originally published in Glasgow University Magazine, May 2015
To think of models within the fashion industry is to think of their bodies: at its barest definition, a model is simply a mannequin, a body upon which clothes can be showcased to their greatest effect. A living, breathing mannequin, who can bring personality, charisma and attitude to the role; who can transform the clothes from a mere slip of fabric into something beautiful, provocative, alive. The model chosen can act as a representative for the brand, an indicator of the sort of clientele it is eager to attract. It makes sense, therefore, that the model is selected carefully; that the correct message is being broadcast.
For most designers, that message is skinny. Opting for aesthetic slimness rather than a realistic approach that acknowledges the quite clearly obvious fact that the majority of the population are not, in fact, skinny, the fashion industry helps to enshrine the myth of idealised body types. Looking at the glossy adverts in fashion magazines or the models on the catwalk, it would be easy to think that you can’t be beautiful unless you’re 5’9, thin as a rake and have impeccable cheekbones. It’s hardly reflective of real body types and has produced a toxic atmosphere of endlessly striving to be thin, with models suffering from eating disorders, continually pressured to lose weight, and a culture of fat-shaming that is undoubtedly perpetuated by the media and its attempts to draw attention to every celebrity who has ever put on a few pounds.
Recently, France has moved to ban models that are too thin; a certification stating that the model has at least a Body Mass Index of 18 for a height of 5’7 would be required before they could be hired, in addition to regular weight checks. Fines of up to 75,000 euros could be administered for failing to meet these conditions, as well as suggesting penalties for anything (including pro-anorexia websites) that glorify extreme thinness. It’s an idea that has its positives: it promotes good health and aims to counteract the stigma of eating that is often associated with the fashion industry. Ideally, it is a step in the direction of a healthier, achievable beauty standard, one which thinks women are beautiful as they are, regardless of shape, size or colour (something that is considerably lacking in the fashion world). It’s important, however, to recognise that sometimes skinny is the norm – with songs like Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass’ popularising the denigration of slim women as being somehow less feminine simply because they’re less curvaceous, it’s instrumental that this is not ignored.
Clothes are purchased and worn by real women – slim, plus-size, tall, petite, hour-glass figure or whatever other way we choose to label ourselves – and this should be reflected in the choice of models. France’s decree helps to promote good health amongst models, but until the rigid beauty standard stops being all about thinness, I doubt that anything will change much.
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