What is the Right Size?
Do we really want to see plus size models on the catwalk or in a fashion magazine photo spread?
Most of us are aware of the persistent criticism put on the fashion industry for using super thin models. The fashion industry is under constant assault in the media for promoting an unhealthy and unattainable image of women. The industry has been blamed for causing untold damage to the self-esteem of women everywhere. Images in fashion magazines are often linked to serious conditions like bulimia, anorexia and depression in women young and old.
No one would question that fashion models are radically different than the average Canadian woman. The average Canadian woman is between a size 12 to 14, while a runway model is typically a size 0. On average, a fashion model will weigh 23% less than the average Canadian woman.
The fashion industry is widely accused of manipulating what is considered normal for a woman’s body all in the name of selling more and more beauty products. Countless articles have been written about how women are seduced into believing that the only way to feel good about themselves is by trying to reach that ultimate ideal of beauty presented in the pages of beauty and fashion magazines. Ironically, stories criticizing the use of super thin models often appear in the same magazines that run multiple pages of fashion ads depicting those very models.
By using models with such dramatically different sizes and shapes than the average woman in advertisements, women conceive that they can only achieve this idealistic image by purchasing more lipstick, more eye shadow, more shoes, more hair products, more of everything. It is believed that only through the purchase of these products a woman can start to feel and be perceived as beautiful.
The recent public reaction to a photo of plus size model Lizzi Miller in the September 2009 issue of Glamour magazine seems to suggest that women are desperate to see more realistic depictions of women in the fashion media. Despite the photo in question being buried on page 194 of the magazine, Glamour magazine’s editor in chief, Cindi Leive wrote that the day the issue hit the newsstands, her inbox was flooded with emails that “were filled with such joy--joy at seeing a woman's body with all the curves and quirks and rolls found in nature” Woman from across North America wrote in with comments such as “This beautiful woman has a real stomach and did I even see a few stretch marks? This is how my belly looks after giving birth to my two amazing kids! This photo made me want to shout from the rooftops."
Even though the fashion industry is under constant scrutiny, the use of plus size models is not without controversy within the industry itself. London’s Daily Mail reported on February 20, 2010 that, when Canadian designer Mark Fast announced to his staff that three women who wore sizes 10 and 12 (UK sizes 12 and 14) would be in his show, two members of his team apparently quit in disgust. This incident sparked a heated debate in the fashion community.
The result is that outside of a few isolated photographs and runway shows, there has been no significant change in the body types of models used within the industry. There is also little evidence to suggest that change is coming anytime soon or that it is even truly desired by society. Flip through the pages of any recently published fashion magazine and you will see that its pages are still dominated by super thin woman in fantastical surreal surroundings.
Karl Lagerfeld is one fashion insider who has little time for the plus model debate. In October 2009 he told Focus magazine that the criticism of the use of thin models comes from “mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly." He went on to say the fashion industry is about "dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women."
Although Karl Lagerfeld is known to be very outspoken on this issue, he does make a clear statement that fashion is not reality. Does the public really want the fashion industry to be a stark reflection of our day-to-day life? Or is the public looking for fashion to be an escape from our day-to-day reality?
Should it be the responsibility of the fashion industry to promote a more realistic image of women? Other visual media are not held up to the same standard as the fashion industry. Far more distributing and challenging images are regularly presented in film, painting, sculptor and photography. Are these images seen as more acceptable because they are considered somehow less real and more fictional than fashion photography? Is there anything more fictional than an Haute Couture runway show?
As this debate continues, women continue to buy magazines like Vogue, Elle and Glamour whose pages are still adorned with images of super thin models. The truism of seeing an average to plus size model on those pages appears good in theory, but too harsh for most in reality. While most women understand and can rationalize the unrealism portrayed on the glossy pages, there is still a glimmer of hope that they might somehow grab a piece of the beauty, if only for a fleeting moment.