You may have caught wind of the “trend” taking the fashion industry by storm these past two weeks. The governments of Italy, Spain, and England have each in some form chastised the fashion industry for their use of “rail-thin” models and perpetuating unhealthy images of women through our society.
It comes as no shock that many people are suddenly up in arms about this issue, assailing designers for participating in the practice of hiring the uber-thin for their runway shows. For example, here is a New York Times article on the subject:
Frankly, this fanfare is overblown. And here’s why:
1. A model’s “look” is a matter of aesthetics. And aesthetics is a tricky realm when it comes to debate. After all, the word comes from Greek “aisthesthai” meaning “to perceive.” Designers have a particular look in mind when they compose a collection: from concept, to colours, to textures, to fabrics, to tone, to silhouettes. It’s unfair to attack an artist’s aesthetics. That is her metier – and the fashion industry’s raison d’etre. She has the right to choose models as she sees fit, much like her right to choose every other aspect of a collection’s concept and design. Why should others meddle with an artist’s creative concept? If a group of people – if everyone in the world, even – finds the use of these bony models to be utterly repulsive, no one will tell them they cannot entertain that aesthetic. So the artist’s concept is something that others find unappealing. So be it.
2. Setting the minimum BMI for runway models to 18, as Spain has done, will not have a substantial effect on the image and body problems borne by young women. Even a model like Claudia Schiffer, whom the author of the second article above deems as healthy-looking in comparison, still inspires insecurity and the need for drastic dietary measures. The truth is, there is a segment of the world’s women that is taller and thinner than all the other women. Some of them are even beautiful and photogenic. Most of us will never be them. And every time we come across one of these women, we are reminded of that.
3. There are malnourished, starving people all over the world who deserve our attention more so than the fashion models being discussed here. Sure, eating disorders affect the health of many people throughout society. But its effects pale in comparison to the many poor and neglected segments of our global society, who are in dire need of attention and resources. Starvation and malnourishment are nothing new. This social disease afflicts most parts of Africa, meaty chunks of Asia, and healthy portions of South America. And yes, it’s even peppered parts of America. We’ve got our priorities all mixed up. Why do are we intent on passing down patriarchal judgments on these wealthy, pretty faces? They don’t want our medical advice. They don’t need to be “saved.” Why not give our attention to people who actually want to eat more? The fact that this mere issue has turned into a hot topic exclusively throughout Western countries betrays our own vanity and irresistible obsession with image and beauty. It points to our true motive: increasing our own likelihood of being considered beautiful by the standards of the fashion industry.