Is Fashion Too Skinny?

by Amelia Gray
Fashion School Review Columnist

December 18, 2006

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When the organizers of Madrid's Fashion Week banned dangerously thin models from their runways, the fashion world took notice.

The problem of thin runway models is nothing new. As model and fashion designer Milla Jovovich told The New York Times, little regulation has been enacted to prevent excessively thin models. "A lot of problems that are very gray areas need to be put in black and white," she says.

The Thinning Runway
Fashion shows are a relatively recent addition to the U.S. fashion design industry. In 1910, the first catwalks featured long dresses cinched at the waist. As time passed and fashion design left less to the imagination, fashion school students and established designers found themselves working with thinner and thinner models. Though curvy supermodels dominated the catwalk in the 1980s, fashion designers and their audiences no prefer the "barely there" look of today's twenty-first century models.

These super-thin models aren't just skewing patterns for fashion school students and perspectives for their insecure audiences. A growing health concern is affecting models themselves. Models Ana Carolina Reston, 21, and Luisel Ramos, 22, both died in 2006 from anorexia-related disorders. Ramos suffered heart failure on the catwalk.

A Growing Movement
Since Madrid's ruling in September to ban dangerously thin models, other countries are following suit. Fashion design industry leaders in Italy, Argentina, and Brazil have adopted similar age- and weight-restriction measures. The nations follow body mass index guidelines set by the World Health Organization, banning models who fall under the minimum of 18.5 BMI.

"In the Third World, if someone has an index of less than 18.5, they send in humanitarian aide," said Flaminia Spadone, an aide to the Italian youth minister. Calls to enact a similar practice in fashion design powerhouses New York and Los Angeles have been met with resistance and claims that banning naturally underweight models is unfair and discriminatory. Many fashion designers in the U.S. anticipate a natural shift in public interest towards healthier models. Until then, it seems, they'll sell what the public wants.

The Future for Fashion design
As models around the world approach healthier sizes, fashion school students should anticipate a widening waist on their future models. Fashion design students should learn how to design fashion for a more realistic body type, paying close attention to the patterns, cuts, and material that best suit the reasonable female form. Though fashion design has the power to hire and fire dangerously skinny models, part of the challenge of accepting curvy models falls on the consumer.

Though the average woman in the U.S. is a size 14, average women still diet from insecurity--dreaming of becoming like the slender women on runways and in advertising. As fashion designers and fashion school graduates rise to the challenge of creating beautiful clothes for larger sizes, they will perform a public health service for models and consumers alike.


About the Author
Amelia Gray is a teacher and freelance writer in San Marcos, TX. Amelia earned a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from Arizona State University.

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