The battle of ultra-thin models and our sanity

Last Updated on January 31, 2012

The issue of rail-thin models is one of the most recurring in fashion, but despite heated debates and unwordly remarks that would be terrorist attacks on said models' hearts, nothing ever changes. The latest to jump on the bandwagon of complaint was designer Hervé Léger. He said he doesn't do catwalk presentations for his Hervé L. Leroux label any more because models nowadays are too skinny and too sad.

"... If I had to go back to catwalk presentations I would be in a panic because today people are so out of touch with the reality of everyday life. Already the models I find are too skinny, too sad. And I knew the age of the super top models, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford, who were always lively and smiling. Today you go between several défilés and you will see the exact same type of girl - it just doesn't inspire me."

Cindy Crawford at Léger in 1993 / Daphne Groeneveld and Caroline Brasch Nielsen at Léger in 2011

Hervé Léger is most famous for his invention (or, rather, popularization, as invention in fashion is always questionable) of bodycon dresses in the 1990s. It's no surprise he thinks today's models aren't a good match for his dresses because they undoubtedly look better on women who are not very, very thin. However, as a designer, he has the possibility to set a great example by using lively and smiling models in his catwalk shows instead of simply giving up on catwalk.

Many people feel alienated by skinny models. Would they appreciate such a mindset shift? No doubt.

The problem with skinny models/women/anyone lies in the subjectiveness of "thin". What is thin? Where do you draw the line? The answers to these questions are different for each one of us. This is why I felt upset when a few years ago they banned skinny models (below a certain BMI) from Madrid Fashion Week in order to promote a healthier image. A lot of models starve in order to meet their agencies' requirements, but some are naturally skinny. Are you going to tell healthy models to put on weight? What sense does it make to put them out of work?

It's just another set of standards, no less hypocritical than the demand to be thin. We're people, we're not made in factories and sometimes we don't meet standards. Not even all factory-made products do.

If I were a designer, I'd be pretty pissed off if someone told me I shouldn't use this or that model because she's too skinny. High fashion is art and it must have absolute freedom. I don't think models have to look like "normal" people (let's not go there and attempt to define what "normal" is though). The problem arises when people don't realize the distinction between the so-called fantasy and reality, when women see an ad in a magazine and believe the young, beautiful and skinny model clad in a $10,000 worth of clothes and accessories is what they should aspire to.

This is not entirely the fashion industry's fault though. Not enough people actually follow fashion for the thin model-induced dilution of our self-esteem to spread widely. It's the media that takes those "epitomes of perfection", adapts them and feeds them to the masses, e.g. promoting a thin celebrity as a beauty ideal, endorsing dieting tips and suggesting you buy revealing clothes (that will require you to lose weight). There are billions of dollars behind our insecurities.

Beauty ideals have been changing extensively throughout history, and I believe one day the cult of thin models will decrease. It will most likely stem from a radical shift in the general fashion aesthetic, meaning fashion will have a different significance and function than it does today.

16 thoughts on “The battle of ultra-thin models and our sanity”

  1. Beautifully written post! I agree with Herve that they are too sad. If I were walking that catwalk - I don't think I could possibly suppress my grin!! There is a difference between naturally skinny and starved damn near to death. I think we all know it when we see it. I am blessed with natural thinness and have never had to diet to lose weight (thank you Dear Lord) but were I to starve myself to the point my sternum prutruded from my chest - it would be obvious something is wrong.
    He shouldn't abandon the runway but select models that meet his aesthetic. I am sure there are plenty of women out here who would JUMP at the opportunity that are not being selected to represent other design houses. - I put this here since it wasn't recognizing me and allowing me to commment with my website in the form.

