Friday, October 23, 2009

thin is in--but why?

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While fashion is certainly a fun hobby for me, there are times when I want to examine the serious influence fashion has on our culture. After reading a Washington Post article op-ed, I decided to discuss the issue of unhealthy-looking models and the impact their presence has on society. I ended up having a lot to say on the topic, so I decided to post my thoughts here. I warn you, this is a long entry, so if you don't have anywhere to be for the next 10 minutes or so, pull up a chair and enjoy. And if you think I'm full of it--that's what the comments are for!

This past Sunday in the Washington Post, Robin Givhan, the paper's fashion editor, wrote an op-ed about the recent flair-up of controversy surrounding the trend of seriously skinny fashion models. Needless to say, she seemed to come down in favor of the status-quo. I think the fashion industry needs to re-evaluate itself when it comes to who they'd like to model their clothes, but Givhan brought up some points defending the fashion industry that I think are worth discussing further.
In the article, Givhan addressed the public's growing concern for extremely thin models and the message fashion designers and magazine editors are sending by allowing them to walk down runways, pose for editorials and be photoshopped beyond recognition in advertisements. As Givhan points out, public outrage recently reached a fever pitch when a Polo Ralph Lauren advertisement featured model Filipa Hamilton so severely photoshopped that her head appeared to be significantly wider than her waist. Adding insult to injury, Hamilton revealed that she was fired from the company because she--all of 5-foot-10 and 120 pounds--couldn't fit in the sample sizes.
Filippa Hamilton, human lollipop.

Hearing stories like Hamilton's makes me disappointed in the fashion industry. I agree with critics who have called for larger sample sizes, because a frequent excuse editors use when explaining why they don't use larger models is because they simply don't fit in the clothes designers send them. That's a shame, because I really don't see why designers can only spare size zeroes. However, I also don't think the solution to fashion's latest obsession with thinness is as simple as critics seem to think. Here are a few arguments Givhan makes and my take on them:

Argument 1--It's just fashion, people: As Givhan points out in her article, people are quick to jump all over the fashion industry for being "too much" of many things: too expensive, too revealing, too ugly, too severe. But anyone who thinks what's on runways and in magazine editorials is something everyone should aspire to is missing the point.
You would wear these boots to the office, right?

Fashion isn't about being normal or fitting in or even being comfortable. Just because models strutted down Prada's AW2009 runway in thigh-high wader boots doesn't mean you're going to get kicked off the planet for sticking with sneakers. Fashion is a business of extremes and it's a fantasy parallel universe. Which brings me to Givhan's next point...

Argument 2--Fashion is giving people what they secretly want: We all see that models are getting younger and thinner. What does that say about our culture? Givhan references the so-called obesity epidemic plaguing Americans and how we're all striving to become thinner. Same goes with youth: People have fetishized youth and feared aging for years now, and fashion is simply showing what the majority of people like to see. I suppose a chicken-or-the-egg counterpoint could come in here: is fashion taking cues from what we value aesthetically as a culture or is our culture's obsession with youth and thinness coming from fashion? I personally think designers and editors are just doing their market research--people prefer to look at what they aspire to be, not what they already are. So with that in mind, Givhan's final point...

Argument 3--You want models to get bigger? Than get smaller: This is where the article falls a little flat. Givhan invokes a little fashion bitchery when she more or less says thin models will go away only when the people watching them aren't fat and jealous. She doesn't think people are upset because the models are unhealthy or ugly-looking, but because, as Givhan says, their look is "unattainable for most people." While it's true that most people cannot maintain the weight of a model while functioning normally, I don't think one can chalk up people's disgust to a simple case of jealousy. Many critics are more concerned with the health of the models and the unrealistic ideal that's being presented to the young, the impressionable and the insecure.

To conclude, I'm not quite sure where I stand on this particular issue. I agree the most with argument #1, that at the end of the day, it's just fashion, not the law. I enjoy magazines and fashion shows because they're fun and extraordinary. The extremes we see in couture shows and editorials are verrryy watered-down by the time they hit the mall, so most of us actually cannot follow the trends we see on the runway to a T. But at the same time, the way Givhan glosses over the health issue doesn't sit right with me. She says the people complaining about thin models "aren't asking for a doctor's note," and are more concerned about the aesthetic. While many models are simply naturally thin, many more aren't and are putting their health at risk to conform to a questionable ideal. And even more frighteningly, there are plenty of fashion obsessives out there (most likely young and female) who think they need to look like what they see in a magazine. It's not fashion's responsibility to make sure everyone has a healthy body image, but this is an important part of the issue that Givhan doesn't even acknowlege.

Like I said, this is a tough issue--but I think it's great people are voicing their concerns and realizing they do have a say in fashion, and that it isn't just a bunch of mindless trends being shoved down our throats.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Erin! I watched Filipa Hamilton on CNN or somewhere and was outraged that she was fired for being 120 lbs. at 5'10", especially considering that the appropriate weight for a SMALL-framed woman of 5'10" is 132 to 145 lbs.
    I absolutely agree that fashion is an art, and that designers should not be persecuted for wanting to dress a particular kind of woman. I love fashion. However, I just wish there was a little more accessibility or variety. Average-sized women should not be persecuted either. Ellen DeGeneres discussed this on one of her shows recently too, sharing that if you are a celebrity and you're not a size 6 or below (I believe, it could've been smaller...) you will not be able to wear designer's clothes (for free or for fee) on the red carpet (or for any other event).
    I think it is detrimental for young women to see images of women below the average body weight, and sometimes blatantly unhealthy. And I think even a FEW more adds with women of shape would be wonderful. I also think that ages, races, and ethnicities should be represented appropriately.
    Last point, I think designers forget what a fortune they could be making if they did make clothes for more average women. I am 5"6.5", went from 107 lbs. to 135 lbs. (skinny to fat in our world), and went up to a size D cupsize. Now, that I am working out, on barely any medication (for migraines), going to a Natural Health lady, etc; thus, all in all, a lot healthier, I can't find a damn thing to wear.