of her readers agreed. Suzy of Glasgow, who describes herself as 5-foot, 8-inches tall and a size 10, told the newspaper that she has to struggle to be fit, running 5 kilometers a day and avoiding fast food.

"It makes me mad when people like Chloe are allowed to glamorize obesity, and even worse, make it look like a mentally and physically healthier alternative to watching your weight," she wrote.

Still, Marshall's agent insisted the model's mother had played a key role in making sure her daughter followed a healthy regimen.

"I think what happened with her is she was bullied a bit at school," said agent Walters. "Her mother reacted well: 'Listen, darling, you have to be happy in your own skin.' Chloe is happy and she doesn't feel embarrassed in the least."

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events