  2. i totally agree with Fashnlvr :)

    and dear Eva, I am sorry about the long comment. I thought about making it into a post because i didn't want to usurp too much space on your blog, but i hope it's ok i left it here :hug:

    but also wanted to say that because nobody's listening, or media very often takes information out of context with view to promote dieting industry. this has lead to extreme bias in reporting and total misinformation of general public who have both bought into this propaganda as well as formed erroneous opinions, which are often very confusing, especially to very young people who are just staring to become aware of the issue of attractiveness and such.
    there are naturally thin women, yes, but a certain appearance is only possible if one has an eating disorder or suffers from a chronic illness, that is a fact.
    every single ballerina, a long distance runner, a gymnast, has a carefully managed eating disorder, as it is seen to be necessary for their work for them to be of very low body weight even for the naturally thin girls. society accepted this, and modelling industry is only an extension of that.
    it's just that, in modelling, there is no logical reason to force participants into such thinness while for example in ballet, a ballerina must be under 50 kg in order to be lifted up safely, while she must also be between 165 and 170 cm tall in order to look good on stage with other dancers (as ballet is extremely visual art form), so this automatically dictates restriction in calories for the duration of their training.

    on the other hand, fashion industry is extremely sizeist, unapologetically so, and if there is a "plus size" model, it is almost in a context of a freak show. it is totally normal to deny model a job because she is "too fat" ie "not thin enough" so in that environment, I see absolutely no problem with denying work to the ones that are "too thin".

    BMI will pick up some of these unhealthy girls, but a lot of them are anorexic even with a BMI over 17.5, this is due to height and weight of the bones which might tip them over into a "healthy BMI" while they still are emaciated.
    so BMI as such is not necessarily a perfect tool. but you know, having seen so many people with unhealthy weight, I can safely say that there is one tool that is almost unmistakeable regarding assessment of this - our own eyes.

    we as humans have inborn aversion towards appearance that is suggestive of illness, and when we cringe when we see someone of certain thinness, when we feel that feeling in our stomach, that momentary concern, before our mind overrides it with all the fashion-industry standard excuses and lies, that feeling will never fail to identify someone who is just unhealthily thin.
    this we can trust in case of "too thin".
    but due to a lot of pressure on women to be too thin, this caused a lot of complexes and aversions towards chubby or fat people, which is more a sign of personal complexes than internal knowledge that someone is unwell. most people who diet obsessively will feel very anxious when they see even a normal-weight person, let alone someone overweight.
    but since "thin" is so encouraged and desirable, the "cringe" connected to looking at a person who is too thin it can truly be relied on as an internal sign of "this person is not well" because we already look at them with eyes that want to believe this is healthy and beautiful, whereas when we look at curvy or overweight, we already have very strong prejudices against it.
    this also has complicated the issues, and most people stopped listening to their own common sense about this and started looking to the media for answers even more, which just perpetuates the problem.

    sadly, a lot of models at the moment will give us that feeling, hence the ongoing controversy. but then the media lies (oh she is just naturally thin, who are you to imply otherwise, etc) shut people up because personal medical information is confidential, so their doctors can't speak up (if they did they'd get sued by the agencies for sure), and the rest of us can't "prove" anything.

    there are all these perceptions, something is being promoted because it brings money (thinness and dieting industry) and a lot is being said in the media without any real understanding of what "healthy" or "unhealthy" really means, and what are all the factors involved in assessing whether someone is healthy or not.
    so a person with "normal" bmi could be taking diet pills, be bulimic, smoking, not eating properly, not exercising (been there for 8 years of my life), and just by looking at their picture, these days 99% of people as well as doctors actually (because nobody is immune to this effect the media have), will assume they are "really healthy". in fact, when I was that girl, i lived in eating disordered hell, and everyone, including my doctors, were saying how awesome I look. that hurts so much, and makes things so much worse, and it is very rarely spoken about.
    so as long as a person looks thin enough they are automatically considered to be more healthy than a person who is 10 kg overweight, even though a chubby person might be doing regular exercise, eating balanced diet and not smoking or dieting at all.

    the bottom line is, beyond extreme thinness and extreme obesity, there is absolutely no way to know how healthy or active a person is. there really isn't.
    but one thing we know for sure - vast majority of models just are that extremely thin.

    • Wow, thanks for the comment! I'll read it and reply properly later (getting ready for my brother's prom ATM :)) I just wanted to say it's not usurping space on my blog *at all*, quite the opposite, it's much appreciated!

