Fashion Issues: Fashions Weight Problem

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The fashion industry's attitude towards food, body image and weight-gain was perfectly pilloried in the 2006 film, The Devil Wears Prada . Miranda Priestly's first assistant, played by Emily Blunt, has succumbed to the ideal of the impossibly tiny model proportions featured in glossy magazines: "See, I'm on this new diet," says Blunt. "I don't eat anything. And right before I feel I'm going to faint, I eat a cube of cheese. I'm one stomach flu away from my goal weight."

Since modelling began, the industry has been rife with eating disorders and substance abuse. For most women it's just not genetically possible (past puberty) to both fit the sample sizes made by designers and eat normally. Adriana Lima's preparation for the Victoria's Secret runway show, a company which prides itself on using models with curves, caused a stir when she told The Telegraph she doesn't eat solid food for nine days before the show.

The fashion industry has always had a strange relationship with the real world. It is a weird bubble of air kisses and wealth that spends its life on the road, rolling up in one city after another, accompanied by ruthless booking agents and designer houses who think nothing of charging more for a dress than most of us earn in a month.

Six months later the high street copies the styles and we are all walking about in mass-produced versions of the catwalk outfits. But while I can laugh at the spectacle, appreciate how important it is for the British economy and ooh and ah over the outfits, there is something strangely uncomfortable about it all. The main reason for that isn’t the exorbitant prices, it is the models. The hollow-eyed, emaciated young women who clatter up and down the runways in too high heels with clothes in tiny sizes hanging from their nonexistent hips.

When you stand next to a fashion model for the first time, especially a ‘high fashion’ model, you become suddenly aware that you are in the presence of a very different kind of human being. More often than not, she’ll tower above you, Amazonian in stature. When you look closer, you’ll see that her skinny legs and arms are, rather than the result of months of starvation, usually part and parcel of her very specific body type: a body type that which is both unusually slim and statuesque, with hips and breasts kept to a minimum. That’s not to say that some models don’t underfeed themselves, or that their working conditions aren’t often appalling or rife with pressure to do so (as we’ve stated in previous columns, the fashion industry has a lot to answer for) but merely that the ‘fash pack’ favours one particular body type, and one which is by its very nature uncommon amongst the general population.

Women are increasing dissatisfied by fashion’s unwillingness to market to them. A lot of women wear a size 14 or larger but most standard clothing outlets cater to sizes 14 or smaller. Model of the moment Cara Delevingne looks like a fun girl, but she also has the appearance of someone who hasn’t eaten a square meal since the age of 10.

Type “Cara’s thigh gap” into Google and you will see the effect these models have on young women.

I’m not blaming Cara, she set out to be a fashion model not a role model, but her success has made her the go-to girl for the catwalk and the poster girl for stick thin legs. I don’t know if her pins are naturally so thin, with said gap between her thighs, or whether she lives on fresh air to achieve the emaciated look. Whatever, the reason, it has made her the designers’ favourite, for now.

Meanwhile, there are those who have argued that fashion’s preoccupation with the ‘un-feminine’ body shape is down to its being dominated by gay men who apparently want all women to look like little boys, a theory that has more than a whiff of homophobia about it and fatally ignores the huge participation of women within the industry. The message that we’re hearing is that the fashion industry says women’s bodies are always supposed to look like something else, perhaps anything else, other than ‘naturally female’. It’s a tempting conclusion - but the problems with its logic are glaringly inherent.

Back in the real world there are teenage girls devoting their cyber time to gushing over Cara’s skeletal frame. Let’s hope most of them aren’t actually trying to achieve it.

Meanwhile, the average size of a British woman is a size 16. How did that happen?

We have one group of females tweeting about their efforts to be underweight, while the rest are filling their faces with junk food.

It's when there is great pressure exerted on that general population to believe a catwalk body is achievable that we start to see problems, and it’s only when you’re actually in the presence of that model (something most people don’t experience, ever) that you realise how utterly preposterous and definitely unachievable that body type is. And it is fashion’s worship of that one genre of figure that results in the skewed standardisation that damages so many young women. Never in history has so much been demanded of so many through the photography of so few.

There are people who have become so disassociated with real food they don’t actually know what they are eating unless it is written on the front of a cardboard box with a picture. So will models elsewhere soon be reaching for milkshakes and doughnuts?

In the audience at these catwalk shows and fashion exhibits sit rows and rows of diverse women, the norms who conform neither to one vision nor the other, and they rarely see their reality mirrored back at them. That reality exists only in the swimming pool changing room, or at the gym, or in the nation’s bathrooms – the only places where bodies that are uncompromisingly flesh which sags and wobbles lurk – here be monsters! Elsewhere, these bodies are all too often airbrushed out. Fashion may occasionally be a freakshow, but according to them, the most monstrous thing of all is run-of-the-mill, non-aspirational, un-Photoshopped humanity. It just doesn’t sell clothes, it sells dreams.

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