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Too Fat For Fashion: Down To The Bone: Vogue's Shape Issues
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Monday, March 26, 2007

Down To The Bone: Vogue's Shape Issues

After months of media attention US Vogue has finally weighed in on the Skinny model debate. I've been waiting for this article for some time now. It seems every other publication from People to Paper has had something to say on the subject but Vogue has remained silent. Its no surprise that the magazine that launched the careers of some of the most lanky and lithe models on the scene would wish to chose its words carefully amidst growing public concern about the dangerous of anorexia and other eating disorders within the fashion world but silence is by its nature damning. Especially considering the very human cost of questionable practices within the fashion world.

The article itself Walking A Thin Line by Rebecca Johnson attempts to address eating disorder issue within the modeling world while praising the veritable cult of thinness. This is simply put a mistake. Statements like "clothes look better on a thin person" don't illustrate anything aside from the authors own feelings about models. When last I checked different clothes looked better on different people, it isn't about fat vs. thin its about what suits you and what works for you. Saying that clothing looks better on any one body type is counterproductive and ultimately damaging.

Underlying biases aside some valid points were touched such as the veritable banishment of heavier models to commercial work. After the fall of the supermodel any girl over a size 0 is either out of a job or regulated to swimsuit and lingerie work (an issue we'll touch more on later) they become the dreaded c word. Commercial. Its an unspoken yet widely accepted rule within fashion that once a girl gains weight she loses her edge (I suppose they mean the razor sharp edge of her sunken cheekbones) and subsequently her blue chip clients. Its always been a bit disconcerting to me that the look of health and happiness in a girl is somehow considered unfashionable. Weight is not merely a physical issue for models its a monetary one as well. The vast majority of girls on the catwalks today are underage, away from their families and attempting to be breadwinners. Even a small change in size can leave a girl out of work. Take the case of Dutch model Doutzen Kroes, a stunning girl by any standards and yet she was sent home from a Gucci casting for being too "fat".

This is Doutzen by the way.

Her words on the subject:
"I like the Versace show best so far. The collection is really beautiful and at Versace femininity is important. Feminine shapes are allowed. In contrary to Gucci where I got rejected because I was too fat! Gucci likes slim girls only." - Doutzen Kroes

I know. It boggles the mind that her shape is considered unacceptable.

Its this incredibly skewed perspective that Ms. Johnson never truly touches on. For all the soundbytes from designers and snippets about the CFDA forum no one ever outright says that the ideal laid in place has become unattainable. Impossible even. When 6ft tall 100lb teenagers are being asked lose weight something is incredibly wrong. Robin Givhan of The Washington Post alludes to the problem:

"I think what happened was our eyes changed slowly over time...After a while, a size 0 starts to seem normal, not cadaverous. Fashion is about fantasy and aspiration. Women look to it for inspiration. But somewhere along the way the industry went from long and lean to something you wouldn't want to aspire to. It became unattractive."

What she doesn't say is that it also became dangerous. Luisel Ramos and Ana Carolina-Reston died because they tried to force their bodies to submit to an ideal of perfection that doesn't exist and for every girl that loses her life tragically there are so many more who suffer in silence.

I can't help but think that part of the problem lies in the devaluation of the girls themselves. Gone are the days when models were viewed as individuals whose unique beauty highlights the clothing, today with the exception of a handful of well known girls they are just nameless faceless human hangers. There is a good quote on this within the piece:
"When the models themselves were famous designers would gladly alter a dress to fit the girl. But when the models are generically interchangable, its easier to find a girl who fits the dress."

In other words we can cut as small as we want and if you don't lose weight to keep up were not going to hire you.

And what of the solution? How can this problem be solved or at the very least dealt with? Based on the interviews it would seem that the main course of action seems to be finger pointing. Designers blame bookers, bookers blame models and Gisele blames parents. No one wants to take responsibility and everyone is too busy searching for a scapegoat to truly address the issues at hand. I was especially offended by the very end of the article wherein genetic science was brought up. Genetic components of any disease notwithstanding I felt as though that was a giant cop out. Yes diseases are inherently tied to our genes but I don't feel as though what's going on with the fashion industry can be explained away by placing the blame on DNA. It would seem that people are really reaching for any and every excuse to deflect blame away from the inherent problems within the industry.

In short the Vogue article left me with little more than a bad taste in my mouth. Its been months since the deaths of Luisel and Ana and nothing has changed. Isn't about time we placed more importance on the lives of young girls than on scraps of fabric? And not just the lives of models but the lives of all the young girls and women who look to fashion for inspiration because this is not JUST a fashion issue. If the BMI system does not work there ought to be a a search for a system that does work. Putting down a few fruit platters backstage is not enough, its time for a shift in the way beauty is presented and viewed. If the samples are too small make them bigger. If the girls look ill send them to talk to doctors/nutritionists and get counseling and if the clients only want frail emaciated young women tell them to get real and understand that beauty isn't about squeezing into a negative size sheath.


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