The debate continues albeit a little quieter for all the catwalk shows dying down, but the question remains, are models too thin? Or at least that was the main question until last week when researchers in Italy stated that overweight models were a negative influence and likely to make us ‘regular’ folk believe we could pile on the pounds. What to do? I read through the comment forums of several online magazines and was stunned to see how many women agreed with the Italians. Women who were bigger didn’t want to see role models, they wanted aspirational (however unrealistic), many argued the classic ‘it’s about what makes the clothes look best’, whilst others ‘confessed’ their fears of being made to feel okay about getting bigger.
I honestly don’t know where to start with this issue, it feels so overwhelmingly huge and at the same time so starkly simple. Should we not just use models that represent a healthy body shape? But the irony of this is that women have become so entrenched in what we see, so overawed by the mass media and inundated by fashion images that we are close to believing that the models and their sample sizes are representative of the majority, that they are what we should be. I always remember reading articles by noted stylists or photographers, people who work with these examples of physical perfection day in day out. They are often asked ‘how do you cope?’ and the answer is simple, models are of a different genetic breed, physically. Emotionally they are just like us, laugh, cry, accidentally consume a tub of Ben and Jerry’s for tea, but their bodies are not. We can’t compare ourselves to them, it’s not fair to do so.
However, does the fact that we are faced with these images on a daily basis, without any sort of critique mean that the fashion industry does have to wake up to it’s responsibilty to protect and promote a positive female body image. How many young girls see these pictures and simply absorb them as the only way. Plus girls such as Beth Ditto (whom I adore) are of no help on the other swing of the scale. Being as big as that isn’t healthy, that’s not a criticism of her as a person, it doesn’t make her bad but it is the truth. Just like very skinny models can subconciously be promoting an unrealistic and at times harmful representation of body image.
The belief that it’s about the clothes can no longer stand I am afraid. I don’t buy my clothes so that they can look good on someone else. How many designers claim to create their items because they adore the female body. Do they? Really? Then why don’t they seem to understand that like all wonderful things on this earth, that body comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. So why aren’t they shown on the catwalks, the ad campaigns, the TV mini movies?
I love fashion, I love its whimsical nature, its ability to transport and transform. My favourite editorials are those by people like Grace Coddington, who sees the journey and understands the fantasy. However that critique, that discussion is not open and like any global capitalist venture the danger is that fashion and the imagery behind it is pushed to the public, predominantly the female side as the only way to fit, to be sexy, to be beautiful. At 28 I can see that walking your own path makes you awesome, but try being the 15 year old who decides to be a little bit different, who carries a little extra weight, who doesn’t fit that mould.
I can come to no conclusion, other than at the moment the fashion industry is trapped in groundhog day, a tragedy for the place many look to for inspiration, to ignite our imaginations. It’s not just about size but gender, age, ethnicity, disability where are all the people that live fascinating lives? That carry that beauty and glow around with them for the world to see? I have nothing against models, they earn their living like the rest of us, but maybe it’s time we started to open our eyes and embrace the innovation that difference can bring.