Last week, the CFDA sent out a sincere letter to its members and to the press as a reminder about its Health Initiative guidelines, which were implemented a few years ago. In addition, the council turned to psychiatrist Dr. David Herzog, who penned a letter for the CFDA website, addressing the proliferation of both underage and underweight fashion models. Here is an excerpt from Herzog’s note:
“The industrys hiring of prepubescent-appearing teenage girls as models of adult clothing sets an unrealistic standard; hips and breasts, the curves that define the female figure, are absent. Some models have difficulty maintaining the body ideal as they move into adulthood and run the risk of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors that lead to eating disorders.”
WWD took on the dilemma in this morning’s paper, and while I think that the author did a good job of examining the problem in depth from all sides, it’s facing a bit of controversy from the site’s commenters. At the beginning of her piece, Bridget Foley writes:
“In recent years, the fashion industry has been forced into a role with faux-parental overtones when it comes to securing the good health of models, a role that, while unquestionably laudable, will almost surely prove inadequate.”
“[Fashion industry] people are not medical personnel, psychologists, social workers or hall wardens. Their primary job is, well, their primary job getting the show staged or shoot completed as exquisitely as possible; expecting them to be confident, accurate monitors of whom among the skinny girls is too skinny is asking too much.”
I don’t think that anyone can deny that, while agents and editors and designers are by no means babysitters and they’re all just trying to do their jobs they are a critical part of the problem, despite Foley’s contrary remarks.
Think of it this way: If a designer creates runway samples in a size zero, only the smallest girls will get the jobs, and the rest are in danger of getting fired, or living in debt to their agencies. These tiny samples are often the only clothes available for editors to pull for shoots, therefore making it impossible for girls larger than the current sample size to land a gig. (And who looks best in a size zero? Girls with no breasts or hips in other words, pre-pubescent teenagers.)
So, if you were a model agent, would you take a chance on signing the size six girl with a beautiful face, knowing that she might never get hired? Finally, the designers are probably stoked when an agency sends over a very skinny girl that makes their clothes look great. It’s a vicious cycle that isn’t easily broken, and it takes an incredibly strong and confident person to not buckle under this type of pressure.
Until designers, buyers, editors and agents magically decide one day that clothing doesn’t look best on a hanger or a mannequin, the super-skinny ideal for models will likely linger. But instead of spending all of this time trying to figure out where to place the blame, fashion insiders should be searching for realistic solutions to the problem. Industry change has to start somewhere, and it should probably begin with the top trendsetters and tastemakers working today.