Fashion Bytes — Model Issues

Image via the Guardian

In amongst the commentaries on and photographs of the new collections launched during New York fashion week last week, the CFDA announced their campaign to protect the health of the models who are so vital to these shows. The news was followed the same day by a statement from Ford Models that they had not actually signed the petition the CFDA had submitted requesting they stop using models under the age of 16. Indeed, children as young as 14 could be seen on the runways, and facing the intense pressures and demands that Ashley Mears describes in her book, Pricing Beauty, wherein she recounts her own experience of being told that ‘the anorexic look was in this season’. Mears’ book and further studies of the beauty industry were discussed at former Worn Through contributor Heather Vaughan’s website in October.

Editorials about the unhealthy weights of many models are not new. The topic came back into the spotlight in 2006 when 21 year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died from anorexia-related health complications, and the resulting CFDA efforts do seem to be making an impact with healthier figures and a variety of races now gracing the runways. Diane von Furstenberg adds that even if they aren’t changing minds they are creating awareness, which is a good first step.

But how much awareness are they creating? Ford still hires models under the age of 16, and Karl Lagerfeld created a media frenzy when it was reported he had said British singer Adele was ‘a little too fat’. Raquel Laneri of Forbes has analysed the waif-like figure desired for models as a negation of femininity and female sexuality, and the description of models as ‘hangers’ as an objectification that completely discards their humanity.

As recently as the 1960s, there were photography models and there were show models, and the latter would be of a variety of ages and sizes because they wanted women to be able to imagine themselves in the clothes. Most 16 year-olds cannot afford designer clothing on their own, so what is the point of having them as models?

What are your thoughts on the CFDA proposal and the statements by Ford and Lagerfeld? Do we, in our excitement for the new clothes, forget the human cost? Is there any justification for using models as young as 16, let alone younger? Is this evidence of the increasing ageism within our culture, and if so, how can we reverse it? Are cultural ideals of beauty created by the use of these women in fashion and beauty media, or are they selected because they reinforce and already-held attitude? Who should be held responsible? The media, the industry, the models, the consumers, or everyone? What is our role in the debate as fashion and textile academics?

Please share your thoughts.

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  • Worn Through » Fashion Bytes — Petitioning Teen Vogue
    July 24, 2012 - 5:01 am

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