Skinny models: who is to blame?
Seeing an unhealthily thin model walking in a runway show or featured on a billboard is a common occurrence, but there is an unsavoury ‘blame-game’ attached to it that means that we are in a seemingly never-ending circle of unaccountability. The brands claim that they have been offered no other suitable models, the agencies say that the sample sizes of designer’s work require size 6 and below. It is a chicken and the egg situation - what came first, the sample size or the deathly skinny model?
Harking back to the era of ‘Heroin Chic’, it was common for a models’ defining feature to be their elongated, skeletal body, upon which clothes simply shone with an allure that seemed out of grasp for the average-sized consumer.
It feels like an age since Kate Moss was preaching that, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and the world has changed for the better in that time. We are beginning to embrace women of all shapes and sizes, freedom of speech, equal rights and an end to the exploitation and pressure to look a certain way. However a lot of runway/editorial models are being told to “tone-up” (another way of saying lose some fat) and Curve (Plus size) models are actually being instructed to gain weight. So there’s still some way to go to achieve complete acceptance.
The industry has started to move towards change, though. France is leading the way with laws and regulations banning models from the catwalk that have an unhealthy BMI or are under a certain size. Model Unions are finally being taken seriously and with social media, models are able to speak up against exploitation and pressures to lose weight.
There are a few steps industry-insiders and consumers can take to promote a healthier, more accepting world, and I’ve broken them down pinpointing how each sector of people can do this.
There is an everlasting debate about the ‘sample sizes’ that brands use - the initial mock up of their designs. Traditionally this was as small as possible to use the least material possible, and done on a model of particular measurements to create the piece on. Brands argue that increasing their sample size will result in higher costs and changing their entire structure of design.
However, it can be done. By increasing their sample sizes to an 8/10, all brands will set the minimum standard of modelling. Having a sample size of an 8 means that models will have to fit into this healthy, arguably ‘normal’ size as opposed to starving themselves down to a size 6. The average size in the UK is size 14. This will set the tone for the entire collection, most notably for the runway shows where the samples are presented to the world - requiring models of a larger size to wear the samples.
Brands are also able to soften their impact on this by hiring healthier models in general. By featuring size 10 models in their campaigns and not making a big fuss over it (by calling them ‘curve’ or ‘accepting all bodies’) they are simply sending a quiet message to the public that it is more than okay to be a natural size and you can look good wearing their clothes no matter what size you happen to be.
If I had to pick one player I would put the most blame on, it would be the model agencies. They like to use the ‘out of shape’ excuse to avoid their own shortcomings in having too many models to find work for or simply not performing. Measurements are also a form of control for agencies. By having their models permanently in emotional debt to them, not having the shaved-down hipbones that they had when they were 13, they have the upper hand. They are able to use it as an excuse to drop models from their agency, to not pay them on time, to send them off to foreign markets where the ‘curvy’ look is celebrated or to get them to do work they would rather not be doing.
Agencies hold the key to change in this industry, and unless they use it they will soon become irrelevant. They simply must begin promoting ‘larger’ models without it being some kind of crazy risk - without it even being an issue. Otherwise social media will take over and models will simply be booked directly by brands. Agencies can accept healthier models and send them out for work and then discuss whether a change is needed based on the response from clients. They can hire healthy models without them being called ‘curve’ or plus-sized, and can refrain from asking models to lose weight. This radical shift will bring about a culture of respect and harmonisation - where models are accepted for who they are and as a result, work harder for their goals. In turn, the brands have a wider selection of models to choose from and the public can have positive role models to gain inspiration from.
Models also hold the key to change. By aspiring to be with elite agencies that perpetuate the above cycles of asking models to lose weight when they simply cannot manage so many - models are fuelling the fire. They are joining agencies that ask them to lose weight and then take upon the challenge of halving their body weight in a month. They succumb to the pressure and manipulation and do not have the power to say ‘no’.
These days, models are gaining a voice. Social media gives them a way to share their experiences and stand up for themselves, refusing to take any more pressure. There are agencies out there who do not require models to lose weight who are bullied by the monopoly of bigger agencies that exude glamour and fame and top clients. It’s a vicious circle we all must play a part in breaking.
By models banding together and supporting organisations such as Equity (the UK model union), they are empowering each other to make a stand for themselves. They realise that they are not alone, and there are many young girls and boys who look up to them as role models who they have a duty to inspire in a positive, healthy way.
Model Unions such as the Model Alliance (NY) and Equity (UK) are finally being taken seriously, after a few years of plodding along in the background. Having worked with Equity in the past I can confirm that the model agencies in the UK were very resistant to it even existing at all, and one actually asked the organiser to let them know if any of their models tried to join. It is crazy that because of the employment status of models (self-employed), trade unions have ceased to exist until fairly recently. Unions are paving the way to a better world for models, and it is vital that they receive support in order to do so.
Consumers have an effect on what is promoted to them. By supporting brands that use healthy, happy models, consumers are voting with their wallets. Idolising healthy models instead of surgically enhanced or very thin models is a stepping stone to creating a healthier, more accepting world for all of us.
It is all of our duties to ensure that our future generations grow up in a world that is more accepting than the one we have been a part of in past years. We all have a part to play in promoting a healthier, more conscious world to live in and pushing the fashion industry forward in promoting beautiful, healthy models.