Skinny models: Great clothes horses or poor role models?

skinny models

AW16, skinny models, great clothes horses or poor role models?

I’m not normally one to comment on the issue of ‘skinny’ models. In a world where obesity is huge problem, it’s always seemed to be a relatively small problem. Also, I understand the fashion industry need for models to be almost-neutral, shapeless clothes horses to show off the clothes.

Plus, I realise that the causes of anorexia are far more complex than girls wanting to look like models and that most of us are so much more sophisticated than allowing ourselves to be so easily influenced.

But… Is it just me or has this season seen some skinny models getting skinnier and frighteningly so? It’s not a universal trend but it does seem that a move towards more truly aspirational shapes just isn’t happening.

The big debate

The debate always kicks off again around fashion week (for obvious reasons) but an interview Premier Model Management chief Carole White gave last week has added to it particularly this season. She said designers only “want young, flat-chested” girls with “straight up and down” bodies so that “their clothes fall as they designed them”, which can’t happen on people with womanly bodies. She added: “Designers have always wanted girls who are flat-chested, not developed, which is a young girl. Someone 16 to 19 who hasn’t changed into a woman’s body.”

Well that’s all very well but there are some very obvious issues here. Firstly, it means designers are creating clothes that bear absolutely no relation to how they’ll look on their clients – unless their clients are foolish enough to diet down to size zero just to fit the clothes (which some of them probably are).

Secondly, the need to use very young models does make me squirm, especially give the runway’s fondness for spontaneous displays of nipple. Even former catwalk regular Cindy Crawford came out and said it make her uncomfortable, especially given that her own daughter is now a teenager.

Thirdly, if samples are only made in tiny sizes, then the post-show photosessions or red carpet events also mean size zero is a must. Even some of the world’s biggest and most powerful (female) movie stars seem to be surprisingly amenable to starving themselves to fit the clothes.

Last, and certainly not least, some of the models walking down the catwalks and appearing in this seasons lookbooks just don’t look remotely appealing and that means the clothes don’t either. They’re skinny bogey(wo)men with which parents could frighten the kids if they don’t eat their dinner, not ‘role model’ models that anyone sensible would remotely want to look like.

Is it necessary?

Besides that, the pro arguments about skinny models don’t really stack up. Back in the 1980s and 90s I used to go to a lot of runways shows and work on a lot of photosessions. The standard size for photographic models back then was a UK 10 or even 12 (US 6-8) and for catwalks it was a UK 8 (US 4), a 6 at the very smallest. Nobody ever said that Jerry Hall or Pat Cleveland, Janice Dickinson, Linda Evangelista or Naomi Campbell were grossly fat. But today’s models are a couple of sizes smaller and often a few inches taller than those big names, adding to their ‘stretched-out’ look!

Even models striding along in intimates or swimwear are often scarily close to skin and bone. It’s interesting though that perhaps the most successful intimate brand in the world, Victoria’s Secret, insists that its models are healthy and shapely, which is perhaps why its annual show is a fame-boosting lure for the ‘angels’ who appear in it and is avidly followed by VS fans of all sexes.

I love fashion, especially the creativity we see at the designer end of the market. But I so wish that the industry would get over this obsession with unhealthy/unattractive thinness – both so it can be more relevant for its customers and for the protection of the youngest professionals working as its public face.


Victoria’s Secret Angels, shapely and healthy. Picture courtesy Harper’s Bazaar

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