Robin Givhan thinks the fashion industry has yet again come under unfair fire in the Ralph Lauren Photoshop debacle that reached a fever pitch last week when model Filippa Hamilton-Palmstierna said the label fired her for being too fat. Givhan argues that fashion represents an ideal. That ideal, as we as a nation get fatter, is the opposite, which is “extremely thin to gaunt.” She notes that our nation has never embraced being fat, but rather celebrates weight loss. We congratulate contestants on The Biggest Loser for going from a size 14 to a size 4, even if they’re throwing up and passing out in the gym to get there. Oprah went on her show in 1988 wearing size 10 jeans, boasting that since they’re designer Calvin Klein jeans, they’re really more like a size 8, implying that the smaller she is, the better.
There’s plenty to be said about whether the models on the runway are healthy. Most definitely, some of them are not. But most folks aren’t demanding to see a doctor’s note. The focus of the concern is aesthetics. And some horribly airbrushed photos notwithstanding, the main focus of the complaints isn’t that the look is unpleasant but that it’s unattainable for most people.
With that in mind, maybe all of the protesting about deluded designers has been wrongheaded. Maybe all of the demands that editors and photographers just use heavier models have been misguided. Because before fashion models will get any bigger, people in general will just have to get smaller.
Givhan adds that newsstand sales have declined because of the economy, not because of “righteous indignation over skinny models.” We don’t like going to fashion shows and feeling like the girls walking the runway before us are so thin that they may pass out before they complete their walk, or fly across the room if an Olsen twin sneezes from the front row. But if models also have a problem with their working conditions, should they really wait until they start losing work to say something? If all the unhealthy models got together and collectively bemoaned, say, losing their periods with the ascension of their careers, they’d surely still get a good bit of publicity, and maybe even better working conditions.