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The skinny on the general public vs. the fashion industry
Both women were contestants and final-four finalists in a recent U.K. reality TV show, “Make me a supermodel.” The prize was a modeling contract with Select modeling agency and a spread in either Glamour or GQ magazine.
If the general public were asked to pick the more aesthetically pleasing between these two women, the overwhelming vote will be for Jen Hunter, though most would agree that a woman deserving of a supermodel designation should look better than her, and Jen Hunter did indeed win the public vote, but was outcompeted by two men, one of whom won the top prize.
Anyway, here are the interesting comments:
When it came to the final four, the Panel of judges, mostly comprising of people from the fashion world, said that Jen Hunter looked great and Marianne Berglund looked breathtaking and sensational! Comment: Whose idea of a breathtaking and sensational woman is one who looks like a boy in his early adolescence?
Jen Hunter was reduced to tears when she was castigated on the reality TV show for not taking a food and exercise regime seriously.
Jen Hunter was criticized by Judge Tandy Anderson, managing director of Select Model Management, for having “stocky legs.”
Rachel Hunter, another Judge, reprimanded Jen for saying she wanted to prove larger women could be successful models.
When Marianne Berglund was the first person to be eliminated from the final four, the judging panel was shocked, but Rachel Hunter told Marianne that it was she among the final four who was the supermodel material. Comment: One wonders to what extent the judging panel worked toward making sure that Jen Hunter does not win or else they will be stuck with her as a model for the time period of the contract.
One look at the boyish physique of Marianne Berglund and the face of Rachel Hunter, which looks like that of a male transvestite, should explain why there is a notable discord between the preferences of the fashion world and that of the general public: the fashion world is dominated by male homosexuals but the general public mostly comprises of exclusively heterosexual individuals.
Unless the homosexual influence becomes widely known, the negative impact of skinny fashion models will not be lessened. Following the death of 22-year-old fashion model Luisel Ramos, who died of heart failure on August 2, 2006, after walking the runway during a fashion show in Uruguay, authorities in Madrid banned models below a BMI of 18 during the September 2006 fashion week.
5-foot-9 Luisel Ramos weighed 98 pounds at the time of her death. She starved herself over a period of months after being told that she could be an international sensation if she lost weight.
As one would expect, notwithstanding the rare example of Giorgio Armani voluntarily agreeing not to use size zero (U.S.) models, the Madrid ban prompted a fashion-industry backlash. Some comments by Didier Grumbach, head of the Chambre Syndicale, the body that governs French fashion, provide useful insight (my comments are in italics):
Grumbach said that it is not the role of fashion to solve public health problems. Right, but only if the problems are not caused by the fashion world.
Grumbach: "I think it's a non-issue. You don't solve public health problems by regulating the size of models," he says. "You know, fashion is only the reflection of what is happening in society. It is not the cause." Who is Grumbach trying to kid? The general public overwhelmingly finds the typical skinniness of high-fashion models socially unacceptable. The general public also strongly and overwhelmingly aesthetically prefers above average femininity in the looks of women; manly women like Rachel Hunter wouldn’t even be considered for modeling, let alone end up as supermodels, if the looks of high-fashion models reflected societal preferences.
France's health ministry recently announced it was setting up a working group on body image, with the aim of establishing a charter with advertisers banning the use of excessively thin models. Grumbach says he does not plan to take part in the government talks. Why am I not surprised?
"I honestly think we are not responsible for health problems," he says. "Let the health ministry take care of health problems, and let fashion designers choose models according to their taste." How is the health ministry supposed to take care of a health problem that is caused by the fashion industry if the fashion industry does not cooperate? There is a large body of evidence relating unnecessary dieting on the part of many women on fashion imagery (see the "eating disorders" page), and case studies of anorexia patients clearly implicate the high status of skinny high-fashion models as a factor involved in pushing women at risk for anorexia toward anorexia. Besides, I am pleased to see Grumbach use the phrase “let fashion designers choose models according to their taste.”
In November, 2006, another fashion model, 21-year-old Ana Carolina Reston, died of infection/kidney failure following prolonged subsistence on apples and tomatoes. At 5-foot-8, she weighed 88 pounds at the time of her death. I previously addressed a comment by Gisele Bundchen who made it look like starving fashion models themselves were to blame for not eating enough. The latter is easy to say for a big-name fashion model who can afford to eat normally, gain weight compared to her early years when she was in the process of making it big among fashion models and still manage to get numerous modeling assignments, but for the less famous high-fashion models, it is a question of complying with the preferences of fashion designers or losing their job.
