OPINION: A tweet about models, and the conversation Fashion Week forgot.

Looking at the recent runways at New York Fashion Week, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was 2009.

As very thin model after very thin model walked the Jason Wu show, Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director and critic for the New York Times, tweeted a video of what she saw from the front row.

"Even I am distracted by the extreme skinniness of many models in Jason Wu's show," she captioned the footage.


Friedman's tweet received a slew of comments in response - any mention of women's bodies in a public forum tends to elicit that reaction - and she doubled down in a Twitter thread to further explain her commentary.

Friedman noted Jason Wu does actually offer a size-inclusive range, which made the absence of curve models in his show, and the preference for "very thin" models, stand out.

“I have been around a lot of eating disorders in my life, as well as lots of naturally thin people, and the difference between the two is not hard to recognise," the journalist tweeted. 

"I can tell you at least two of the models fell into this category. The point was not to shame the models, but to call attention to the issue. I really believe it is time fashion reflects the whole clothes-wearing population."

Back in 2009, fashion journalists didn't call out the lack of body diversity on runways on Twitter. Or vet our concerns on anonymous fashion Instagram tip-off accounts like Diet Prada.

As a fashion reporter myself, I'm ashamed to say we didn't even blink.

My runway reports for one glossy magazine were full of slimmer-than-slim models, page after page of them making up special bi-annual editions to showcase the latest trends. 

Because of course the trends were showcased on thin women. Not gender-diverse people, not "curvy" models, and certainly not plus-size bodies.

In fact, it was a significant and memorable turning point for fashion when Louis Vuitton cast models with sizeable breasts for the much-revered Fall 2010 show, "And God Created Woman." So much so, the images made the cover of the weekly fashion title I worked for at the time.


The show was heralded for finally "celebrating the female form" in a fashion context.

But the female form was model-esque, with boobs, and it looked like size 8 supermodel Lara Stone.

Lara Stone walks the runway at the Louis Vuitton Fall 2010 show. Image: Getty.


It looked like a handful of models - Alessandra Ambrosio, Bar Rafaeli, Adriana Lima - who usually walked the catwalk for Victoria's Secret, where their "assets" were better received. Those weren't for high-fashion runways. Oh no.

The Louis Vuitton show was not so trailblazing, looking back on it. But at the time? Revolutionary!

Because in 2010, and for a good two decades before that, thin bodies were so normalised as a part of fashion that we blindly accepted it. This was how models "looked".

Designers defended their use of very slim models by likening them to "clothes hangers". And it was about the clothes, after all, not the women in them.

But by the mid-2010s, that started to change. The people in the clothes gained some agency.

Models like Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser started being cast in advertising campaigns for the biggest fashion brands in the world. They showed up on runways and appeared as muses alongside designers at the Met Gala; did the step-and-repeat on the same red carpets as the "supers" in Cannes.

High street retailers and e-commerce sites followed suit. Brands began hiring models and ambassadors with more diverse body shapes and style expressions. Model agencies expanded their books to meet the need for plus-size models.

The body inclusivity movement had finally reached fashion. It was a shift that at first felt radical, and then came to be expected. Demanded, even.


But fashion is notoriously fickle, and its memory is short. 

As soon as you get used to one dominant trend or aesthetic, its opposite is waiting in the wings to take over. Skinny jeans to wide-leg jeans. Bright colour, then back to black.

With what looks to be a return to a preference for slimmer models on the runways and in campaigns once again, we can blame the shifting gaze of fashion as it seeks out something "new" to look at.

And as for the models - well, they're hired to do their job. Nobody should be "skinny-shamed" or interrogated for existing in the vessel they were born into, and it's important to make mention of the fact that many models are thin by nature, as Friedman pointed out. This is not a conversation about judging or comparing women's bodies.

But from a representation standpoint, is the industry itself regressing?

While the New York and London runways showed signs of this, the Milan and Paris catwalks had more body diversity.

Models walk the runway at Alexander McQueen (left) and Dolce & Gabbana. Images: Supplied/Alexander McQueen; Getty.


Models in bigger bodies are still getting work, and lots of it.

In a cover story for Business of Fashion magazine in October 2022, Paloma Elsesser was hailed "the most sought-after plus-size runway model in the world".

During the interview, she spoke of how she's suffered from fatphobia and tokenisation to stake her claim in the industry that now supports her.


Ultimately, seeing Elsesser or Ashley Graham on a runway should not feel tokenistic, nor revolutionary. But with one runway step forward, this season some designers took a step backwards.

Bodies are not trends and they never should have been. As a culture, we want to move towards body neutrality - where we don't discuss body shapes or bodies at all. 

But no, fashion is not there yet.

Tamara Holland is Mamamia's Head of Lifestyle and co-host of the weekly podcast, What Are You Wearing? For more from Tamara, follow her on Instagram.

Feature image: Twitter/Vanessa Friedman; Getty

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