Likening the fashion and modelling industry to drug dealing may seem like a harsh comparison, but according to Christine Morgan, CEO of eating disorders group The Butterfly Foundation, it’s unfortunately an accurate one.
In an interview in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Morgan said that the adulation the fashion industry heaps on extremely thin women was “…akin to giving young kids (the drug) ice. Some of them are going to end up addicts.”
In the words of every teenage girl at the mall: Way harsh. But also… true.
Given the look of some of today’s most popular high fashion models – and the fact that 90% of Australian girls aged 12-17 have been on some kind of diet – it appears that sadly, she may have a point.
When models are fainting, tissues are being eaten and women have waists the size of seven-year-old girls, it’s obvious that things in high fashion have spiralled out of control.
Obvious to everyone it would seem, except the people working in high fashion.
Australia’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is wrapping up today, and what was meant to be a week celebrating the talent of our local designers has instead, once again, turned into a national conversation about the shock and disappointment at the ever-shrinking size of the models who work these shows.
Given that there has been such a positive reaction to the rise of healthy-sized models by many magazines and retailers in recent years, it seems strange that the high fashion industry simply refuses to budge.
Designers, model agents and magazine editors remain unmoved by concerns for the physical and mental health of both the models they use and the girls and women they influence. The proof of this can be seen in their refusal to bow to any kind of pressure to use models who aren’t extremely – and doctors say, in many cases dangerously and unhealthily – thin.
Of course, each of the three blame each other: the designers say they can’t make sample sizes (the name for garments that are used in fashion shows and photo shoots) that don’t fit the tiny models; the magazine editors say they can’t use models that don’t fit the tiny sample sizes the designers make; and the model agents say they can’t find work for girls who aren’t small enough for the sample sizes used by the designers and the editors.
It’s a stalemate that the high fashion industry has long insisted is too complicated to be broken. Three groups, each insisting they want the same thing, can’t work out a way to make it happen because the other is getting in their way? Right.
It sounds like they actually have no intention of changing their ways. After all, high fashion is apparently about the art of clothing, and if clothing looks better on women with bodies the size of children, then they’re the bodies they’ll use.
But do they realise that the ridiculous, unhealthy bubble they’ve happily nestled into together is shrinking around them?
More and more people – not just in the media and health sectors – are speaking out against the dangerous standards that the high fashion industry treat as the norm.
Mamamia even posted an article earlier this year about the new practice of ‘reverse retouching’, where models are being photoshopped to make them appear larger and less unhealthy.
The negative discourse and push-back against these unhealthy ideals is increasing at a ferocious pace.
But negative criticism from those outside their group doesn’t seem to bother those who are in it. And although the bubble around them may be shrinking, those inside certainly don’t seem any closer to letting it burst.
A scary example of this complete unwillingness to acknowledge there is anything wrong occured yesterday on Channel 9’s Today Show, in a segment on extremely thin models at fashion week. Lisa Wilkinson spoke to both The Butterfly Foundation’s Christine Morgan and current Vogue Australia editor Edwina McCann. Morgan maintained her usual staunch position when it comes to the fashion industry’s role in promoting eating disorders. McCann’s position was, well, discouraging to say the least. Watch the clip here:
Straight off the bat, Wilkinson asked McCann what most of us are thinking:
We have been having this converstaion for 16 years. And you look at the girls that are walking down the catwalk at the moment and it looks to me like it’s getting worse.
McCann replied by admitting that there have been some girls in the shows that she’s ‘been uncomfortable looking at,’ but that she still thinks it’s important ‘that we all keep our heads with this issue.’
She then went on to mention Vogue’s ‘Health Initiative’ – a plan instigated by Vogue editors across the world that promises to (among other things): not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or those who appear to have an eating disorder; encourage producers to create healthy backstage environments; and to ask designers to consider the consequences of using tiny sample sizes.
That’s a lovely initiative – in theory. But it practice, it really enforces nothing. And the biggest problem with this ‘health initiative’ is that it’s completely self-regulated. They control the standards. Doctors don’t decide which models ‘appear to have an eating disorder.’
High fashion editors do. And when those high fashion editors have an obviously completely skewed perception of what ‘unhealthy’ looks like, the impact of the ‘health’ initiative quickly diminishes. Just this week it was reported that the organisers of the current fashion week, IMG, won’t implement mandatory weight guidelines unless designers and magazine editors pressure them to. Which they haven’t.
It was incredibly unnerving watching Edwina McCann make excuses for models collapsing of heat exhaustion at what Wilkinson correctly pointed out “was a mild day in Sydney yesterday.”
It was extremely uncomfortable watching her be shown this image from her own magazine and be asked if she thinks it complies with the ‘athletic’ image the ‘health initiative’ is aiming for, and then stammer: “Well, I don’t, I, I mean, I can see she’s leaning forward. But I don’t think she’s unhealthy or ridiculously thin.”
It was beyond frustrating watching McCann argue that the most popular model at fashion week doesn’t have the waist measurements of an average 7-year-old – when doctors have clearly stated that she does, and that she could not possibly maintain it and be healthy at the same time.
They. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
The world of high fashion operates in a deadly bubble. They clearly can’t regulate themselves. They obvioulsy don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They make an obscene amount of money and people are getting sick and dying because they don’t care.
Kind of does sound like drug dealing.
Here’s some more models from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia. Over to you. Healthy or not?
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So what do you think? Can the scarily-thin standards pushed by the high fashion industry be compared to pushing drugs?