The fashion industry is not going to change voluntarily. The deaths are extreme examples, but starvation-related suffering on the part of a number of high-fashion models is undoubtedly much more common. Ideally, fashion designers should be free to use models in accordance with their preferences, but when their selections create too many problems for high-fashion models and others, authorities have no choice but to intervene.
One possibility is to ban adult (18-plus) models below a BMI of 18.5 from the runway unless a medical examination finds them to be healthy. A brief explanation of BMI is relevant here.
BMI or Body Mass Index is the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters. BMI is a useful epidemiological tool in large studies where it is not feasible to measure the percentage body fat of every individual. The idea is to make an inference about percentage body fat from height and weight measurements for a given ethnic group based on previous studies where variation in actual body fat levels was assessed as a function of height and weight. The ethnicity-specific norms can then be used to suggest rough cutoffs for unhealthy and healthy levels of body fat at the population level. Whereas a given individual may not be compliant with these cutoffs, most people in a given ethnic group will be.
For whites, a BMI cutoff of 18.5 is the [population norm for 18-plus individuals] threshold for too low body fat vs. a normal and healthy level of body fat. This cutoff will be lower for younger individuals and populations with less lean body mass per unit height compared to whites. The following table provides the weights for a given height that correspond to a BMI of 18.5.
|Weight correponding to a BMI cutoff of 18.5, rounded to the nearest integer|
The weight cutoffs above are clearly higher than the average weight of high-fashion models. Table 1 on the “eating disorders” page lists the average BMI of fashion models (mostly white) from a particular modeling agency in the mid-1990s as 17.57 (a weight of 122 pounds corresponding to a height of approximately 5-foot-10), which is the threshold for sub-normal body fat levels for 16-year-olds. Current high-fashion models have a BMI in the neighborhood of 16. With a BMI cutoff of 18.5 for adults or an age-appropriate BMI cutoff, the majority of fashion models will be rejected from the runway unless they provide medical proof of being healthy. This proof will have to be recent, the evaluation by health authorities-appointed physicians being less than two weeks before the show. In addition, fashion models marked as below the BMI threshold will need to randomly submit to a blood test 1-3 days before the show so that their blood can be examined for electrolytes, protein content, ketone bodies, etc. in order to determine whether they are starving.
Fashion designers and their apologists often claim that many high-fashion models are naturally very skinny, and setting up a BMI cutoff would deprive these women of their modeling job. A naturally very skinny person should eat ad libitum, i.e., in accordance with desire, and remain very skinny. If indeed, many high-fashion models are naturally very skinny, then a medical examination of them shortly before a fashion show should reveal them to be in good health and exhibiting normal dietary practices. If these naturally very skinny women are found to be in poor health, then the examining physicians can recommend healthful practices and other remedial measures. In other words, fashion designers should have no reason to oppose the 18.5-BMI-cutoff-unless-the-lighter-fashion-model-is-deemed-medically-healthy rule.
However, fashion designers will obviously attempt to defeat this measure by any means necessary. Fashion insiders know fully well, just as a visual examination of high-fashion models during a fashion show will reveal, that many of them are unnaturally skinny, i.e., achieve their skinniness via starvation, obviously to comply with the requirements set forth by fashion designers. This issue needs to be brought to the limelight, and it will be if authorities hell-bent on forcing the BMI cutoff clash with a desperate fashion industry.
The focus then will be on why fashion designers insist on super-skinny looks among their models when the great majority of people find it socially unacceptable. The answer obviously is that without the skinniness and other elements of the looks of high-fashion models such as masculinization and youth, they will fail to closely approximate the appearance of boys in their early adolescence, which would displease the homosexual men who dominate the fashion business. This fact, if widely known, will build sufficient public pressure for health authorities to force a BMI cutoff for the sake of high-fashion models and also to minimize the negative impact of skinny high-fashion models on girls/women at risk for developing anorexia.
Case studies of female anorexia patients too often reveal thought processes along the lines of “if I could be more perfect, my problems would go away,” which prompts these women to seek perfect standards to emulate, which they conveniently find in the supposedly "perfect" looks of high-fashion models. Women at risk for anorexia surely need to understand whose idea of perfection is the typical body [non-overweight] of a boy in his early adolescence. Of course, the promotion of feminine beauty, which is the goal of this site, will help undermine the high status of skinny high-fashion models. Some may point out that the promotion of feminine beauty standards will prompt a different type of problem in so far as emulating them goes, but it is easy to show that if a narrow range of women's looks is to be promoted, the least harm and greatest benefit will be associated with the promotion of feminine beauty, and this is a topic that will be thoroughly discussed in a future entry though it has been addressed in brief already.