      • oh, that's great, thank you :)) I nearly fainted when I saw how loong it looks on the page, plus, forgive the totally confusing first sentence (i think it got copy-pasted from somewhere below, somehow) and all the spelling mistakes :D
        i hope you and your brother have a great time, prom, how exciting! :)

    • The "plus size" issue is absurd because often what's labeled "plus size" is actually "normal", healthy etc. by less rigid and more human standards. It really irks me when magazines dedicate one issue to "plus size" or non-white models and think it means they don't discriminate. If anything, *that* is discrimination. The real solution would be to feature such models in every issue.

      I often wonder how many people would actually feel discontent with their bodies if they hadn't been exposed to forced, artificial beauty ideals. The most ironic thing is that even those women who are promoted as beauty ideals don't look all that ideal without make-up and Photoshop.

      It's sad that, like you said, "thin" is encouraged and desirable (at least in the Western society) instead of "healthy". I stopped eating sweets a while ago because I had used to eat far too many per day, which was completely unhealthy and I was starting to feel really bad, physically and mentally. Now when I tell people I cut out sweets, the first thing everyone with the notable exception of one person (!) has jumped on is "WHY ARE YOU DIETING? YOU'RE THIN!" So apparently every change to what I eat must be directly related to me wanting to be thinner? Ouch.

      • "Now when I tell people I cut out sweets, the first thing everyone with the notable exception of one person (!) has jumped on is "WHY ARE YOU DIETING? YOU'RE THIN!" So apparently every change to what I eat must be directly related to me wanting to be thinner? Ouch."

        ^^happened to me way too many times. like for example when i decided to eat less processed foods and replacing it with more fruit+veggies, people fro example who smoke (and drink on a fairly regular basis) even, obviously felt like they need to prevent me from "doing this to myself", "start eating "normally again". rarely anyone even thought of asking how i felt - whether i benefited from this change or not.
        i think as a society we could start looking through health lens more often, because seriously, it's all getting a little bit me at least. it's really strange to me as a non-smoker that people who do smoke aren't being asked about their reason for smoking all the time, when in case of food choices everything gets so complicated easily. ...

        ps: this is not an anti-smoking rant ;)

  3. I agree that it's ridiculous for him to say he's giving up on catwalk because he can't find any models who are not ultra-thin. They are everywhere! There are plenty of models who are not anorexic and who could use the work. This is baffling and just a very sorry excuse from a designer who could make a difference just by featuring models with a little meat on their bones.

  4. Such a thought-provoking post!

    I hate when the words "normal women" are used, because it's so hard to define what "normal" means, as you mentioned. If we want to say "normal" means "average" than we would be talking about a size 12 (at least in America) which would actually be considered a "plus size" model! It's quite confusing.

    I understand why there should be certain standards in modeling and certain sizes should be chosen before others because of the samples that come from designers. Most of them are a certain size across the board and so it would be difficult to fit a size 2 and a size 8 in the same samples. However, if designers were to embrace different sizes of women, then samples would be different sizes as well!

    I understand what you meant when you said that not one size should be left out, because it's true that some women are naturally "skinny" (again, what does the word mean?). In this case, I don't understand why Hervé Léger did not choose the type of models that he wanted for his catwalk instead of not doing a show at all. Designers should have the freedom to choose the models that they want to wear their clothing and not feel restricted by society.
    Twitter @theloudermouth

  5. It was interesting to read this post because I just finished an article about diversity of beauty in the fashion world. Personally I never had an issue with thinner models on the runway. I just saw it as something I would like or not. During my research I became more aware of what is portrayed as beauty by the media. And I do miss more diversity. Not only focusing on shape/sizes but race and gender. That doesn't mean necessarily avoiding the waify, ultra thin look but allowing also other perspectives on how beauty in fashion may look like.

  6. Pingback: Links to Love:
  7. "High fashion is art and it must have absolute freedom." - i'm sorry, No fashion (high or low-what's that by the way, the price you pay???) is art, otherwise you wouldn't be writing about skinny girls and mass index--- BLalá lá

  8. i'm glad fashion is not art...
    fashion is a lovely beautiful thing... attitude... coolness... effortless... style... personality... those things make fashion a statement... but art is not that...
    "To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution." (there's a lot of whores in fashion)


Leave a Comment