“I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.”
This iconic quote, seamlessly delivered by Emily Blunt’s perfectly lined lips, reached millions of young, impressionable teenage girls as they gazed at their TV’s watching the iconic 2006 dramedy, The Devil Wears Prada. The film follows charming aspiring journalist Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) as she navigates her journey as personal assistant to Miranda Priestly, editor of the world-renowned fashion magazine, Runway. Viewers sympathize with Andy as she struggles to balance her grueling work schedule with her crumbling personal life, and is at Miranda’s beck and call for various demeaning and outlandish tasks.
In the end, Andy realizes that advancing her career is not worth sacrificing her dignity and personal relationships, and the film culminates in a somewhat cliche, feel-good montage of a newly independent Andy walking the streets of New York City. While we all were encapsulated by the uplifting messages of this iconic film, upon a rewatch in 2022, is it possible that we glossed over blatant body shaming, unrealistic expectations, and casual sexism? It’s no question that the film is effective in relaying its positive message of staying true to oneself and steering clear of toxic environments. However, potentially harmful messages regarding self-image fell through the cracks.
From the beginning of the film, Andy withstood criticism from her co-workers and boss for various reasons. One of the main sources of criticism she received was regarding her figure. Even her beloved co-worker, Nigel, refers to her as “six,” her dress size, as if this perfectly healthy size were abnormal or unacceptable. This joke recurs throughout the film as Hathaway stands alongside her rail-thin co-stars, including Emily Blunt and renowned runway model Gisele Bundchen. Nigel even praises her at the end of the film for losing weight and going down to a size four. Presumably, this weight came off naturally in response to the strenuous nature of Andy’s new job and the stress she endured.
Why are we praising unhealthy weight loss? What screenwriters do not consider is that the average dress size for a woman in America is a size twelve. Belittling a woman on screen for being two sizes smaller than the average size of a woman promotes extremely harmful ideology. While Nigel’s quips are meant to bring comedic relief, what they really do is make young watchers question if they too are small enough to conform to these unrealistic, and scarily enough, unhealthy standards.
Sadly, the main reason why these issues were not addressed immediately upon release of the film, is because these harmful messages are consistent with early 2000’s diet culture.Tabloid reporters of the 2000s fueled a nationwide obsession with weight loss as fashion trends and celebrity “diets” created an unattainable aesthetic. Every pound lost by impressionable celebrities such as Kate Moss, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie was accompanied by a hypothesis from the media. A bad breakup perhaps? Maybe a secret struggle with anorexia? A scandalous drug habit? It’s no wonder young women became dangerously obsessed with the aesthetic of being thin when mini skirts the size of belts and ridiculous speculation were plastered on the media they consumed daily.
Today, the trends of the early 2000s have come creeping back in the form of “Y2K” microtrends, like low-rise jeans and Juicy Couture. Some have speculated that these aren’t the only trends coming back, and that the “skinny” aesthetic is slowly clouding the minds of young girls in 2022. While we have made sufficient progress in spreading awareness and increasing sensitivity surrounding body image through the body positivity movement, we still have a long way to go. As “calories count, check before you choose!” signs smother the vending machines at Providence College, we can only hope that continuing to spread awareness will override this ideology for future generations.