"If It Was Easy, Then Why Bother?"

I've been fairly out of the blogosphere for the better part of a week, but I reckon more or less everyone who reads this is well aware that three models- two of whom were sisters- have died of eating disorders in the last two years. I also doubt that there's anyone in the fashion blogosphere who hasn't heard that Ali Michael- one of last year's most talked-about young models- was actually battling an eating disorder the entire time, and recently went on TV to talk about how she got told that her legs were too fat for the runway after a five-pound weight gain (after dropping from 130 to 102 pounds on a 5'9" frame. Add 5 to 102...). Ali's rock-bottom weight at her height- a weight at which her hair was falling out and she hadn't had a period for a year, but was walking all the big-name shows and shooting editorials all over the place- might not be an impossible thing for naturally skinny girls, but industry standards that lead to teenagers living on oatmeal, lettuce and grapes (not to mention dictating that a 110-pound 5'9" girl's legs are too fat for public display) are - in the humble opinion of someone who hasn't ever worked in fashion- ridiculous.
I also have issues with Amy Astley, the Teen Vogue chief ed who appeared with Ali on the Today Show, passing the buck by insisting that it was the designers who insisted on the models being skinnier and skinnier (and I suspect it's the designers who personally dictate the choice of the superthin, mainly white young models in your magazine's photoshoots, eh? - including Ali in a March 2007 editorial which is where the second picture accompanying this post came from).
But the saddest, most horrifying weigh-in on this came from a blog I've read and respected for a long time. I understand that as a casting director, he feels duty-bound to defend the decisions he and his colleagues make, but abdicating every last scrap of responsibility by blaming the girls for wanting to be models in the first place and their families for supporting them (and by inference, suggesting that puking up your meals, having ovarian shutdowns, and being too fat to walk at approx. 110 pounds and that height - I'm sorry, I can't get over it- are par for the course)...I'm not entirely sure I have the words to say what I feel about it.
I mean, I get it- models need to be skinny to look good in the clothes. Fine. And it's not uncommon for teenage girls, most of whom have reached full (and considerable) height by age 15 but not started developing yet, to be that thin on their own. But running an eighteen-year-old's health into the ground and then suggesting that her speaking up about it is sour grapes at not being cast in all but one of the AW08-09 shows, is nothing short of warped and reprehensible. If Ali Michael, slightly healthier than she was when she was one of Style.com's Models To Watch, had indeed been cast in as many shows as she was last season- this time without having her hair fall out in clumps, maybe the whole situation wouldn't look so absurd, and there wouldn't be a bloody problem because whoever cast those shows wouldn't have thought that a model who was actually keeping her meals down was unfit to do her job. And if anyone comes out of this entire mess looking bad, it certainly isn't Ali, and I sincerely hope her career isn't considered over because she broke some silly omerta-type code of conduct. Given that she is by no means the first model to talk about it (Natalia Vodianova spoke up about her own weight issues last year at - I think- a CFDA event of some sort), it's clear something needs to change, and soon. I've stuck Ali's interview on the Today Show below, it needs a watch (even if Ann Curry is annoying, taking her arm all the time).
Image 1 from COACD
Image 2 from www.teenvogue.com


headmistress said...

I know, I was so shocked at the COACD post, and some of the comments on it too... fashion is fashion, but don't people realise that these are real live human beings we are dealing with? Not to mention, young, full of potential, and possibly vulnerable women? I think some people are seriously detached from reality...
The idea that there will always be 'younger, hungrier' (what a choice of words he used....) women waiting to take the opportunity doesn't absolve them, or license the powers that be to keep pushing these kinds of body ideals. utterly disgusting.

Meg said...

This subject makes me so, so furious. What they're essentially trying to do is reverse time by turning young women back into young girls. It's a totally UNNATURAL process that needs to be addressed by the everyone in the fashion industry, not just the editors, not just the designers, everyone.

They're impossible standards to live up to unless you have a naturally lean frame. C OACD says that it's down to the models and their families to decide how much they want this, but they're not the only ones who are affected, what about the millions of young girls who see these images of superwaifs everyday, and are influenced by them. It's no surprise body image is so unbelievable distorted in society.

If designers, editors and casting directors think Ali Michaels is too fat for the runway, why don't they volunteer their own daughters to walk on the catwalk, and they can prod and starve them like cattle as much as they like because their protests about having no control over who goes on is BS.

susie_bubble said...

It's always been something that gets brushed and hushed over and it is incredibly infuriating and almost hilarious that when it does get all out in the open, people are so quick to play the blame game and start passing the buck.... it's something that we can't really ignore anymore and people should suck it up and admit that their standards of beauty and what presents the clothes in the best light is heinously wrong....especially when it involves the self-harm of so many girls...

