By ZEYNEP YILMAZ
Published: September 24, 2014
The New York Fashion Week just wrapped up, and again media attention has turned to the size and health of models in fashion shows. Many people have used social media to express their disappointment with the reinforcement of the thin body ideal by the fashion industry. Despite prior efforts to stop the use of rail-thin models, spectators seem frustrated that designers’ model choices have not changed.
Of course, the promotion of a mostly unattainable body type is not a new issue. For example, organizers of the Madrid Fashion Week attracted media attention when they banned underweight models in 2006. Council of Fashion Designers of America followed suit and published model health guidelines (source: http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/article/TMG9043070/Model-health-guidelines-for-New-York-Fashion-Week-released-by-the-CFDA.html) in 2007, stating that their goal was, “to address what has become a global fashion issue: the overwhelming concern about whether some models are unhealthily thin, and whether or not to impose restrictions in such cases. Designers share a responsibility to protect women, and very young girls in particular, within the business, sending the message that beauty is health.”
Recently though, a disturbing new trend has emerged. With the anonymity afforded by Internet platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, we are increasingly seeing models being criticized for their low weight and labeled as “eating disordered.” For example, a Topshop campaign involving Australian model Codie Young garnered significant negative media attention in 2011, resulting in the company’s removal of her pictures from its website. Although the reaction to the company’s choice of promoting a specific body type was justified, Young should not be publicly shamed for her weight status. (source: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/queensland-model-hits-back-at-anorexic-claims-20110713-1hcrn.html). It is impossible to diagnose an eating disorder by size alone, and we should denounce weight shaming in all of its forms whether for smaller or larger bodies. Our collective goal should not be to stigmatize others for their weight but to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of all bodies’ shapes and sizes.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that eating disorder etiology is not solely caused by culture. However, it is undeniable that the glorification of a thin body ideal is linked to body dissatisfaction, negative affect, as well as dysfunctional attitudes toward food and disordered eating. The anger directed online towards thin models could be better channeled towards the fashion industry for only using a single body type to represent the female figure. On a positive note, JAG Models and Project Gravitas forged a recent partnership during New York Fashion Week (source: http://www.elle.com/news/fashion-style/nyfw-jag-project-gravitas-eating-disorder-awareness-party) to end the labeling models based on their body types (e.g., “plus size vs. straight size”). We applaud these efforts towards ending the promotion of the thin body ideal in the fashion industry and look forward to a runway show that represents the age, ethnic, weight, and shape diversity of all women and men.