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Cure worse than the disease? The No-l-ita ad: how not to tackle anorexia

Imagery of ultra-thin high-fashion models can be disturbing for many, and the high status of these models may inspire some girls and young women to unnecessarily diet in order to lose weight.  However, are the following images a solution to this problem?

No-l-ita anorexia ad

The photos above are from Oliviero Toscani, feature 15-year anorexia sufferer Isabelle Caro, 27, and represent Toscani’s effort to tackle anorexia.  The pictures were sponsored by the Italian clothing firm No-l-ita, and will be featured on billboards across Italian cities, with the backing of the Italian health ministry.

Toscani noted, "I have been interested in anorexia for years. Who is responsible for it? The media in general, television and the fashion industry."

These individuals need to learn from the failures of numerous drug abuse prevention and eating disorders prevention programs.

Information on drug use is relevant since some females use drugs to lose weight.  Knowledge of the debilitating effect of drugs either does not change attitude or behavior, or enhances behavior toward drug consumption.(1-5)  Numerous studies evaluating educational programs using cognitive and affective education approaches plus effective experimental designs have failed to show changes in drug use or attitudes toward drug use.(6, 7)

Educational programs attempting to prevent eating disorders increase knowledge about eating pathology, sometimes change both attitudes and behavioral intent, and may even reduce the so-called “internalization of the thin ideal.”(8-12)  However, not only do many of them not have long-term positive outcomes,(13-17) i.e., reduce dieting or disordered eating behavior, but some interventions have increased subsequent dietary restraint(14) and eating disorder symptoms.(15)

Toscani’s imagery is a form of scare tactic, but they do not necessarily work.  For instance, scare tactics and excessive focus on negative aspects with a clear intent to dissuade usage increase the credibility gap between anabolic steroid users and health science educators,(18) and increase the use of such drugs.(19)

What is going on?

Educating people about what psychological effects different drugs have can prompt some individuals to try out some drugs to experience the psychological effects themselves.  Telling others about methods some use to lose body fat will provide just the information some girls are looking for, namely how to lose weight.

Toscani’s imagery shows what starvation can do.  If starving oneself can result in such an extreme outcome, lesser food restriction will easily result in a less extreme outcome, i.e., the typical skinny look of high-fashion models.  In others words, starving oneself works.  Therefore, what good is Toscani’s imagery?  How is it going to dissuade girls inspired by thin high-fashion models?  All they have to do to avoid the looks of the model in Toscani’s pictures is to not starve themselves as badly.

The most effective interventions that reduce anorexic behaviors are those that make the participants question the thin fashion ideal.  Toscani’s imagery doesn’t help in this regard.

What would be effective imagery to make people question the thin fashion ideal?  If Toscani shot pictures of gay-looking men knitting clothes and dreaming about 13-year-old boys and put them up on billboards throughout Italy, they would create a sensation, and when asked to explain, Toscani could say that he wanted to bring attention to what is responsible for the thin fashion ideal...the desire of homosexual fashion designers to make their female models look like boys in their early adolescence.  This would work, but as it stands right now, Toscani has just produced very distasteful imagery that is unlikely to be effective.  The ad has gotten people talking, made Milan's mayor ban the ads from billboards owned by the city and prompted the French advertising self-regulatory body (BVP) to strongly advise billboard owners against displaying the ads., but all this is a waste of time unless people start talking about the gay fashion designer factor.


