We’re taking a break from vegan fashion and winter coats for this thought piece on Liza Sabater’s article about Spain banning models from the runway for being too thin. This February, we polled the audiences at New York Fashion Week on the same issue and here’s what we found:
SHOULD THE HEALTH AND WEIGHT OF FASHION MODELS BE REGULATED?
43% said, “Yes.”
31% said, “Within reason.”
26% said, “No (the thought of it makes me want to throw up).”
So what do I think?
The fashion industry, pretty much by definition, plays an influential role in defining an aspirational aesthetic (or state of appearance) globally. Although this isn’t something new, it now seems to be taking on a different perspective.
There have always been standards in this industry, most of which are rooted in how to design, manufacture and deliver original fashion to an insatiable audience. In relatively recent history, there was an appropriate backlash from human rights advocates on issues ranging from the composition of the workforce (often underage or prison labor) to the inhumane working conditions. Much progress has been made in these areas, although I’m not sure if it was because of the humanity of the circumstances or because of the fact that it just so happened to unfairly impact the competitive landscape? So, whether appropriate measures were taken for all of the right reasons or not, a positive change has taken place.
How we present our products, and our choice of the individuals we choose to model them, undeniably has an impact on not just the individuals we seek to attract, but also on “the look” we believe our audience aspires to.
Even though the notion of beauty is universally embraced, its definition, as we all know, is interpretive. How different individuals, or cultures for that matter, define beauty is often not the same. That said, what is less subjective or interpretive is health. Based on its undeniably immense influence, I believe that the fashion industry should assume a certain level of responsibility and accountability for its actions, to the degree that they negatively impact the health of its community and its audience.
So, does that mean regulations on models? Absent of a clear, specific measure of universally acceptable standards of health and well-being, I am not sure this can be regulated at this point in time. There are still too many subjective elements, such as: age; genetics; individual metabolic rates; self-perception; etc. It’s also easy to forget that many ‘skinny’ models are, in fact, healthy in body and mind. Many are just utilizing their natural build, which is why the industry will always struggle to assess every model’s “well-being” and/or their level of positive self-image.
It’s apparent that, just as professional sports must assume some responsibility to instill, monitor and enforce standards on its athletes, so should we. Although I don’t know if the injection of performance enhancing drugs is any better or worse than the abuse models are known to inflict on their bodies, they are comparable in the fact that we have seen, time and time again, what personal sacrifices people endure to realize a questionably worthwhile goal.
I agree with mandatory education programs (nutrition, lifestyle, etc.) to begin with, as suggested by the CFDA, but until we can establish a reasonable system of regulation, in the interim I believe we must all be responsible and commit to self-regulate where and when we can. Self-regulation on the part of we, the industry, and on the part of the models themselves, is probably the only reasonable step that could be taken at this point in time.
I’m not big on imposing my perspective on others, but I think if we, the industry, all view these models (on and off the runway) as role models that we’ve created, and carefully consider the message they are sending to our children, I do believe we will all invariably do the right thing.
So, until the day we have to discuss models bulking up on steroids and athletes suffering from bulimia, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it (for now).