By Courtney Michelle
Over the past twenty years, runway and fashion models are deemed unhealthy because of their image, critics recently coining the phrase “heroine chic” to describe the fashion muses. But there’s been a shift among today’s top models. Kate Upton has a famous 34D rack. Joan Smalls is ranked #1 on Models.com and the first Latina to score an Estee Lauder campaign. Kate Moss graces the cover of Playboy for their 60th Anniversary Issue, sans nipple exposure. The fashion industry is definitely experiencing a modification, which inadvertently changes how the world receives everything. In turn, has our view of what is beautiful in society changed, are we starting to see an evolution?
While I’m ready to throw up my feminism fist for Kate Moss’s classic and tasteful Playboy cover, Moss was reportedly on an all-liquid diet leading up to her shoot. She’s been quoted, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” It’s no secret young women look to the runways for role models, as adults we flip through fashion magazines for inspiration, feeling pressure to appear identical, but what examples are being set as far as a healthy image is concerned?
“Young girls aspire to look like the catwalk models,” says former British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell during London Fashion Week 2006, “When those girls are unhealthily underweight, it pressurizes girls to look the same.”
That same year, a trend of super young, incredibly gaunt models ripped the runways during New York Fashion Week, causing the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to release an updated set of guidelines, one setting the age requirement from 14 to16. Shortly after in 2007, the CFDA formed a health intuitive in an effort to protect women, young girls in particular, raising eating disorder awareness and promoting wellness. Sure, as a kid, being a model seems glamorous, but when puberty creeps in and bodies begin to develop, the pressure to stay young and thin becomes hazardous.
Runway models have remained a sample size 0, but as CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported in 2006, British women on average have added inches to their busts, hips, and waists over the past 50 years. I can’t be the only one stumped by this equation- women’s bodies have developed, but the models have not. The consumers designers wish to buy their clothes aren’t the advertisers. Twenty years ago, models were a size 4 and donned an hourglass silhouette, pin-up girls were embraced for their voluptuous curves- Wilhelmina Cooper even had a 38” bust. Models also weighed 8% less than the average woman, todays model weighs 23% less.
Fashion stylist Phillip Bloch points out the distinction models of the past presented- they appealed to women of the time, “An eighteen-year-old in a $12,000 gown isn’t real. Real girls can’t afford that. And the reality is the clothes look better on real women, on curvier shapes.”
I’m sure the lifestyle and actions taken to obtain the perfect image were slightly tweaked. I don’t know what Carmen Dell’orefice or Cheryl Tiegs did to stay in a sample size, but I’m sure dipping cotton balls in orange juice and calling it a “diet” was not an option.
“When I was a model, the size requirement for males was a 42 regular, today it’s a 38,” says Bloch.
As the NFL’s Creative Style Director of Women’s Apparel, Bloch kicked of New York Fashion Week 2013 with a 33-designer presentation, using models of all shades, ranging from age 16 to 66, and sizes 0-16. “That’s the real problem, there’s the obligatory one black girl, one big girl. There’s really no evolving,” says Bloch, “Fashion isn’t based on reality, it’s an idealism built around reality. Fashion is a fantasy, the clothes are the reality.”
I’m starting to think that secret is out and a few designers have gotten the memo. Women of different nationalities, ages, and shapes love fashion and want to wear fabulous clothes. At Paris Fashion Week, designer Rick Owens shocked many at his Spring 2014 show, implementing African American models and step-dances. Owens expressed he wanted to “exercise in working with a lot of body types. Instead of creating an exclusive fashion world, let’s try and make it as inclusive as we possibly can.”
With the boom of social networks and reality stars getting more than their 15 minutes, it’s hard not to be inclusive. Social media has allowed everything to be at our fingertips within a matter of seconds, we’re being exposed to an alternative view of what’s glamorous, and we can be at New York Fashion Week without going to the tents. We can follow Chanel Iman on Instagram and get a more intimate view of her life. Scouts can look to the world-wide-web and reality shows to find the next hot face. Kate Upton is a prime example; she’s a YouTube sensation, catdaddy-ing her way onto Vogue covers.
“Models must be able to connect with the everyday woman,” says casting director Julia Samersova of Cast Inc. “Joan Smalls, Arizona Muse, and Kate Upton are globally recognized. They are fully formed, well rounded individuals that can go above and beyond just modeling. They have an impact- they are the tastemakers.”
It’s a full circle: designer creates magnificent garment, puts it on a model- model equals gorgeous. It’s posted on some media outlet, now we must to strive to look like her. So is the general consensus of what’s attractive maturing in fashion? Depends who you ask.
“Nope!” says Bloch, “The modeling business isn’t healthy- physically, mentally, and emotionally. We should be promoting health. At least it’s not as bad as it was; today the industry is based around youth and the frivolity for life.”
When you see certain photos, these girls do look like they’re having fun and living life, but the runways are starting to resemble cemeteries with walking corpses. The real women of yesteryear influenced designers and publications, are the clocks turning back? I think we’re getting tired of seeing an ultra-thin, A-cup model being deemed “sexy” in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, Upton is a refreshing alternative- she’s relatable. Designers love street fashion, but who is wearing it if it’s not appealing to them? Raff Simons tells Style.com Print, being a genius means nothing if nothing sells, “It needs to be on people’s backs. I think that attraction- the emotion of a man or woman dressed in things you’re doing- is coming back very strongly.” In essence- real women want real fashion.
So let’s continue to break barriers, I think the industry is starting to hear us regular girls out. It won’t happen overnight; racism, age, and weight issues walk hand and hand in this business. One model isn’t enough, but it’s a step in the right direction. Maintaining healthy lifestyles and educating the masses, especially young women wishing to break-in and create a dent in the industry, is what’s most important here. Seeing individuals that resemble what is “normal”, building confidence in valuing what you see in the mirror and being comfortable in your own skin- hello gorgeous.