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