Why being dangerously thin is never in style
By Jenni Zellner
The fashion industry has notoriously embraced thinness to the extent that the models they select to wear their designs must meet certain physical requirements. But when do those requirements cross the line? While healthier looking women are slowly starting to emerge in ads and on runways, scarily thin models are still considered to be the norm in the fashion world, and some designers still continue to abide by strict physical requirements. Because of this, models resort to extreme measures to meet the standard, which many times result in chronic illness or death. Furthermore, because designers are enforcing these standards to match the clothing they produce, these expectations of women become apparent through their designs, which in turn affect every day women and girls. The question is, when will this perception of beauty become archaic? When will designers and the public who supports the thinner side of beauty realize that thinness is just as unhealthy as obesity?
At Brazil Fashion Week in 2005, models featured in the runway shows died shortly thereafter due to malnutrition or heart failure related to eating disorders. Model Luisel Ramos died at the mere age of 22 during a fashion show due to heart failure, followed by Ana Carolina Reston, 21, a very well known Brazilian model, who died from complications due to anorexia. Their deaths subsequently caused outrage in the fashion industry, resulting in a bill passed in Madrid, in which models could not participate in runway shows if they were under the age of 16 or had a BMI, or body mass index below 18.5. Reston , who stood at 5 feet and 8 inches, was estimated to have weighed 88 pounds at the time of her death, putting her BMI at roughly 13.5. Despite Madrid’s ban on underweight models however, fashion capitals such as New York, Milan and Paris have yet to enact similar bans. As a result, lesser-known models, who may not meet the age or BMI requirements are able to skirt the rules and make an appearance in larger shows.
Yet efforts to change the waifish image of the fashion industry are underway. The Knesset Bill in Israel is currently in the works, which would also exclude models with BMIs under 18.5, as well as force the fashion industry to indicate if photographs of models have been photo-shopped or retouched. In addition, model Crystal Renn, who was first featured in Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring collection in 2005, has been making headlines as being one of the first “plus-sized models” to make regular appearances on the runway. Although some critics point out that Renn, a size ten, is not by normal standards a “plus-sized” model, considering that designer sample sizes are anywhere from a zero to a size two, Renn is a powerful anomaly. In addition to Renn, other healthier looking models are making appearances on the runway, namely in a collection shown by Giles Deacon in Paris, which featured Victoria Secret models. Deacon’s show sparked a trend, and as a result Victoria’s Secret models and other models known for more curvaceous figures have been featured in shows in both London and Milan. It is clear that while thin models still occupy much of the runway, the standard desirable model is slowly changing.
How will these new bills affect the fashion industry? For one they will start to incorporate more realistic images of women, which will subsequently alter what designers present on the runway, and what is therefore “in style.” By promoting styles designed for multiple body types, the concept of fashion will become more accessible of women and less exclusive. Fashion accessibility will also change the image of the fashion industry as an elitist culture that does not cater to all women, and will furthermore encourage women to observe fashion as a form of expression rather than a set of unattainable restrictions. Fashion is an element of culture that is engrained in any society, and if its affect on people are negative, than it becomes a dangerous hindrance rather than an art form.
Jenni Zellner is a sophomore English major who thinks this is a weighty issue. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.