What You Missed at the Harris Center Public Forum Last Night

Arianna Huffington, Franca Sozzani, and Doutzen Kroes talked body image and the media.

[Arianna Huffington, Franca Sozzani, and Doutzen Kroes]

People packed Harvard’s Memorial Church for last night’s 15th annual Harris Center Public Forum. Blog queen Arianna Huffington, Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani, and Dutch cover girl Doutzen Kroes — a last-minute replacement for Amber Valletta — chatted with the center’s director, Dr. David Herzog, about body image, media, and the fashion industry.

The issues are timely, considering that Israel passed a law earlier this week banning underweight models from runways and that pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia sites are rampant on the web (the outspoken and influential Sozzani launched a petition against the sites last year).

“These women are clearly stars, but they’re not statuettes,” Dr. Herzog said about the panelists. “They are dealing with real issues that all of us face regarding self image, standards for beauty, fashion trends, and the public display of the human form.”

Indeed, Huffington explained that her two daughters (both currently attending Yale) have suffered from eating disorders. Quoting Sozzani, she said that “we not only have to accept ourselves, we have to embrace ourselves.”

Here are some of the interesting tidbits to come out of the evening:

– There’s a tip jar in the Huffington Post newsroom. Whenever someone makes a comment about his weight or someone else’s weight — even if it’s a compliment — he has to deposit a dollar in the jar to be donated to Girls Inc.

– Sozzani acknowledged that some of the women featured in Vogue Italia are very thin. But the real issue is that all the magazines are using the same blond, leggy models, she said. “We are giving an aesthetic code that is the same for everyone — that’s the real mistake.” She called the magazine’s July 2008 “black issue” (featuring Liya Kebede, Naomi Campbell, and others) her proudest career moment.

– Huffington revealed that both she and Sozzani were born in 1950 — and that neither of them are considering plastic surgery. “Los Angeles is becoming a terrifying city,” Huffington said. “Calling the plastic surgery happening on West Coast a form of beauty, shows how distorted our images of beauty are.”

– The problem with fashion becoming more democratic — in that most people can afford designer pieces, or at least designer knockoffs — is that “everyone becomes the same,” Sozzai said. People “dont want to be different and are scared to be different, especially when they are young.”

– Even supermodels have doubts, Kroes said. “I get a picture taken, and I don’t look the same in real life: there is good lighting, there’s a photographer, and there’s retouching after,” she said, adding that she was always told to lose weight, which dredged up insecurities.

– Dr. Herzog talked about the new law in Israel, and about the safety and health of young models. “I would encourage agencies to have individuals in good health when they start modeling, no matter if their BMI is 18.2 or 18.7.”

Her Campus founder Windsor Hanger asked the panel for their positive body image role models. “I hope I am,” Kroes said. Huffington told Hanger that she’s inspired by all the distinct and different students that she meets when visiting colleges. Sozzani suggested that she go to a modeling agency and ask to see who they rejected.

All photos by Renata Brito