WendyB said...

Great post. I believe some people are naturally thin, but the standards have become distinctly unnatural. I'm not sure anyone is as naturally thin for an extended period of time as the industry demands nowadays. I wish we were back in the '90s when the models were allowed to look like women! Linda Evangelista always looked like a grownup. Honestly, I remember sitting next to Kate Moss at an event in 1994 and she was normal teenager-thin, even when she was being shot in a way that exaggerated her thinness, nothing like some of the models are now.

WendyB said...

On the casting blog, I think it's hilarious that an anonymous commenter said " there are plenty of girls who ARE naturally 102 pounds and 5'9".

No, there are not. I think I would notice a bunch of walking skeletons. Because that is outrageously thin.

Elisabeth said...

This whole "size 0" phenomenon has gone on too long - kids are killing themselves because if it!

fashionaddict said...

The COACD post was unbelievably hideous. It's like saying people who work in sweatshops should just settle for inhuman working conditions because so many more poor starving people are 'hungry for it' anyway. It's the sort of cruel, shallow crap that makes me feel embarrassed to pick up a fashion magazine.

Cupcakes and Cashmere said...

In order for women to look good in clothes, they should be thin...that should change. While I unfortunately agree with you, it's simply because of what the industry has instilled in my mind for what's acceptably considered to be beautiful. I hope this starts to change.

selinaoolala said...

i'm a bit indifferent as it's one of those things that goes round and round and everyone has a different opinion, but the facts are, designers want the skinniest girls and yes, they should make every effort they can to be sure that these girls aren't harming themselves to get work, but they weren't forcing ali michael to get to the low weight in the first place, they didn't hold a gun to her neck, she's alread walked in shows and made money, i don't see how the designers ran her health into the ground. say if she wouldn't have walked in the show if she wasn't near 100 pounds, then why risk her health to do so? the fashion houses should make sure girls aren't harming themselves and the girls shouldn't do it in the first place. i think it takes two to tango and all areas contribute. i seriously disagree with the image this is giving all models though, you can be thin and healthy, casing points: lily cole, erin o'connor, gemma ward

The_UndeaD_ said...

Once upon a time long ago, there were two movements. The Form movement and the Function movement. Some ppl took sides with the Form but I chose the Function.

Now since models dont have much function other than be clothes hangers for clothes that somebody else is gonna buy - yeah, thats what they are gonna end up looking like.

Now being a function guy I like voluptuous women coz a skinny woman isnt very functional. What ever happened to the Laetitia Casta's and Tyra Bank's? I ll tell you what happened.

There is something inherently unnatural and unhealthy about the whole fashion industry. I dont even get why such an industry exists, but I am trying to understand what its all about by reading blogs such as these. I think my repulsion for the industry comes with its shallowness, fickleness and last but not least, homophilia.

Now muslims understood this Form centric problem. So they invented the Burqa. The invention of the conservative Burqa wiped out fashion because the Burqa itself is anti fashion.

Now I m not saying that the Burqa is good or fashion is bad. But extremism in any way is bad. Therefore we have models who must look like clothes hangers.

Form Vs Function.

The clothes must serve the woman not the other way round.

enc said...

Most of the 5'9" women I see in my job at the gym weigh 130 or more. They look good, and healthy, not like racks of bones. They have muscle, fat, and functioning bodies. They eat. They run. They laugh. They live. To me, they are beautiful. They look like the SuperModels from the '90s looked. Linda, Cindy, Claudia, they're all valid symbols of beautiful femininity, and they're all working now.

I wish we could return to that aesthetic, because it's more representative of women as a whole than what we hold in such high esteem now.

Runaway Gallery said...

Well done. This needs to be more talked about and the people at the top need to pressured to change. This really makes me so sad

bear said...

this is such a great post. the weight issue is so out of control. i just dont understand how these designers/casting directors sleep at night knowing they are torturing these young girls at the cost of a photograph, a walk down a catwalk and a measly 10 minutes of fame.

Ragamala said...

the first picture is beautiful.

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Romeika said...

It would be great if all working models did the same as Ali did, speaking up. It disgusts me to know that fashion profissionals make blind eyes to such a serious issue, tssskkk :-S
I don't know the blog you mentioned here, but omg, how insensitive of him to give such a statement.

Fashion Tidbits said...

oh my gawd. if she is NOT thin then what is she??? this is so ridiculous. health must be a first priority when working!!!! people have to change their mindset

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Ye gods this is a lot of comments..

Headmistress: I think that's part of the trouble- people don't care, or they don't care until a problem gets out of hand (and potentially embarrassing). And I was shocked by that choice of words, too.

