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TV Host Cenk Uygur Explains Why He Called Fashion Model “Anorexic Zombie”

1. Controversy over that T magazine cover featuring model Julia Nobis has re-erupted.

On his YouTube show The Young Turks, commentator Cenk Uygur and co-host Ana Kasparian discussed the cover and accompanying editorial, along with the response both from New York Times readers who condemned the photos.

3. Uygur labeled Nobis “disgusting,” “obviously anorexic,” and “like she’d just come out of a camp.”

He doesn’t mean a sleepaway summer camp, either. Though noting that he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, he added, “It’s not about her, it’s about what the fashion industry is doing. As a red-blooded American man, I’m here to tell you it’s not attractive, it’s disgusting. She looks like a zombie, I’m worried she’d bite me.”

An image from the T editorial.

5. As Fashionista noticed, a clear majority of comments left on a YouTube video of the segment strongly disagreed with his position.

A series of comments in particular came from an “eddy nobis,” believed to he Julia’s proud father. He didn’t hold back either:

BuzzFeed Fashion reached out to Eddy for a further comment, but hasn’t heard back. BuzzFeed did speak with Uygur this afternoon, however — while he prepped for tonight’s show and livestream, which will include a further discussion on the subject. Here’s the interview exclusive:

Did you expect there’d be such a backlash to your comments, either during filming or afterward?
Cenk Uygur: No, I definitely wasn’t. All of our videos [at The Young Turks] get thousands of comments, but this got a lot more attention than I imagined.

A pretty clear majority of YouTubers were coming out opposed to your take on Julia and her figure. Do you think you went too far?
CU: Me, going too far!? Never. (laughs) Look, the reality is, I stand by all my comments on the fashion industry. Looking back on it, when it comes to [Julia Nobis] personally, I certainly did not mean it as a personal attack on her. I read through the touching comments that her dad made defending her — and I was moved by that. I love him as a dad.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget when you’re talking about stories that affect society at large that there are people behind then and in this case I definitely think I was too harsh with regards to her. Of course I don’t know her particular eating habits or biology. I mean, according to her dad, she eats like a horse. I wish I had her metabolism. And let’s note for the record the irony of me commenting on anyone’s body. That is not lost on me.

Also from the T editorial.

But you think the wider points regarding “zombie models” stands?
CU: Well, I now think that [Julia] is an exception rather than the norm. In my opinion, think the fashion industry overall starves these girls half to death. They don’t make them do it, but there’s tremendous pressure to do it. The fact that she’s an exception to all that is terrific for her — but my comment holds for the industry overall.

So what sort of changes would you like to see in the fashion industry?
CU: The problem is that there’s this giant disparity between what they view to be attractive and desirable and what I think the average American views to be attractive and desirable. They’d have to revamp the entire industry and their way of thinking. You know, playing around the edges with age limits or giving models a wafer for lunch — not enough. The idea is more a general one: The anorexic look is not hot. It’s just not hot. And maybe there are people in the fashion industry who live on a totally different planet, but the reason Kate Upton is so hot right now in the real world is because we’re finally getting to see a top model who doesn’t look anorexic. That’s what we want!

But in the fashion industry, they don’t get that. It’s just not their perspective. I don’t think they care about what people find attractive, I think they live in their own world where they’ve set up these standards and they just can’t shake themselves out of it.

If the industry is on that “totally different planet,” should it be allowed to set its own standards?
CU: Look, I’m a liberal, so I’m not going to make them. I’m not going to regulate them, but if they’re asking me — and I’m not sure they are — what’s the better way to go, I’d tell them this. The industry is a business, right? So you’d think that might want to appeal to the rest of us! We don’t live in your world, so you’ve got to snap out of it. The rest of us don’t think a 95-pound girl is hot. We just don’t.

And I thought, but maybe I’m mistaken, that they’re supposed to be in the business of appearance. It’s the fashion industry, it’s visual. That’s my impression. We’re having this conversation about appearance because that’s what the industry is structured around. I think they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what is, to most people, a pleasant appearance.

Nobis in T; Upton in Vogue.

So you’d like to see more “plus-size” models?
CU: Look, I think it depends on what you mean by plus size. If you think someone like Kate Upton is plus size then you’re insane. And I would add that this is not an issue of judging women overall on their worth. That’s absolutely ridiculous, and I would never stand for that, as a progressive. But in the context of this particular industry the whole point is appearance. So, now to me, the women who appear on the Dove ads for example — I understand that’s a different look and so I get that designers maybe don’t want to go there because people in the industry might not find that attractive. That would be a terrible indictment of the human beings [in the industry], but it is what it is.

At the same time they’ve gone to the other extreme, where they have these women who are rail-thin and not attractive. I’d say to the fashion industry, you might want to do something that is reasonable and involves some degree of moderation. And then I think you’d get to a point where you do better business because people will find your clothes more appealing — they’re on more appealing models.

More appealing to the majority?
CU: Yes. And I will gratuitously add one more thing: Why does every model have to look so unpleasant? I don’t mean appearance-wise, I just mean in the way they are looking. It seems like a smile is unacceptable. Maybe it’s fierceness run amok, but I don’t like it.

11. Tune into The Young Turks livestream tonight from 6–8 p.m. PST for more from Cenk on the subject.

(And, just maybe, the full apology Papa Nobis is asking for.)

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