The Shrinking Model Debate
Note: I wrote this editorial for my Journalism class. The significance of the issue may have been lost on my classmates, however, it’s apropos in the fashion industry. Read up!
At Fashion Week, the overwhelming majority of the models accessorized the season’s latest styles with protruding hip bones, ribs that could be counted from the back rows of the tents, and pin-thin limbs. The vast majority of runway models are clearly suffering from life-threatening eating disorders; these girls should be treated, not paid thousands of dollars a day to further their illnesses. Diversifying the runways by including a variety of sizes and shapes could dramatically improve Fashion Week by promoting acceptance of healthier, more realistic body types.
For many models, the pressure to stay thin is too great. Luisel Ramos, a Uruguyan model, passed away in 2006; her death was the first that was publicly attributed to eating disorders. At the time of her death, her BMI was 14.5. (For comparison, the World Health Organization believes a BMI of 16 to be starvation.) Luisel’s sister, Eliana, also a model, died the following year after a heart attack brought on by malnutrition. The sisters are only the first of a slew of casualties due to eating disorders. Lara Stone, a size 4 model, explains that the fashion industry “tells me I’m fat.” The industry has spoken: thin is in.
While the average model wears a size 0, the average American woman wears a size 14. Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of the iconic design house Chanel, has frequently been quoted as saying, “No one wants to see curvy women. You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.” However, the extreme thinness that he propagates is often unattainable and unrealistic. When consumers do not see their own body types reflected on the runways, they can feel inadequate, flawed, or undesirable; this can spawn self-esteem issues in both the impressionable teenage girls who scour the runway collections on style.com as well as the jaded middle-aged fashion editors who score coveted seats at the live runway shows.
Several leading designers have defended their choice of only using rail-thin models by explaining that models should act as a canvas to emphasize the clothing. This argument, while perhaps artistically sound, leads to serious concerns regarding health and safety – at what price is this “canvas” philosophy worth a multitude of casualties? Models are literally dying to be thin; millions of girls and women across the world are following suit, desperate to fit the modern aesthetic. Additionally, it should be noted that clothes often look better on bigger models, who often have the curves required to fill out the clothing.
The debate over the model size has escalated throughout the 2000’s; hopefully, the debate can be permanently resolved in the 2010’s. After Luisel Ramos’s 2006 death, Madrid banned all models with BMIs of less than 18 from the runways. Italy later followed suit with a ban on all size 0 models. Other major fashion capitals – New York, London, and Paris – should adopt similar bans. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which corresponds annually with New York Fashion Week, should be promoted and supported at fashion events to spread awareness and reduce the stigma associated with eating disorders. Perhaps the most crucial step, however, would be for designers to embrace a wider variety of body types. While well-established designers, Karl Lagerfeld included, may be too set in their ways, one can hope that the next generation of upcoming designers – Proenza Schouler, Vena Cava, and Christian Siriano, for example – choose to support healthier models.
- Mademoiselle Hannah