In this weekend’s Washington Post, Robin Givhan considers the outcry over the prevalence of extremely thin models on the runways, and comes up with an interesting conclusion: It wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t all so fat.
The argument is more complex than that, of course. “All those emaciated models have to be seen against the backdrop of a population that is overwhelmingly afflicted with obesity,” she writes. And later: “The fatter the general population, the thinner the idealized woman.”
It’s true that fashion is about fantasy, and that includes the beauty of the models. They’re hired to look better in clothing than most of us ever will. It’s also true that beauty changes in response to cultural norms, and that it’s always been somewhat unattainable. Victorian women who wore corsets or Medieval women who bled themselves white weren’t doing so because they thought all the other women had wasp waists or naturally ghostly skin, but because corsets and paleness both signified a delicate, upper-class femininity. Whatever beauty is, it’s never the norm.
Givhan may also be right that “as a culture, we hate what we are becoming: fat.” There’s a lot of self-loathing out there. But when she writes that skinniness is a “test of willpower and determination,” or seems to approve of women on “The Biggest Loser” “passing out and throwing up in the gym to become size 8 or 4 or 0,” she ignores the fact that, due to many factors, including the work of people like Broadsheet’s Kate Harding and the fact that we know how Photoshop works, people increasingly don’t believe that they can look like models if they work hard enough. The backlash isn’t always about health or body image, but about wanting a standard of beauty that actually seems semi-attainable. At least you could buy a corset (good luck carrying that Photoshop eraser tool around with you at dinner).
“The culture” isn’t insisting on emaciated models and greeting larger ones with hostility; the fashion industry is, and as such, it seems increasingly out of touch with consumer demands. “The culture” is developing new aspirational models, like much-beloved, noticeably not-emaciated Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men.” Most of us will never look like her, either. But at least she looks like herself without any computerized assistance. And, for the moment, that’s enough.