I read an article in The Guardian by former Australian Vogue editor, Kirstie Clements, about size zero and the modelling industry. It’s an elusive size for many women, no matter how strong they seem on the outside. For an average model vying for top runway jobs, it’s likely a size they want to not only strive for but wish to stay under. As Kirstie delves deeper in the industry, she finds stranger and more frightening bits of information that slip through the cracks.
One example is when she asks a model how she received scars on her knees, and the model nonchalantly responds by saying it’s normal for her to faint once or twice a day from starvation. Another example surrounds the ‘prestige’ of being a fit model. A fit model is what couturiers and high-end designers use as a live dress form. Each season’s clothes are designed based on a waif-y body type and are then shown on the runway on the same waif-y silhouette. It’s also common for fit models to constantly be in the hospital for not eating. Kirstie says, “That the ideal body shape used as a starting point for a collection should be a female on the brink of hospitalisation from starvation is frightening.”
I’m certain you, me, our mothers, co-workers, and daughters run into body image issues at one time or another. I touched upon this subject on a previous post about Cameron Russel’s TED Talk. I still remember the later high school years where I obsessed about losing weight under the guise of eating healthy. But the thing is that these issues aren’t just going to go away. They’ve been with us from the beginning of our human history, and have always been hidden as a shameful subject. If we can shed some light onto these deeply rooted and very sensitive sore spots, we can start to heal, however slowly.
And who’s to blame? Kirstie mentions, “There are a few male fashion designers [she] would like to personally strangle.” However, not all designers are what we perceive in the media as perfectionist eccenctrics who would rather jump off a bridge than produce size 14 clothing. Take a look at a Helen Jean, a new Vancouver brand that launched in 2012: there are no size labels sewn into the clothing. Instead, customers get to choose a word of their own as a reminder of who they are or aspire to be: strong, sexy, beautiful.
Owner Katie Jeanes started her online custom-made dresses after being disappointed in the change room time after time. In her Indiegogo fundraising video, she says, “the worst part was watching my friends pick themselves apart because they didn’t fit into a predetermined size.” It’s such great news to hear that designers are taking responsibility and trying to break down the link between size and self-worth. Models, too, are taking action. The Model Alliance has done some genuinely profound work to help change New York state’s modelling laws. I have the greatest respect for these women who dare push for the idea that size ain’t nothing but a number.