Models are Getting Smaller but Everyone Else is Getting Bigger

When it comes to fashion marketing, manipulating the waistline isn’t exactly magic, but it sure is a vanishing act nowadays. Exhibit A: Cindy Crawford (above). Yikes! Just look at her. Today’s advertisers would tell her to come back after losing 10 pounds. She must have “let herself go,” they would say. That’s because the models of today are much smaller than the models of a generation ago. By the looks of the current state of the fashion industry, the meaning of “plus-size” should be “normal,” whereas the meaning of “normal” is essentially “anorexic” for models. Many people are worried about the message this sends to girls who aspire to have what our culture unfailingly insists on attaining – beauty.

A Model Industry

It’s not easy being an advertiser in today’s commercially competitive and politically correct climate. First, everyone has to compete with everyone else, which makes the standards for modelling constantly increase to the point that the only way to compete with other edgy competitors is to one-up them. This creates a spiral that sometimes spins so out of control that marketers have to back up and ground themselves back down to Earth. For example, we have situations like Ralph Lauren recently apologizing for having the already-thin Swedish-French model Filippa Hamilton shrunk beyond human proportions. They must have thought it was a good look, but… you be the judge.

Right: Filippa Hamilton. Left: Something disgusting

Or the recent H&M advertisements with French model Aymeline Valade, which many people worried were glorifying the unhealthy look.

In an article published last week in the Daily Star, one doctor said “This model looks very unwell, almost corpse-like. Her skin is grey, you can see prominent veins in her hands and she has huge eye bags. I find it incredible as a GP and as a father of three teenagers that a fashion store like H&M, which appeals to young people, is using an image which encourages them to be unhealthy.”

With this kind of reception, H&M felt the need to explain, saying “We think it is regrettable that some of our customers interpret our Marni at H&M PR images as unethical, and feel that the model is underweight.” Some find it hard to take them seriously, however, considering the fact that the makeup given to her emphasized such a “malnourished” look. “For this particular Marni at H&M look book shoot,” they say, “we felt that Aymeline Valade would portray the collection in an inspiring way.” In their statement, they also spoke of the industry as a whole:

H&M has an advertising policy in which we strongly distance ourselves from alcohol and drug abuse, and we do not work with models who are significantly underweight. [. . .] We are aware that many of the models used in images today are petite or thin, and that this is something that is occurring in the industry we operate in. We are committed to not using models who could be considered significantly underweight, and we are looking into how we can take additional steps within our industry.

I suppose “significantly underweight” is left to the imagination. But what about larger women? Can they also be considered hot? According to Levi, the answer is yes. They released a Jeans advertisement in 2010 that only gained critical attention a few weeks ago. It manages to contradict itself completely in seven short words and a picture. “Hotness comes in all shapes and sizes,” it says, showing three girls of the exact same shape and size. As you can imagine, this was not well received.

What were they thinking? Sometimes the whole point of an advertisement is to get people talking – to cause a stir and get their name out there. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For a name as well known as Levi, though, there’s not much to gain from this.

The only thing ever holding back the fashion industry is the prospect of losing clients, such as through threats of boycotts, violence, or vandalism, which is why public apologies from advertisers happen every other day. In fact, even models themselves are sometimes angered at being altered after the photo shoot. Crystal Renn is one plus-size model (size 10) who was shocked after her photos were doctored down to about a size 2. Having come from an eating disorders herself and becoming healthy again, she promotes the healthy lifestyle and hopes that one day the industry will shed the name “plus model” and just call all models “models.” She understands why the photo editors shrunk her waistline, but she still adamantly says “that’s not my message.”

Left: Real-life Crystal Renn. Right: The final edited product.

The Shrinking Waistline

It’s tough for concerned parents and educators to instil a sense of self-worth that permeates appearance, in our ever-judgmental and impatient society. They just want innocent and impressionable young girls to realize that such pictures are unrealistic, but it’s hard to compete with the constant exposure of millions of available snapshots. Such pictures often suggest what shape is to be considered “ideal,” while failing to note that it is literally impossible to be that shape. After all, it’s not a magazine company’s job to worry about what little girls think about themselves – they just want to be influential in the industry they know and love, and make as much money possible while doing it. You know… business.

But here’s an alarming fact: Supermodels from a generation ago probably would not be able to find work in today’s modelling scene.

According to recent research from PLUS Model magazine, plus-size models were usually between sizes 12 and 18 a decade ago, but are now mostly between sizez 6 and 14. Of course, how big “sizes” are actually depends on the brand; but as we can see, the minimum size in this average range dropped to half in a decade. This is a significant trend, especially considering the fact that while models in the American fashion industry are shrinking, the rest of the country is actually growing.

Kaia Gerber, the face of Young Versace

It’s hard to know whether or not this trend is universal, but even if it is mostly only seen in the U.S. now, the rest of the world should know about it. That’s simply because nowhere else in the world has exported more cultural ideals of beauty than America. This is caused by TV shows, movies, and advertisements, and the effects are that the world is gradually becoming more American – whether this is a good or bad thing is another conversation entirely.

In the U.S., the average woman is now a size 14. To put this into perspective, in the 1990′s, the average model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, they weigh 23% less. And yet, there are still many children who want to go into the fashion industry. You can see Kaia Gerber on the right here; a youthful model who was dressed up to look older and sexier than her age.

And just who is that anyway?

Family photo at a fundraised in 2010

That would be none other than Cindy Crawford’s daughter. Crawford is thrilled that Kaia is a model, and it remains to be seen how well the new generation of models can cope with the modern age of modelling pressures. Hopefully she won’t incur an eating disorder like one magazine suggests most runway models do.

The Bottom Line

The internet is causing so many new issues (such as cyber-bullying, appearance-rating websites like hot-or-not, or simply the never-ending pictures of professional models) that we will probably never cease to combat body-image problems. And looking around the world, it’s clear that such issues will take different forms in different places.

For example, Japan saw in 2011, for the first time since records were kept in 1948, that girls (aged 5-17) weighed less than the previous year. In another survey comparing high school students in the U.S., Japan, China, and Korea, the Japanese teens indicated the most body image issues. This may be stunning to Americans, especially since the U.S. is dealing with a childhood obesity epidemic, whereas coming across a chubby Japanese student is rare. But these are complex issues, and many (if not most) young people have them at some point.

Beauty is subjective, which is why no one in the world is liked by everyone. And regardless of whether or not people like you, it doesn’t change the way you actually look. So why bother feeling bad about people who a) are paid to look good, and b) are made to look better with computer enhancing, airbrushing, and professional make-up & lighting? If you’re competing with the images in advertisements, you’re not even competing with a real person.

Why have we allowed others’ opinions of ourselves to become more important than our own? And if we allow the media and pop culture to define our self-worth, then what else will we surrender to those who don’t even have our best interest in mind?

At some point, the hottest supermodels in the world are going to run out of sizes to drop.

“Beauty is not a pants size. [. . .] It’s about what I have to say, and how I live my life.” -Crystal Renn

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