Skin, and bones, and fashion! Oh, my!
Are underweight models, portrayed on runways and ads, promoting an unhealthy body image for young women, or is it simply an uncontrollable ever changing trend in the fashion industry?
Let’s look back to the times when models were infamous for their diva behaviours, incriminating tales of drug use and notorious bad choices in men. The models of today are now showing up in tabloids, not for their off the runway antics but instead for their reputation of being notoriously thin on the runway.
Let’s face it, thin is in-the dramatically low weight of these size zero models has recently sparked controversy over their dangerous influence over admiring young women. Therefore, we must ask ourselves what influence body image has on young minds today, where ideals originated, and ultimately debate if anyone can truly be put at fault.
This past summer, Urban Outfitters was forced to remove a t-shirt bearing the slogan, “Eat Less” from their websites, following complaints that it carried a pro-anorexia offensive message. Designer advertisements in magazines have also been known to carry similar messages .They seem to be at fault for portraying skinny models that do not resemble the average women, therefore giving emphasis to the ideal that thinness is beauty.
According to a recent article from About.com on how media affects teen body image, models generally weigh 23% less than the average women. In addition, while the average height and weight for a model is 5'10" and 110 lbs., the height and weight for the average woman is 5'4" and 145 lbs. It is simple to see where teens are getting these twisted messages from the media on body image, as the average person in the United States sees approximately 3,000 ads in magazines, billboards, and television daily.
This debate over unhealthy looking models has been at the forefront of the fashion industry for the past few years. In 2006, at the Madrid Fashion Week, organizers in an attempt to discourage bad eating habits, attempted to project an image of beauty and health. They therefore had all models have their Body Mass Index (BMI) checked to ensure they were at an acceptable level to be able to participate in any shows. Other shows followed suit, angering design houses who felt they were not able to showcase their work in their preferred way.
Many feel as though the fashion world should be held accountable for creating an environment whereas models are needed to be an unhealthy, unrealistic size in order to work. The reality is the fashion industry has too strong a hold on society, whereas at an early age young girls begin to associate beauty with a certain body image.
The question is who is to say what the correct, healthy body type is when the ideal changes with time. According to a September 8th article from Wisegeek.com, fashion model figures have continually changed over time. In comparing 1960`s models to today sizes show that the average model in the 1960`s was about 5’7” and weighted approximately 129 pounds. Currently average fashion models are two inches taller and weigh about 114 pounds. However, the healthy look of the 1960’s would soon change with the emergence of the 91 pound model Twiggy, who was someone many naturally thin young women could finally relate to. In the 1980’s models returned to a somewhat healthier BMI with models such as Christie Brinkley and Cindy Crawford. But again things changed in the 1990’s and has continued into the 2000’s beginning with the “heroin chic” look pioneered by model Kate Moss. Therefore, shapes change with time and who is to say what the next ideal figure will be. Nevertheless, it is clear that people will never be satisfied with any one ideal body.
It is also difficult to generalize the fashion industry as a whole when different designers use different body shapes. Some designers prefer a very slim figure because they feel it is the best figure to present their work. While others use a variety of women with different looks, sizes and body shapes. Most recently, Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2010 collection, showcased more shapely models of the past such as Elle Macpherson and Christy Turlington.
It is also untrue that the fashion industry is the main influencer on young women. Media outlets such as tabloids and celebrity gossip news criticize on a daily basis its female celebrities for such things as having a bad hair day, for losing too much weight, and for gaining too much weight. They are creating an impossible standard of perfection for anyone to live up to.
There are some who believe that controlling models BMI is a successful way to control any unhealthy models from walking in a show, however these weight restrictions can be ineffective. As reported by idebate.org’s Ella Robertson (June 19th, 2010), “BMI only takes into account weight and height but not bone density and fat percentage. Many models are teenagers who eat normally but are naturally skinny”. Also, many feel that these models are grown women who have the right to make their own decisions about their bodies and ultimately their careers. In comparison, just as a pro- athlete or actor make sacrifices over many years for pursuing their ultimate dream as does a model.
Ultimately, it is difficult to hold the fashion industry or simply models accountable for being the sole bad influence on young minds of today. Other supposed role models of today such as rock stars, athletes, and actors make a more significant impact in the popular media today with their bad choices. They fill media coverage with bad influences after another with at times much focus on body image issues.
In the end, whether the industry is at fault or not, public opinion may be the ultimate force of change. According to a September 20th article on Glamour.com, “public opinion seems to be in favour of healthier, more fit girls on the runway and there have been some strides in that direction in the last few years”. There will continually be an impact on body image by some type of media on young women. Therefore, at the end of the day if young women are aware of the misrepresentations they are better prepared to face them.