‘I can’t relate to models on the catwalk. The clothes look great on them as they are very skinny, but they would look awful on me!’
This is most common reaction I get when I’m discussing fashion images in the media.
Let’s stop burying our heads in the sand and admit that the fashion industry still favours tall skinny Caucasian models.
It’s also fair to say that while heroin Chic is not the headline it was 20 years ago, size 0 is still the elephant in the room!
Suna Erdem’s shocking article Extreme Measures* Sunday Times (August 9th) exposed that the size 0 issue has not gone away. Suna’s article cited stories of models being encouraged to have surgery to ‘shave’ their hipbones.
Some countries have introduced laws to counter the size 0 issue, but Suna’s sources claim these are largely ignored. Others apply self-regulation with limited effectiveness. Madrid banned models with a BMI of less than 18 on its catwalks. There are reports of models undergoing ‘weigh ins’ and hiding weights in their underwear.
While this is tragic and most of us are appalled by the size 0 issue what’s the relevance to you and I?
Body Confidence Issues
A staggering 97% of us suffer from body confidence issues. Imagery of size 0 models looking chic and sexy in gorgeous clothes simply fuels that fire.
New research published by the Dove Self-Esteem Project showed just how prevalent the ‘Selfie’ culture has become.
On average girls between 13 and 23 post an average of one Selfie a day online. This doesn’t mean they are snapping one photo and uploading to their social media feeds – far from it, some admit taking up to 100 photos per day!
But it doesn’t end there because they then get upset if they don’t get enough likes and this adds to their issues with self-esteem.
Why is this behavior relevant to the fashion industry? It doesn’t take a mathematician or psychologist to do the sums and work out the theory.
The idealistic imagery we associate with fashion, that to be perfect you need to be tall, skinny and Caucasian doesn’t add fuel to the fire about body confidence issues it pours petrol on the flames.
Fashion Industry is about Selling Clothes
At the end of the day the industry knows that the designs look great on stick thin models and that this results in sales.
To have a sustainable industry it must make a profit and it must market in the way it sees fit. I know this remark may spark some comments but I’m doing my best to look at this from the fashion industry’s perspective.
To illustrate this point, you may have read reports of retailers commissioning designs and manufacture through the night of the Oscars to create lookalike dresses from the outfits worn by celebrities. The brands know that the designs will sell out if they’ve been modeled on a Hollywood actress.
The fashion industry is made up of a number of different factions from large organisations to self-employed freelancers and everything in between.
Therefore finger pointing at the different factions is a lot easier than coming up with a Code of Practise that everyone will follow.
Designers blame agencies for recruiting stereotypical models, agencies blaming designers for only creating sample garments in very small sizes.
Overseas designers and manufacturers are blamed for designing and manufacturing for smaller figures.
But hang on a minute we are not one size fits all! Different cultures and ethnic groups have evolved with different skeletal frames, but the industry must ask itself who are its customers? Are they designing for an Asian subcontinent or the Western market?
A blame culture is not the answer, a cohesive joined up approach is the way forward.
How do we effect change?
Change doesn’t happen overnight in an industry so entrenched in a way of thinking. But nothing will happen if we simply turn our backs, shrug our shoulders and say ‘that’s fashion’. It’s simply condoning the current approach.
Heroic attempts have been made to get the industry to sit up and take notice.
I took my hat off to Laura Berry who challenged Top Shop on Social Media for using unrealistic mannequins in its stores. Her outcry went viral and was picked up by the media. This was the second time that TopShop had been challenged and it responded well agreeing to no longer use overly tall and skinny mannequins that represented an unrealistic body image.
So what is the answer?
Stand up and be counted. Add your voice to the groundswell that’s building for change within the fashion industry.
The fashion industry is self-regulated in the UK and while it is making some progress it is frustratingly slow.
While some brands are attempting to show more healthy images of women, others ignore it or simply get it wrong. A campaign run by a major high street retailer, claimed to reflect its customer profile in the six models it chose. The campaign used five very slender models and one curvy model to advertise lingerie. The backlash was enormous as this was simply misrepresenting its claims.
There are a number of organisations and campaigns that are fighting for change. They are actively demonstrating that beauty is much more than Size 0.
Models of Diversity is one such campaign. This amazing body is campaigning for diversity in size, ethnic race, disability and age.
Models like Rosie Nelson have decided to take action. Rosie started a petition in September after her own experience with one of the UK’s leading agencies. A healthy size 8-10 she was told that she needed to lose weight. She went on a diet and in four months lost one stone and 2 inches off her hips.
She returned to the agency, their reaction was that she needed to lose more as they wanted Rosie ‘down to the bone’. Rosie had the courage to speak out.
I’m a strong advocate of representing real women in modeling, as the fashion industry should represent Society. I feel very strongly that we have to address body confidence issues and to educate women that it’s okay to have curves.
We need to educate and inform children that they do not have to be super skinny to be pretty. This needs to be balanced by being a healthy weight that is right for our height and build.
We need change in the fashion industry and not allow the industry to get away with sweeping the size 0 debate under the carpet because they design clothes to look amazing on super skinny girls.
* Suna Erdem’s Extreme Measures Sunday Times (August 9th)