Thursday, February 22, 2007

New York Magazine Article "The Incredibly Shrinking Model"

I've been really frustrated about the coverage of the skinny models debate. Every article reads like this:

1) Models are too thin

2) This model is 5'11 and 115 lbs and was told she was too fat.

3) The CFDA disagrees and says that girls who are unhealthy are encouraged to get help.

4) No one actually thinks this policy will do anything.

5) The end.

It is really sad, because I think that this issue has major implications for our society, especially on the way women and girls perceive their own bodies and shape their ideas of what's beautiful, but almost every article or blog post on the topic just seems to say the same thing over and over.

Luckily, one of my favorite magazine writers, Emily Nussbaum, wrote a fantastic article in this week's issue of New York Magazine on this topic, and actually talked to models and designers and doctors who were willing to talk openly about the trend and what it means for regular women.

So, why do models seem to get thinner and thinner each year? What changes in the industry have led to this trend?

First, as one model said, "these girls come into the business young, and they are disposable." This leads to increased competition, and to get and keep jobs, models have to go to more and more extreme lengths to stay thin. And as designers prefer younger models, women in their late teens and early 20's simply don't have the bodies of pre-pubescent girls, and have to starve themselves to compete.

Another factor is the increasing presence of Eastern European women in the modeling industry. Many of these women and girls come from impoverished families, and are already undernourished and unhealthy. Far more than models from wealthier countries, these women also often support entire families back home, and are all the more dedicated to staying thin and following the orders of designers and magazine editors.

Finally, there's the fact that models shoot to stardom only once they've become extremely thin. They're told that they'll lose jobs if they gain any more weight, and they're again forced into eating disorders to maintain their careers. Obviously, it all comes down to competition, and Nussbaum reinforces this idea in one of my favorite quotations in the article:

"If Fashion Week is about reinforcing hierarchies, skinniness has always been a way to compete. Being thin means control and, symbolically, that you are rich, that you are young, that you are beautiful, that you are powerful. And yet the models themselves, who are skinnier and younger than anyone, seem like the weakest people here: manual laborers with short shelf lives."

But of course, the models aren't making the rules, they're only following orders. It's designers and fashion editors who determine which "look" is in, and they have made a conscious decision in recent years to push thinner bodies. Fashion historian Valerie Steele is quoted arguing that the near-fetishization of thinness is a response to the obesity trend. Other designers argue that it's necessary for girls to be thin so that they become invisible and cannot distract from the clothes. And still others in the fashion industry insist that models are this thin because fashion is at heart aspirational, and the women buying these clothes (celebrities, socialites, etc) desire to be this thin.

I've only scratched the surface of the multitude of theories Nussbaum lists and then tests in the article. She treats the models with dignity and respect, as girls with families and careers and not just circus freaks ("A BMI of 14! Look at that!") and approaches this complex issue with insight and humor. Anyone with an interest in fashion should know about and have an opinion on this trend, because it most definitely has an impact on women and girls everywhere.

For the full text article, click here. If you've read it, let me know what you think about the issue in the comments below.


haw said...

Great article! Definitely goes below the surface in looking into how models have been turned into such commodities.

Distar said...

did you read the what people are eating during fashion wk article in the same issue where basically the consensus is that no one that works in fashion eats anything?

Meg said...

Hey Distar- YES, that article was incredibly disturbing. I was going to write a post about it but a few things came up and I didn't have the time. The woman who lived on Vitamin C packets and alcohol was the worst (and these weren't just models, they were "real people"). It's a scary industry.

Here's the link to the article for anyone who hasn't read it yet:

Hyperion said...

Well I have to disagree with all the raging about thin this and thin that.

All it is society trying to preach.

One min everyone is to fat - the next were all to thin..

The models dont look stick thin - they look bloomin spankingly gawwjuss!!

Designers are at fever pitch when it comes time to show - and they want the best - the girls obviously compete furiously as some of the girls said in the interview piece... yes there is allot of overactive harsh dieting - and drugs etc - but its an industry based solely on IMAGE - cameras always add pounds and I'm waffling now - silly billy --

IMHO people should stop whining and concentrate said effort on such things as child poverty - sweat shops and child labour etc..

Leave the fab sexy looking young models who've gotten themselves 10 yrs [if their lucky] of a sexy life - to enjoy and exploit it for every penny they can :D

Rant over with **giggles**

Hyper x0x