Models....a weighty issue

It's the month of fashion weeks! Now that February has reached us, the fashion capitals around the world are showcasing their designers collections for the upcoming Autumn/Winter 2011 season. All are battling for a place in the front row, to get the first peek at the new collections and trends.

But the trends are no longer exclusive to the garments. In the past few years,  the models that have gained as much publicity as the clothes. It would seem not only do the fashion insiders decide what clothes we were, but they also stipulate the size, shape, and visual aesthetic that is 'in season'. And you'd be surprised at the effect this has...

The Supermodels of the 80's - killer curves, big hair, and bigger personality

I'm sure you'll all agree the fashion industry has problems. We've all heard the crazy diets models use to keep slim - the baby food diet, the cabbage soup diet, the starve yourself silly diet. Shockingly, studies have shown that as many as 40% of fashion models may currently be under the tenacious grip of an eating disorder, and typically they weigh 23% less than the average female.

Vogue cover star Coco Rocha has suffered the strenuous demands of the industry. She revealed, during her career, she was told by industry insiders:

'you need to lose more weight. The look this year is anorexia. We don't want you to be anorexic but that's what we want you to look like’.

Is it any wonder these models succumb to the pressure? Even Cindy Crawford, one of the most beautiful women on the planet, was quoted saying:

"It’s hard work in the catwalk… you are surrounded by the forty most beautiful women in the world. You see all your imperfections and none of theirs".

Cindy Crawford - imperfections?!

The scary fact is, in the modelling industry, hunger becomes an ideology. They believe, the more they starve theirselves, the more fashion rewards them.

Is this true? Are we living in a society that encourages young girls to starve themselves painfully thin, promoting razor-sharp ribcages, concaved cheeks and fallen-in faces? Surely that is not what we are aspiring towards? Or is it? What is being done to fight against it?

In Madrid, any model with a BMI of under 18.5 has been banned from the catwalk, making room for those who have healthier figures. Whilst this initially seems a good solution, is it actually ethical, or even legal? An employer cannot fire someone from a job or discriminate against them because she or he has a disease. Anorexia, and the many other eating disorders found in the industry, are psychiatric diseases that have been, in many ways, encouraged in these models. Is it fair to, all of a sudden, turn our back on these suffers, and be coerced by the media into whatever imagery it decides to promote that season?

I'm sure you'll agree not.

Then there's the other edge of the sword. Back in 2006, Gaultier hit the headlines as he swapped size 0 models for size 20. The media went crazy, crowning the “voluptuous” model for proving that “big is beautiful”, and dwarfing “her fellow waif-like catwalk queens”.

Beth Ditto, size 28, took to the catwalk at the recent Gaultier Spring/Summer 2011 show and, again, sent the media into frenzy. He announced in advance of the show that everything from XXS to XXL will be included – as if it was some sort of feature of the event. Surely this just fuels the idea that bigger women are some sort of spectacle, than a real part of fashion? Surely, if his goal really was to create acceptance of all body types, he would have allowed various sized models to walk the runway without feeling the need to say a word about it. That is what is needed to create a new norm.

Size 28 Beth Ditto - is this any better?

Not only this, but is using a size 28 model really any better than using a size 0? Why is it fair to condemn those models that are underweight, but celebrate those who are just as unhealthily overweight? In today’s society where one in four men and one in three women are overweight or obese, it is a ludicrous suggestion that we force models to reach the other end of the extreme.

I agree entirely with British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, who is tired of “shock” casting – “instead of a fuss being made about a few cause célèbre exceptions on the catwalk, what I'd really like instead is for most models to be a size 10 rather than a size 8”. It may be a ridiculous suggestion, but how about we aspire to be like those who are actually healthy?

So, what is the shape of things to come? We may be on the brink of a fashion revolution. The fashion industry is growing up, it’s becoming more responsible. But revolution is a big word - meaning sudden, radical, or complete modification. Overthrow. A paradigm shift. And fashion is a peculiar industry, one that sells innovation but actually has a strong resistance to change.

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

Hence, we are taking baby steps, but at least we’re heading in the right direction. The new ‘norm’ is now for American size 2 and 4 models to walk the catwalks, as opposed to size 0.  Diversity is being celebrated– showing every woman is different and every size can be beautiful. Magazines, too, are tip-toeing into a new realm of the more honest depiction of women.  We are setting a healthy tone.

I am not suggesting we ban underweight models from the upcoming London Fashion Week. I am not suggesting we ban overweight models either. I am simply suggesting we celebrate our differences, we learn to appreciate the things that make us unique. After all, who wants a world full of Kate Moss's?

In the words of American Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, as she triumphs over Anna Wintour in The September issue, “not everything in this world can be perfect”. And anyway, what is perfect?


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