Tattooed and proudly flabby on the catwalk

An alternative fashion show gives the stiff arm to all those anorexic models.

By Carol Lloyd

Published April 10, 2008 6:50PM (EDT)

In a moment when we're hearing about female models growing ever more skeletal and male models slimming down to chopsticks, I'd embrace just about any trend in fashion that breaks this tired old mold.

It has been two long years since 88-pound Ana Carolina Reston died as result of anorexia -- in the fashion world that's like an ice age. Since then there has been outrage, consternation, committees, proposed legislation and a return to the status quo on a crash diet where even the likes of Elle magazine editor Nina Garcia (not exactly a candidate for a profile in Fat!So?) is saying things have "gotten worse."

So when a CBC article subtitled "The Rise of Alternative Fashion Models" landed in my in box, I couldn't help wondering: Is this for real? And it is -- there is a new breed of diverse body-typed, tattooed and even transsexual models walking the runway. The problem is that they aren't doing it in New York or Milan, Italy, but in the explicitly antiestablishment event Toronto Alternative Arts and Fashion Week (known by the mixed-up acronym FAT), which began April 9.

AS CBC sums it up: "The event prides itself on celebrating men and women of all shapes and sizes but also embraces ethnic variety and body art. [FAT] models stand anywhere from five-foot-one to six-foot-one; tattoos are flaunted, not concealed; belly flab is accentuated, not spurned."

What's not to love? If it came to my city, I'd bare my belly flab and go.

What's interesting is that the producers claim their inclusive aesthetic isn't simply healthier for the models but potentially more profitable for the designers. One organizer says designers who continue to hire the same old scrawny white chicks fail to realize "unleashed potential, newfound profit, newfound economic and financial potential that they haven't yet achieved." (We're talkin' mega newfound potential.)

Does that mean that your average middle-aged, slightly overweight mother of three can finally break into modeling? Not quite. But the article focuses on one particularly promising model -- a Kenyan transsexual male-to-female -- whose tall, narrow frame looks like a lot of female models everywhere. And after looking at dozens of photos from past years, where you'd be hard-pressed to pinch an inch, it's obvious to me that the fashion world will sooner embrace transsexual models before pudgy ones.

As one of the organizers admits: "The images still have to be aspirational. You still want that glamour. You don't want the photograph to look like a driver's license picture."

Carol Lloyd

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

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