Sunday, 20 September 2009

Bigger is better, apparently

It's all kicking off at London Fashion Week, as a row has erupted over the size of models used in one of the shows.

The world of fashion is no stranger to body image controversy, as the debate has been raging for years over the industry's irresponsible use of underweight models. In 2006 Madrid Fashion Week banned size zero models from its catwalks, over concerns that models with a Body Mass Index of less than 18 were in serious danger.

Of course, not everyone agreed with this judgement - all of them more concerned with lost revenue than people's health and wellbeing. For instance, Cathy Gould of New York's Elite modelling agency claimed that the fashion industry was just a scapegoat. Gould maintained that she was standing up for 'gazelle-like' models who would face unnecessary discrimination in light of these industry changes. Sadly she missed the point that all these waifs would need to do to overcome any discrimination was stop eating toilet paper and maybe try a pie instead.

Something clearly needed to be done, following the tragic deaths of Luisel Ramos, Ana Carolina Reston, and Eliana Ramos who all suffered from chronic eating disorders.

Unfortunately, three years later very little has changed. In June of this year, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman sent a letter to the major fashion houses, critising them for supplying clothes for photoshoots in increasingly tiny sizes and forcing magazines to use models who weigh little more than their own shadow. In reply, the designers blamed the magazines, model agencies and stylists for not booking bigger models. If any of them had half-a-brain between them, they'd know that this is what chess players call a stalemate.

Thankfully, this week it looked like the industry was finally ready to turn a corner, as designer Mark Fast decided to go first and use 'larger' models to showcase his new knitwear designs. Obviously 'larger' is a comparative term - it's not like he was wrapping Beth Ditto in a woollen dress. The models he chose were size 12 and 14, and to the untrained eye simply looked like healthy, attractive women, rather than the visitors from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But not everyone saw it that way.

Repulsed at the sight of actual human hips rather than a jutting pelvis, Fast's stylist quit and stormed out the day before the show, citing the age-old excuse 'creative differences'. Thankfully, with the help of a freelance stylist who stepped in at the last minute, the show did indeed go on and by all accounts was a huge success.

So what happens now? It's doubtful that Donatella will be programming Dawn French's number into her speed-dial. But if we all cross our pudgy fingers and hope for the best, the most influential trend to emerge from this year's fashion week might be the advent of human-shaped models, rather than the coat-hangers with hair that we're used to.

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