  1. Swisher, J. D., Crawford, J., Goldstein, R., and Yura, M., Drug education: pushing or preventing?, Peabody J Educ, 55, 68 (1971).
  2. Lawrence, T. S., and Velleman, J. D., Correlates of student drug use in a suburban high school, Psychiatry, 37, 129 (1974).
  3. Goldberg, L., Bosworth, E. E., Bents, R. T., and Trevisan, L., Effect of an anabolic steroid education program on knowledge and attitudes of high school football players, J Adolesc Health Care, 11, 210 (1990).
  4. Anshel, M. H., and Russell, K. G., Examining athletes' attitudes toward using anabolic steroids and their knowledge of the possible effects., J Drug Educ, 27, 121 (1997).
  5. Clayton, R. R., Cattarello, A. M., and Johnstone, B. M., The effectiveness of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (project DARE): 5-year follow-up results, Prev Med, 25, 307 (1996).
  6. Schaps, E., Bartolo, R., Moskowitz, J., Palley, C., and Churgin, S., Review of 127 drug abuse prevention program evaluations., J Drug Issues, 2, 17 (1980).
  7. Peterson, A. V., Jr., Kealey, K. A., Mann, S. L., Marek, P. M., and Sarason, I. G., Hutchinson Smoking Prevention Project: long-term randomized trial in school-based tobacco use prevention--results on smoking, J Natl Cancer Inst, 92, 1979 (2000).
  8. Moreno, A. B., and Thelen, M. H., Preliminary prevention program for eating disorders in a junior high school population., J Youth Adolescence, 22, 109 (1993).
  9. Irving, L. M., DuPen, J., and Berel, S., A media literacy program for high school females., Eating Disorders, 6, 119 (1998).
  10. Killen, J. D., Taylor, C. B., Hammer, L. D., Litt, I., Wilson, D. M., Rich, T., Hayward, C., Simmonds, B., Kraemer, H., and Varady, A., An attempt to modify unhealthful eating attitudes and weight regulation practices of young adolescent girls, Int J Eat Disord, 13, 369 (1993).
  11. Smolak, L., Levine, M. P., and Schermer, F., A controlled evaluation of an elementary school primary prevention program for eating problems, J Psychosom Res, 44, 339 (1998).
  12. Shisslak, C. M., Crago, M., and Neal, M. E., Prevention of eating disorders among adolescents., Am J Health Promotion, 5, 100 (1990).
  13. Paxton, S. J., A prevention program for disturbed eating and body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls: a 1 year follow-up., Health Educ Res, 8, 43 (1993).
  14. Carter, J. C., Stewart, D. A., Dunn, V. J., and Fairburn, C. G., Primary prevention of eating disorders: might it do more harm than good?, Int J Eat Disord, 22, 167 (1997).
  15. Mann, T., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Huang, K., Burgard, D., Wright, A., and Hanson, K., Are two interventions worse than none? Joint primary and secondary prevention of eating disorders in college females, Health Psychol, 16, 215 (1997).
  16. Stewart, D. A., Carter, J. C., Drinkwater, J., Hainsworth, J., and Fairburn, C. G., Modification of eating attitudes and behavior in adolescent girls: a controlled study, Int J Eat Disord, 29, 107 (2001).
  17. Baranowski, M. J., and Hetherington, M. M., Testing the efficacy of an eating disorder prevention program, Int J Eat Disord, 29, 119 (2001).
  18. Marshall, E., The drug of champions, Science, 242, 183 (1988).
  19. Goldberg, L., Bents, R., Bosworth, E., Trevisan, L., and Elliot, D. L., Anabolic steroid education and adolescents: do scare tactics work?, Pediatrics, 87, 283 (1991).


Wow, you really are obsessed with the whole idea of every fashion designer being a raging homosexual aren't you? How come you are so paranoid, did you have a bad gay experience when you were little? Or do you just not know any gay men but have a small-minded fear of them for some reason? "Gay men" as you seem to think of them aren't nutters you know, they're not all gay because of years of hideous abuse or repressed desire, they aren't so messed that they have to try and control women's body shape and "turn them into pre-pubescent boys". If they were all perverts and werdos like you say, why wouldnt they just be touching kids? They aren't devious y'know. I think your website is almost funny, but sadly to the point of worrying. Do you really spend your sad little hours pouring your lonely heart into bitter dissections of young women's physiques? To put it colloquially, you need help mate. The only analysis of 'femininity' that counts is waist to hips ratio anyway. A really skinny girl or a really fat girl with a ration near to 0.7 is found physically attractive by men, it's a sign of fertility, no matter what the frame size. So as long as a girl/women is a fairly healthy weight, that's all that matters aside from it, I mean that is why we are here... to reproduce, nothing else really. And surely to God not to waste one's life creating poisonous websites (and to that you will probably just refer to your 'fave girls' pages etc), but who cares who you like the ass of, by the looks of it you will probably never get to touvh a real one! Hahaha, "lol".

hey i reckon this website brings out the truth about he fashion industry.
And yes man usually do have an effect to make women feel bad about their body size and those are gay fashion designers. we are all adults here no need to get all aggressive unless you are gay and you like to defend yourself. but this is not about you its about the world and the sterotypes in it.

I wonder what's in the minds of these girls. Anorexia is a traumatizing health condition and I think we still don't know everything about it. My sister had anorexia and I remember it was so difficult to communicate with her, she simply refused any form of help and it was tough for the whole family. I heard that steroids might help for this kind of health conditions. Do any of you know more details about it? I have already found steroids for sale but I don't know which one will fit...

Many of these girls are trying to lose weight that much that they are getting addicted to various drugs. The sad thing is that through fashion media and some mental disorders, even after they have received drug treatments they are still going on that path. I think that a simple imagery campaign is not enough and a more aggressive campaign should be applied in this case.

I don't believe this is the right way of making us aware of the danger anorexia represents. I was also discussing this campaign with Ryan Deiss and I wanted to say that this action is similar to what happened in "A Clockwork Orange" - they want to cure people with grotesque means.

I can't begin to imagine the pain and anxiety an anorexic girl must feel, that she gave herself up just to be beautiful. For me, health is the most important thing, I've recently had an yeast infection treatment because I wasn't feeling so well and I realized that if you don't have your health, you have nothing. To conclude, I wouldn't want to be beautiful and sick, I'd rather be healthy and chase after my dreams!

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