THREE DECADES OF THIN: How The Fashion Business Promotes Anorexia

allie crandell revolve

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.

Carre Otis, another Calvin Klein model from the 1980s, was actually anorexic.

She suffered heart damage because of it.

The problem begins with the fashion shoot.

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.'

As models get thinner and thinner, some consumers rebel.

Fashion web site Revolve required model Allie Crandell to gain weight before it would use her again after shoppers complained.

Some take it to extremes. Ioana Spangenberg weighs only 84 pounds.

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.

In some countries, extremely thin models are now banned.

Drop Dead Clothing was prohibited in the U.K. from using Amanda Hendrick in any further ads.

Hendrick once told The Daily Record, 'I remember going to one casting where a girl fainted through lack of food. Another girl I lived with out there for a while obsessed about food all the time.'

Company's make bad choices, such as using skinny models instead of muscular ones.

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.

And then there's Photoshop: This Macy's model was edited to reduce the size of her breasts.

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.)

Bloomingdale's gave this model a pelvis-ectomy.

This Max & Cleo Turtleneck Sweater Dress on sale at Bloomingdale's says it 'boasts a waist-cinching belt for the most flattering fit.' Pity Bloomie's removed the model's hips in its representation of it.

Ralph Lauren: 120 pounds is 'overweight'

Not satisfied with the actual dimensions of thin models, Ralph Lauren went through a period of digitally making its models impossibly thin. The woman in this ad was fired for being 'overweight' when she reached 120 pounds. Her body was edited to impossible proportions.

H&M dispensed with models altogether.

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.

'Are they actually mocking us?' this blog wrote.

There was a similar problem at Levi's earlier this year.

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.

The company withdrew ads with the headline 'Skinny always gets the attention' after consumers complained.

Marketers at snack maker Pretzel Crisps used the tagline 'Tastes as good as skinny feels.'

The phrase is a mantra in the 'pro-ana' movement--a twisted online community of women who favour anorexia.

Full circle: 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels' is the phrase Kate Moss lives by.

She admitted it in a 2009 interview with WWD.

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