AUTHOR Aimee Rubensteen
The fashion industry is an infamous empire known for its creative genius. Clothing is stitched with a unique adeptness, shoes are molded with extraordinary panache and accessories are weaved into every designer collection with playful confection. The beauty of the fashion industry is found in its extraordinary ability to evolve every season and create new must-have masterpieces. Even though noted outfit-repeaters have been labeled “fashion offenders” by pop culture tabloids, the fashion industry continues to use the same ubiquitous fashion model as though she is a L.B.D. – which she is not. The cliche that no two people are alike is said for a reason, and each model should be treated appropriately for her idiosyncrasy. Even if you are one in 7 billion people on the planet, there are only 1,350 people that look just like you.
So then why does the fashion industry choose to use the same look to represent the diversity of billions? Today’s fashion models have become a victim to an industry that demands cookie-cutter women that must fit into sample sizes that would fit your 10 year old niece. Therefore, models conform to the industry’s unrealistic expectations and all of their figures, as well as their headshots, look the same. Furthermore, industry insiders are not only noticing the redundant beauty standard, but they are also finding the whole situation disturbing. Eliza Starbuck of Bright Young Things states, “I can understand why the industry has offered one standardized model for presentation purposes in the past, but the industry has now mastered sales and we have a culture addicted to consuming and aggressively competing to achieve an unattainable beauty standard as a result.” At first, the industry was focused on producing one image in order to maximize selling, but it led to a downward spiral of mass produced people. While fashion magazines aimed at showing readers how to look, they continue to fill pages with homogenized beauty images. The fashion industry may be the one due for a makeover. Fashion magazines are folding left and right due to the lack of readership; people are simply not interested in what the magazines are selling. Starbuck comments on the general attitude she sees toward fashion print, “We are not ruffled by the scandal of the fashion ad industry. Society is practically numb to it at this point. We’ve been so inundated with the physical contortionism and photoshopping of models which are so obvious to fashion insiders. When we look at fashion magazines, well, we’ve just quit buying them because they’re such a turn off.”
Many alarmed researchers have crept into the cracks of the industry and investigated why every model seems to look, quite frankly, like a hanger with legs. The average human female is approximately 5′-5″ and 150 pounds, while the standard fashion model is close to 6′ and barely 120 pounds. More than three-fourths of fashion models have body weights below normal, according to Women’s Health Weekly, which also found that a quarter of them meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa. For instance, Ana Carolina Reston was a popular fashion model, and in 2006, she died of starvation at the age of twenty-two. She followed a strict diet of apples and tomatoes in order to fit into the fashion industry’s unrealistic traceable-image of beauty. Ironically, however, levels of obesity have risen simultaneously with levels of anorexia.
Eliza Starbuck comments, “We cannot be systematic in our presentation methods to the public anymore. It is not socially responsible or realistic to present this way in the public eye.”
Like size, age and race are essential factors that decide a model’s career. Everyone knows that models are successful during their young, ripe years. However, many people do not realize how young the majority of fashion models really are. Roger Talley, author of The Professional’s Guide to Modeling, explains, “Prime time for entry into the industry is age 16-18, although some models as young as 13 are accepted into major fashion agencies…Many agencies have the policy of not accepting new fashion models over 21, and some specify as low as 19.” Well-known fashion model Kate Moss began modeling at the age of 15, and Devon Aoki began when she was just 13 years old.
Many designers seek these prepubescent bodies in order to have a blank canvas to sell their merchandise, but such bodies present unrealistic ideals for healthy, adult women. Most of the models in 2010 Fashion Week that were questioned in interviews were aged sixteen. Casting agent James Scully said, “Things are very seriously wrong at this moment.”
Fashion models’ race is proof that the model industry has the capability- if demand supplies it- to broaden their definition of beauty. Initially, fashion advertisers used Caucasian models due to racial stereotyping. Fashion designers during the 1970s claimed that Caucasian women were “upper class” and the statistics of African American demand for high-end apparel was low.
Therefore, it was claimed that all consumers would want to emulate Caucasians. However, supermodels like Tyra Banks, Iman, and Alek Wek proved that black women were desirable to all races.
These women that did not fit into the standard fashion model mold, altered the perception of beauty ever so slightly. Eliza Starbuck notes, “Rejection of this one-size-fits-all image of beauty is already happening… Readers are hungry for a more diverse range of beauty and are having a hard time finding it anywhere.”
The problems with the industry begin with the designers. They squeeze models into unrealistic shapes as if they were their own life size dolls. In 2002, Karl Lagerfeld, the designer of the house Chanel, told Larry King that he lost 90 pounds in order to wear sharp clothing.
He became a victim to his own measuring tape. When he succeeded in losing a drastic amount of weight it only reinforced his view that ALL people should want to look skinny. Then in 2009, he claimed that his rail-thin models did not have eating disorders, “We don’t see anorexic girls. The girls are skinny. They have skinny bones. No one wants to see round women.” Although this sounds dramatic, Lagerfeld is not alone in this statement. Most fashion houses, in not so many words, don’t care if models to live on a steady diet of cigarettes and coffee as long as they fit into the sample size. The fashion industry is no longer just a mastermind of textiles and drape, but also one of social trajectory. Today, fashion models are so extremely small that Photoshop is needed to plump them up. Brigitte, Germany’s most popular women’s magazine has pledged to use real women instead of professional models in their pages. Editor-in-chief Andreas Lebert says, “For years we’ve had to use Photoshop to fatten girls up…but this is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real reader?”
However, the industry continues to use models that look in-human and take pride in looks that literally have become to die for. Andreas Lebert continues, “Today’s models weigh around 23% less than normal women. The whole model industry is anorexic.” This was not always the case.
It is striking to see the transitioning ideal beauty through fashion history. Painters birthed the voluptuous ideal; think Botticelli-bodies and Rubéniste-women.
In the 1800s, women made an effort to look plump. They accentuated small waists with corsets, which created larger busts and behinds.
Then in the 1900s, the uncomfortable, corseted Victorian hourglass figure was cast off for a more natural figure without the corset.
Slender, boyish figures became more popular during the 1920s, when women were given the same rights to vote as men and the flapper craze began.
By the 1950s, curves were embraced as Marilyn Monroe rose to fame. Finally, the average-sized woman could feel beautiful, rather than envious, while reading beauty magazines.
However, Twiggy took the fashion stage in the 1960s, and she debuted her 5-foot-6 and 91 pounds figure. Many women started to emulate the bone-thin fad.
By 1975, top models weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. In 2006, they weighed 23 percent less.
Today, the technological advances and social extremes have clearly affected the beauty industry. And in 2011, our image of beauty isn’t even human anymore. Photoshop is used to erase any blemish of a model. Birthmarks, freckles, wrinkles and even protruding bones are concealed and airbrushed. Fashion models’ images of computerized beauties are a disturbing “perfection” to aspire to. For example, Ralph Lauren’s 2009 advertisement displayed a model with extremely unhealthy proportions. The blinding blonde hair and milky white skin cannot distract the viewer from the almost disappearing torso. With a waist that’s smaller than her head, the digitized body of the model looks inhuman.
Currently, it is universally acknowledged that a zaftig girl would never be seen strutting down a runway, unless it was for a plus-size fashion label. The fashion model of the twenty-first century has been digitized and computerized. She looks like the old-fashioned paper doll chain.
Each model is traced, cut and trimmed and then repeated over and over and over again. The fashion industry has always sold the dream that with the purchase of a new look a new lifestyle could become a reality, but with the impracticality and impossibility of attaining the fashion industry’s new dream have the industry insiders shattered the foundation of their entire empire?