Reuters is reporting that Madrid's fashion week, a premiere fashion show, has stirred controversy by launching a ban on “overly thin” models, citing the promotion of unhealthy body image as leading to eating disorders like anorexia and bullemia.
Roughly a year and a half ago, I blogged about “Skinny White Bitches“, referencing mainstream standards of beauty as being unhealthily skewed towards the unbelievably thin and racialized to marginalize people of colour. At the end of my rant I asked,
But then again, I look at Sarah Jessica Parker and Joss Stone, and I wonder why it is that the Gap and other clothing companies, which carry so much influence over young women's sense of beauty, can't promote more representative body types of all colours? Why can't traditionally white magazines like Cosmo and Sixteen feature beautiful, full-figured women of colour?
I responded to these questions by saying:
The bottom line is that, in the short term, that would translate into a loss of sales as the women already socialized into hating their own bodies would refuse to buy the magazines.
I'm glad to see that I was wrong.
I was pleasantly shocked this morning when I read the headline — could it really be? Was the same fashion industry that has for a generation lauded the “famine-druggie-chic” of Kate Moss once again promoting more healthy female forms that leave room for a woman to possess internal organs in their proper placement? By placing itself at the forefront of this socially responsible act, Madrid is sending the message that it's not just about money anymore, that industries must take responsibility for how their products can cause deleterious effects on society, even if those effects are intangible and hard to quantify.
Of course, what's most fun about the article is not the ban on overly-thin models, but the modeling agencies' response to the restriction. Cathy Gould of New York's Elite modeling agency is quoted as coming to the defense of (get this) “gazelle-like” models:
“I think its outrageous, I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer[?]”
First of all, I think the word of the day must be “gazelle-like”. Talk about a great euphemism for “starving”. Imagine if the U.N. started sending humanitarian aid not to regions of famine, but to rescue people from “gazelle-like” conditions. Or that you couldn't buy clothing in S, M or L, but in “gazelle-like”, “gazelle-ish”, and “gazelle-not”.
And secondly, why should I care about discrimination against the model? If I were worried about discrimination against fashion models, I would speak out against the treatment of fashion models as walking clothes hangars, without brains, doomed to an existence of being seen and not heard. I would speak out against the inherent sexism of dressing women up and parading them around like dolls to be leered at by salivating men. I would speak out against an industry using women to tell other women how to think about themselves, other women, and the world around them.
But talking about discrimination against skinny fashion models — with the emphasis on skinny — is like talking about discrimination against Whites because we want to remove White privilege. Talking about discrimination against skinny models is like saying that Aundrea, Aubrey, Dawn and Shannon of Danity Kane fame are losing out because D. Wood's bootylicious ass (far left in the picture below) is getting paid to be on the same CD case as they are (albeit clothed in more layers than the rest of their outfits combined to hide the “rolls” and pushed off to the side so that we can focus on the skinny White bitches who get to take center stage).
Yes, after this restriction, it might be harder for a skinny fashion model to get a job, but only harder because now the playing field is being equalized as more “plus-sized” models (as in, plus compared to size 2) get the jobs that have been long denied to them because of discrimination they face in favour of the skinny models. And as a girl who wears size 8-10, I'm all the happier because of it. The fashion industry needs to realize that we (the “plus-sized” women) are beautiful and their consumer base.
And maybe all this will actually lead to the second necessary step in the fashion industry: revolutions in clothing that can actually fit a normally-sized woman. How often has the average woman seen a beautiful outfit that they would love to wear, except that it only fits right when made in sizes 0-4? As a buxom curvaceous woman, it's virtually impossible to find a trendy outfit that not only fits my curves, but actually hangs properly when it does it. So many of the latest fashion trends have been made to fit those with “gazelle-like” figures: from Uggs to those poofy skirts, to the peasant tops — all these cuts of clothing tend to make any but the most stick-figure thin look short and dumpy.
Activists are frequently asked for pro-active solutions to social problems. For Asian Americans, for example, we often must address the question if Asian American screenwriters are doing enough to increase the quality and quantify of Asian American representation on the big screen. And when we say “no”, we're usually cited as being impossible to please and asking too much.
Well, here, Madrid has set a fine example of what can be done by leading members of a particular industry. The Madrid fashion week is a prestigious event and rather than shirk from what it feels are its moral obligations, Madrid threw care to the wind and took a bold stand — one which the fashion industry is more-or-less forced to abide by. Madrid's stance has also made the world consider more closely the role that fashion models play in our standards of beauty and the connection between that and ever-increasing instances of eating disorders in the world's youth. Madrid has shown by its action that this is an international problem with an equally international (and, really, relatively simple) solution. All it took was one person (or in this case, one city) to take an unpopular stance.
That being said, one down-side is that Madrid will be using BMI to make its determination of who can and cannot participate in the fashion week. Although it's better to use numbers than subjective characteristics, the BMI is a flawed index that is incapable of distinguishing between fat vs. muscle content of a person's body. Although it's hard to conceive of a more precise measurement that is as easy to take, that probably would have been preferred over supporting the BMI.