Shallow Not Stupid

The theory that fashion magazines spawn eating disorders is exposed to ridicule by the fat ladies poring over the pictures at Vogue 100 in London’s National Portrait Gallery (until May 22, 2016), a show celebrating a century of UK Vogue. Conde Nast bought Vogue for his wife, but while the marriage ended in divorce, the magazine is still expanding with sexy young readers in China who compensate for the widening readers in England.

Patrician models from the 1930s, like my great-grandmothers with their wasp-waists and tailored clothes; the pushy glamour of 1980s creation Princess Diana facing Juergen Teller’s 1990s portrait of young David and Victoria before betrayal and botox; and the war years in a room painted Vreeland-red as a backdrop to the magnetic photography of Lee Miller, Clifford Coffin, and Cecil Beaton tell the story of Vogue in a dazzling visual history.

Garbo’s mate Beaton restored his reputation with glamorous images of the blitz after being sacked by American Vogue for captioning a picture ‘kike.’ Hitler’s burning house is photographed at such close range I can’t help but wonder if Lee Miller started the fire herself. And her seductive picture of the Burgermeister of Leipzig’s daughter, Regina Lisso, taken just after she suicided, contains a demented poetry visible to Miller, a former Vogue model, whose own ethereal beauty conceals a lifetime of suffering syphilis contracted during childhood abuse.

Like holding a magnifying glass to the past, the camera sometimes lies with its subjective eye, but no more than body dysmorphia in a full-length mirror. Corinne Day, who, like Bette Davis in Dark Victory, died of a brain tumor — one of many things that sounds more glamorous than it is — turned teenage Kate Moss into a junkie Lolita in those famous heroin-chic pictures Under Exposure, thus launching the age of the waif but almost finishing her own career as a fashion photographer.

But the images in the display cabinet that suburban sisters are leaning into, to kiss or sniff, contradict my memory of thinster Kate posing in her pants as I secretly read Vogue in school. Moss’s Belsen ribcage lures your eye away from her mama hips and thighs. In real life, my waist is two inches smaller than Kate’s and I’ve been the same dress size so long that vintage is just a walk to the back of my closet.

But, I started to worry. Did Vivvy really stay the same size, or have the dresses gotten bigger? Am I a size four masquerading as a size two? My size-zero bestie Crazy Kiki’s favorite diet is a trip to the nuthouse for a stint in a straitjacket. Mine is stale bread and fresh air at the Viva Mayr clinic in the Alps.

Normally I can’t stand quacks but I pure love Dr. Ingrid at Viva Mayr, even if the kinesiology test to determine food intolerances is a bit silly. “I can do a stool test if you prefer,” Dr. Ingrid threatens, while testing my tolerance of tomatoes and koo milk (cow to you) and gluten by getting me to shove her while holding the potentially toxic substances. The strength with which I push the doctor determines which foods are best for me to avoid, but my short attention span makes the test unscientific. When I get bored I give bossy Ingrid a really hard shove. That means I’m allowed chocolate. If my attention wanders and I give a lethargic push, that means I have to say no to fruit.

In Dr. Ingrid’s experience — which, to be fair, is greater than mine — kinesiology really works. And I am not going to disagree when she’s bigger than me, and a very good doctor who cured my Beijing lungs.

Next I was reborn in a salt pool, a super relaxing treatment for body and soul, but the psychotherapist had me worried when she said, “There may be tears.” But no, she did not torture me. We just floated in the dark water, like a womb without the blood.

I made myself popular by reporting the chef for giving us too much octopus for lunch and winning the chewing competition at every meal.

The night before my final weigh, I was sick with nerves at facing Dr. Ingrid’s scales, so I vommed up my dinner with a bit of help from the salty water you’re encouraged to knock back faster than vodka martinis. I’ve gone down half a dress size, which makes the difference between pulling up my zipper with help from the manservant and a coat hanger to just using the manservant’s paw.

Health is like acting — you only notice when it’s bad. You could just stay at home and read The Viva Mayr Diet: 14 Days to a Younger You, bake the bread, and let it go stale before eating it. But really it’s best if you check into the clinic next time you catch sight of a person who looks like you only fatter in the mirror.

Kate Moss at the Master Shipwright’s House, Mario Testino (2008)

Fashion Is Indestructible, Cecil Beaton (1941)

Kirsi Pyrhoenen in Mongolia, Tim Walker (2011)

Anne Gunning in Jaipur, Norman Parkinson (1956)

Charlie Chaplin in New York, Edward Steichen (1926)

Claudia Schiffer in Paris, Herb Ritts (1989)

Lara Stone in Carlton House Terrace, Mario Testino (2009)

Limelight Nights, Helmut Newton (1973)

Listen to Vivien Lash read from her book Spying on Strange Men