On the runway, still needing a sandwich

Remember the fashion industry's encouraging efforts to find normal-size models? Yeah, that didn't last.

Topics: Broadsheet, Fashion, Eating Disorders, Love and Sex,

Damn, I’m not one to use high fashion as a barometer of women’s emancipation, but last year’s growing movement against emaciated models whetted my appetite for change. With Milan and Madrid’s discussions of instituting body-mass-index requirements and certain brazen designers throwing caution to the wind by including a normal-size woman in their shows, the industry that has built its aesthetic around concentration camp chic seemed to be poised for change.

But according to a story in the Wall Street Journal Online, the gestures away from cadaverous children were as ephemeral as the bulimic farts on the runway. This year, say observers, thin is back with a vengeance. “I think it’s gotten worse,” Nina Garcia, Elle fashion director and “Project Runway” judge told the WSJ. The story centers on the fall from fame of 17-year-old Ali Michael, the rail-thin star of last year’s fashion shows, who suddenly found herself with only one spot at Paris Fashion Week after gaining 5 pounds and being told that her legs were “plump.”

Of course, for Michael, it’s a blessing in disguise — while her friends continue to starve themselves to be employable, she’s still young enough to go home to Texas, tuck into the barbecued-ribs platter and get a career that won’t subject her knee fat to biyearly reviews. But for the rest of the fashion world and all of us forced to see its corpselike ideas of beauty staring us down from the covers of the glossy magazines and billboards, it sucks.

What I don’t get is the logic behind the aesthetic. Up to a certain point one can argue that slender frames show styles more clearly, or that a brief trend in goth styles, say, might make boniness thematically relevant. But for decades the fashion world has been on a boat heading toward casting calls in the underworld. The obvious analysis is that deathly thin models aptly embody the fashion industry’s inherent misogyny, but now that male models are becoming equally waiflike, the anorexic aesthetic no longer seems to discriminate on the basis of gender. Another theory — that fashion grapples with war and poverty and other somber realities — gives credit where it’s certainly not due. The only thing I can conclude is that having successfully sold these antilife body images to the public for so long, the industry is taking it to the next level — with even skinnier bodies, including those of men.

Perhaps when male models begin to drop dead from dieting, there will be hell to pay. In the meantime, worrying about healthy body types is sooo 2007.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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