Meg: Models have always been thinner than your average human being, but the idea that they now have to make themselves ill to conform to those standards is what's especially awful, and more so because they're so young. I mean, if the girls who are being held up as the ideal body type are themselves unhealthy, it's no surprise that things are screwy.

Susie: I think that's the problem, in a nutshell- no one seems to want to admit that they, personally, have any part in contributing to this problem, or that they're obligated to change the way they look at things. COACD's attitude sums it up, really. And yes, it infuriates me too.

Wendy: I think part of the problem lies with the fact that models often start out so young, and are expected to stay that skinny forever, which is impossible. It's like having boobs or an ass is a bad thing now, the way some designers present their clothes. And it's surprising that you say Kate Moss looked normal in real life, considering there was such a hoo-ha about her thinness back then. Now extreme, even unhealthy skinniness is seen as normal, it's bloody insane.

Elisabeth: Heck, if the models themselves are dying or suffering this badly, where's the hope for the rest of the kids?

Fashionaddict: he was happy enough to feature her just a year ago (the first polaroid is off his blog). This 'put up or shut up' attitude has got to change, really..

Selina: I agree that no one put a gun to Ali's head and she had the option of walking away, but as you said, it takes two to tango and when one of the parties is the entire body of stylists, photographers, designers and editors that makes up the fashion industry, and the other party is a teenage girl whose job as a model is to do whatever they say, and to mould herself and her body according to their standards, it's fair to say that there's an extreme power imbalance- even though Ali admitted that her own attitude made her see it as just a better way to do her job. At the end of this, Ali had the option of flying home and chucking modelling for good. But what about girls who might be from poorer backgrounds, who see modelling as their best option, like Natalia Vodianova was once? As for Gemma and Co, I've noticed that she's been appearing on runways a lot less since developing curves, though I don't know if that's because designers are rejecting her or she's cutting down on work on her own. Same goes for Erin O'Connor, who got her breaks at a time when the skinny-fad wasn't so outrageous.

The_Undead: You're right about extremism being a bad thing as far as fashion, or anything really, is concerned, but I'd like to think that the fashion industry is a little better than what you say. Sure, it can be shallow, fickle and ridiculous, but it's capable of great things too- and maybe some of those things are great only to nut jobs like me, but they still matter. (I'm not going to comment on the homophilia part, that's your belief). And if you've really been trying to understand fashion better, I'd recommend going to any of the blogs in my sidebar, or if you're pressed for time, the blogs of the commenters on this post.

ENC: I think Nina Garcia had it spot-on when she said that while the models were getting skinnier, we as a culture (I'm assuming she applied this only to Americans, but it works for most places) were getting fatter and fatter. I've always understood that models are physically different from the general populace, but recently things have been taken too far- people, particularly those in the fashion industry, do need to take a good hard look at their standards of beauty and not brush off things like these.

Runaway Gallery: I do hope this provokes some effort at change. The models who died previously were people we'd never heard of till then, but the idea that a rising runway model with so many big-name assignments had to do this to get work, should shock a few of the right people. Hopefully.

Bear: The prevailing attitude seems to be that no one will accept that they could, in any way, be personally responsible for even a small part of this. COACD's post says a lot, really- I don't think they even see them as human beings.

Ragamala: The first pic was one I took off the COACD blog, it was put up there in February 2007. He was fine with touting her as the next big thing then, but turned on her so quickly once she actually spoke up.
Bunbungirl: Thank you, I love anime and I'll add you once I get around to doing updates!

Romeika: Some people seem to think that speaking up means Ali should never work again (though considering what happened, I wouldn't blame her for choosing not to). But yes, if the models were all to talk about this it would help immensely.

Fashion Tidbits: I know, that's exactly what I thought. And you're right, it's a change in mindset that will help in preventing things like this in the future, more than any BMI measures- the fashion industry has to accept that it's in the wrong, I just hope that happens too..

evie said...

love this post although it was quite sad to read. i agree with your reply to wendy - it's like the models are expected to stay that size forever.

i was naturally skinny right up to when i turned 16. i hadn't exactly reached a healthy weight yet (took me another 10 years) but still i can imagine what is must be like for girls who start off young and as soon as they start developing some curves they get labeled as too fat.

i think also it's not so much about whether these girls are forced to continue working as a model but after so many years in the spotlight, i can imagine that it must kill their self esteem to not be able to get as much work as before!

Paris said...

Thank you for writing about this. I always try to do my bit to teach young girls on my blog and other places on the net that I support, that compromising your health for your weight is not good and I always get slammed for my opinions. I think Ali was really brave to speak up, I don't know if this has affected her career, I surely nope not, I hope it does the opposite for her and people learn from it. xx

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