“...thinness is a horrible calamity for women: beauty to them is more than life itself, and it consists above all of the roundness of their forms and the graceful curvings of their outlines. The most artful toilette, the most inspired dressmaker, cannot disguise certain lacks, nor hide certain angles; and it is a common saying that a scrawny woman, no matter how pretty she may look, loses something of her charm with every fastening she undoes.”

— Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, 1825

An article in the "New York Times" on September 29 was accompanied by a photograph of a model at the Pucci show in Milan. Seen from the back, the young lady is slipping a blouse over her head.

And every rib and vertebrae was perfectly outlined against her taut, paper-thin skin, giving her the appearance of a glossy, well-coiffed, famine victim.

The article was part of continuing fall-out from a decision by the organizers of Madrid’s fashion week that saw them ban models with a body mass index of less than 18 from appearing in shows. Media reports indicate that almost one-third of all models booked for the fashion shows were turned away on that basis.

This would mean a weight of about 125 to 130 pounds for the average 5 foot, 10 inch runway model. Other reports in the weeks following the Madrid decision indicate that a large number of runway models – not necessarily the faces and names you associate with magazine work – have a body mass index in the range of 14 to 16; which means 100 to 110 pounds.

Not since the height of the “heroin chic” phase of the mid-1990s have models been so thin. And today’s models are even thinner than those young women appeared to be.

However, it’s not just on the fashion runways or the pages of magazines where thin, thinner, thinnest prevails; television and movie actresses are following, or perhaps setting, the trend.

We’re living in a time of extreme opposites; the women held out to us as beauty ideals are becoming skeletal in appearance while the media blares out warnings about a supposed “obesity epidemic.” Added to this are rising rates for anorexia in young women and girls, and, more recently, young men. Somewhere in the middle lies good health and natural beauty.

Whether or not we wish to admit it, there are links between our weight and our appearance. This is due to the effect diet has on our skin, the largest organ of our bodies.

Let’s start with some basic physiology. The skin is composed of three layers: the epidermis, where melanin (skin colour) is produced, along with keratin which protects us from our external environment and prevents water loss; the dermis, where collagen and elastin, the anti-aging properties, are contained; and the subcutaneous tissue – mostly fat stores designed to provide natural insulation.

That layer of fat is a necessary part of our physical make-up and it is important to nourish it. I’m not advocating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every night, but a diet balanced with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. In our fat-phobic society, far too many people are cutting out all fats without considering those that benefit our health.

Omega-6 acids are vital to skin health, blood clotting and healing of cuts. However, too much of it leads to the wrong type of clots in our arteries and that can lead to heart attack or stroke. This is where Omega-3 acids come in. They actually help reduce the risk of hypertension in addition to reducing depression, joint pain and skin ailments by acting as natural anti-inflammatories in our bodies.

At present, the average diet in Western societies provides us with way more Omega-6 than we need and not enough Omega-3. Omega-6 is found in cereals, margarine, vegetable oils, eggs and poultry. In this way, it’s quite prevalent in processed foods that many of us use for convenience. Omega-3 acids are found in walnuts, canola oil, broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, spinach, kidney beans, cantaloupe and, most especially, in cold-water fish.

One of the best ways to get your Omega-3s is to eat fish. The recommended amount is two servings of 3 to 4 ounces per week. While you may have heard warnings about eating cold-water fish due to toxic chemical levels, these only apply to small children and pregnant women. The average adult can safely eat up to 12 ounces of fish on a weekly basis without harming their health. A new study was released in the middle of last month and more information on this can be found here.

For those, like me, who are allergic to fish, or those who simply don’t like it, another excellent source of Omega-3 acids are flax seeds. Ground flax seeds can be sprinkled on salads and cereals and in yogurt, much as you would wheat germ or nuts. And you can buy flax seed oil at health food stores to make your own salad dressings at home.

I also eat Omega-3 enriched eggs; the chickens have been fed flax seed. But I cannot drink Omega-3 enriched milk, because the cows are fed fish meal and I still react to it. In addition, I take supplements of flax seed oil and evening primrose oil.

The importance of fat in our diet cannot be over-stated. It contains lipids essential to the development of the nervous system, and sterols, which are building blocks of our hormones. Without dietary fat, taking all the supplements in the world won’t help with your levels of vitamins A, D, E and K – you will not be able to properly metabolize them. Developing dry skin or eczema is the least of your worries if you don’t get enough fat in your diet; kidney damage, infertility (in women AND men), gallstones and osteoporosis are other consequences of an extremely low-fat diet if continued over the long term.

It is not difficult to learn how to incorporate proper amounts of healthy fats into your diet. Visit a nutritionist for a consultation, if possible. The most important thing is not to be afraid of these very necessary components of good health. Your skin will thank you for it!