— The Middleton sisters were catapulted to style-icon status the minute Kate (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) walked down the aisle to marry Prince William with her stunning sister Pippa following behind.
Women the world over instantly connected with the commoner who became a princess and her rowdier, sexy younger sister. Fashion blogs carefully document the Duchess’s every sartorial choice, which often happen to be affordable brands like Zara and Reiss.
But in a dangerous turn, some women are coveting more than the Middleton sisters' blazers and sheaths. Images of both siblings are now serving as “thinspiration” on “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites — forums for promoting anorexia and bulimia that often give sufferers tips and tricks for losing weight.
“These sites are very, very dangerous,” said Lynn S. Grefe, MA, president and chief executive officer of the National Eating Disorders Association. “Eating disorders are biologically based psychiatric illnesses, and these sites promote being sick and staying sick ... bottom line, they delay treatment.”
“Thinspiration,” or “thinspo” as it’s called in pro-ana vernacular, is imagery — often of models and uber-thin celebs — that “inspires” those suffering from eating disorders to lose weight and ultimately prolongs suffering and prevents treatment. In the past, those celebs have included Victoria Beckham and Mary-Kate Olsen. But with increasing frequency, Kate and Pippa are popping up as “thinspo” on online forums, social networking sites, and blogs.
“Awesome post, she’s so thin, she looks amazing,” wrote one commenter after a string of Kate Middleton photos were posted on a site devoted to thinspiration. On another popular pro-ana forum, one user lists Kate Middleton as No. 2 on her top 10 thinspiration list, in between Beckham and Olsen.
That Kate and Pippa are becoming thin-girl icons poses a potentially bigger threat as the pair are more than just style icons: They're role models.
“Every little girl at one time wants to be a princess, and these images will not only reach teenagers but middle and elementary schoolers,” said Jill M. Pollack, director of the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia. She has been treating patients suffering from eating disorders for over 20 years. “To have the Middleton sisters [on pro-ana sites] is like, oh my God, a disaster waiting to happen.”
Recent tabloid reports have estimated Kate’s current weight at 95 pounds — and while there’s no evidence to support these claims, Pollack concedes that the Duchess's visible collar bones alone may be cause for alarm.
“It’s not easy to starve yourself,” Pollack says, “and [people suffering from eating disorders] look for thinspiration to lose weight.”
To be sure, Kate has lost weight over the last year. Whether or not her weight loss is cause for concern remains to be seen. (Her husband’s late mother, Princess Diana, admitted to struggling with bulimia throughout her life.)
And while it’s nearly impossible to shut down pro-ana and -mia sites — new ones spring up as others are shut down — Pollack hopes the royal bride and her sister will release a statement condemning the sites.
Grefe urges parents to track their children’s internet usage, and says the National Eating Disorders Association has plans to launch their own website as a counter to the proliferation of pro-ana sites.