It’s not news that the fashion business prefers skinny models in its ads; that some models are anorexic; and that women who aren’t skeletally thin end up with negative feelings about their bodies because of these ads (according to this study).
What is less obvious is the process that governs the way this works. Or that it’s even a process, embedded into the industry.
You can trace the history of thinness in fashion models back to Twiggy in the 1960s, but it was only in the 1980s that designers began favouring ultra-thin models in earnest. Kate Moss for Calvin Klein was the tipping point: Her waif-like looks set a new weight standard for models well below that of the average adult woman. From that point on, Klein deliberately favoured Moss and other ultra-thin models in his ads.
Today, some advertising and magazine editors have to edit fat back on to models’ bodies in Photoshop. A fashion-shoot stylist once told B.I. that it was not uncommon for “plus-size” models to show up looking much thinner than their job titles would suggest—and with padding under their clothes to make themselves look more substantial.
In Europe, authorities have moved to ban ad imagery featuring impossibly thin women.
The issue made headlines again earlier this week when the editor of PLUS Model complained that former plus-size model Crystal Renn had slimmed down from a size 16 to a sample size, after she appeared in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. Renn has struggled with an eating disorder.
How did we get here?
1985: Calvin Klein launches Obsession. He says he later used Kate Moss to popularise the 'waif' look.
Designers make their sample sizes--the clothes models wear for ads and editorial spreads-- smaller and smaller, forcing the models who wear them to get thinner and thinner. Some models show up at fashion shoots looking so unhealthy that photo editors are forced to add fat to their bodies in retouching, and to airbrush out their protruding bones. Former Cosmopolitan U.K. editor Leah Hardy confessed:
'Thanks to retouching, our readers - and those of Vogue, and Self, and Healthy magazine -- never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. That these underweight girls didn't look glamorous in the flesh. Their skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology, leaving only the allure of coltish limbs and Bambi eyes.'
She's 5 feet 6 inches tall and has a 20-inch waist. But, she tells The Sun:
'No one seems to believe it, but every day i eat three big meals and I snack on chocolate and crisps all the time.
'I just have a small stomach. It's a bit like a gastric band, if I eat too much I feel sick'.
Models' bodies face a withering level of scrutiny: Crystal Renn slimmed down after 'media pressure.'
Crystal Renn was once one of the most famous plus-size models in the business. But her relationship with her body is complicated: She lost all her curves for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She has complained about pressure from the media and says she would have to have a 'binge eating disorder' in order to live up to expectations. She struggled with an eating disorder in the past.
Gym chain Equinox came under fire after it released new branding, shot by Terry Richardson, which featured skinny models instead of ones with muscles. Sure, you can lose weight at a gym. But you can gain muscle too, and Equinox also has serves food in its cafes.
Jezebel discovered this tell-tale error in a Macy's catalogue: An image of a model was used twice. In one photo she had significant decolletage; in the other she was flat-chested. (The model, Jessica Perez, was more accurately represented in the right-hand image.)
Fast-fashion retailer H&M thought it had found an elegant solution to the inconvenience of models who come in all shapes and sizes: Find one perfect body, and edit different heads and outfits onto it.
Even non-designer retailers cannot help themselves: Zappo's Denim Shop has 'Fits for every body type,' which obviously won't.
The normalcy of thinness blinds designers from seeing that the models they're using are not, in fact, 'all shapes and sizes.'
The idea that women should only be skinny leaks into other categories: Skinny Water eventually pulled this campaign.
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