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[Health & Fitness]

The Skinny on Fashion

“Dangerously skinny models endanger both themselves and others.”

By Bridgett Rangel-Rexford

Young models are chasing an impossible dream to fit the requirements of fashion designers at both the local level and high fashion level. As a curvy Mexican woman aspiring to model in San Diego, it was difficult for me to find work. Two years ago when I was 20, my weight was 135, and I had a 38in bust, 31in waist and 38 in hips. I may have been the perfect pin up model, but I could not find work anywhere else. For example, a local San Diego fashion company asks for models that are at least 5 7’’ with measurements no greater than 31-25-35. Even if I had starved myself, my ribs would not allow me to fit the demands of the clothing maker. While some girls are naturally this tiny, most are not. It is said the average healthy waist size has grown six inches since the 1950s and we are only getting bigger frames.

The Skinny on Fashion


Dangerously skinny models endanger both themselves and others. Models with anorexia often suffer from malnutrition, with symptoms ranging from “thinning hair, dry skin, and brittle nails” to “lower than normal body temperature”1. Models who become bulimic can suffer from “swollen salivary glands”, “loose skin”, and “tooth decay”, all of this in addition to symptoms caused by malnutrition.2 While the physical harm that these models face is reason enough to be concerned, their health is only the tip of the iceberg. For every model who essentially tortures herself for a photo-shoot or runway, there are too many women of every age and ethnicity who witness this pain. Many will at least intuitively understand that the figures seen are impossible, but the increase of eating disorders amongst American females show that there are enough women who have sadly come to the conclusion that these walking coat-hangers are not just acceptable, but imitable.

To be fair, there will always be some women who have slim and / or petite figures. At the same time that Marilyn Monroe was making curves sexy, Audrey Hepburn showed that famous icons can be naturally slender as well. Both actresses were viewed as “beautiful” in their own way, and both complemented their looks with a wardrobe to match. Imagine if Marilyn Monroe starved herself to such a point that she was able to lose her curves and approach a frame more similar to Audrey Hepburn. As ridiculous as it sounds, a similar trend is lived out in fashion houses across the country. There will always be a few “Audrey Hepburn” models, slender women who can serve as “walking coat-hangers” without any harm to themselves. But for every one of these women, there are other models that starve themselves in attempt to attain an impossible frame. So long as the fashion industry universally requires a body that only a few can naturally possess, this cycle of pain will continue.

There is a fundamental difference in the world of fashion between high fashion and “mainstream” clothing that helps explain why models are doing as they do. When Merona by Target releases a new line of affordable clothing, the goal is straightforward: make a large amount of money. This obvious goal of a large corporation leads to another basic principle: in order to make the most money, the clothes need to be sold to as many people as possible. A Target clothes catalogue will show models that seem perfectly “average” in appearance; physically fit, but neither skinny nor plus-sized. This tactic allows Target to cast the largest net possible: the majority of Americans will find that the clothes fit them well. Contrast this “consensus-building” with a clothing line by Rodarte. As designers of high-fashion, the Rodarte sisters have a completely different goal: to create clothing so distinct that those with money to spend will insist on having the latest creation. Rodarte does not need to draw in audiences from many different weight demographics. Rather, they deliberately choose to specialize in creating a specific style of clothing that is best worn by people with certain frames.

Unfortunately, in the case of so many high-fashion designers, they have chosen “impossibly skinny” as the type, and only hire models that can display the clothing as such.

What will stop this atrocity from continuing? Perhaps the models themselves can serve as warnings. It seems that the actual deaths of models are the only events traumatic enough to force the fashion industry to take off its rose-colored glasses. A recent and tragic incident occurred when two model sisters died one after the other from causes highly related to malnutrition in 2006 and 2007. After walking a runway, Luisel Ramos 22, fainted on her way back to the dressing room and officially died of heart failure. Her shockingly minimal diet consisted of lettuce and diet coke. