Child labor never looked so corrosively chic. Not only are fashion models getting younger (despite proposals for a minimum age put forth by the British Fashion Council and the Council of Fashion Designers of America), but their bodies are being ravaged by more than just malnutrition. A recent article in the New York Times reports rampant tobacco and drug use among underage catwalkers. Between puffs on their Marlboros, models are popping appetite-suppressing Vicodin and body-fat-reducing clenbuterol, all in hopes of maintaining their urchinlike frames. Times style reporter Guy Trebay likens the mannequins' gritty lifestyles to those of blue-collar workers, such as long-haul truckers, noting that both professions tend to draw from a young, uneducated workforce. Though provocative -- there is cognitive dissonance in the fact that the exploited wear Chanel -- Trebay's comparison is imperfect: Truck drivers face more stringent regulations at weigh stations.
But there is at least one bastion of sanity in the vice-ridden fashion industry: "America's Next Top Model." (Who would have expected the sometimes histrionic Tyra Banks to be modeling's voice of reason?) The show is taking on meatier issues in its ninth cycle. In addition to going green -- the women are living in an eco-friendly mansion -- Banks takes aim at tobacco. One of this season's challenges includes a two-part antismoking photo shoot: A glamorous shot of a model posing with a cigarette is juxtaposed with another in which the model is made up to portray the ugly-making effects of tobacco. In case cancer and emphysema aren't deterrent enough, the models are reminded that they won't look so pretty with crow's-feet, bald heads and oxygen machines.
Banks' continuing efforts to clean up the modeling world's reputation are commendable ("America's Next Top Model" enforces a minimum age of 18 and Banks has long railed against eating disorders), but they don't seem representative of the real fashion scene -- those gaunt, chain-smoking, hard-living catwalkers just keep on truckin'.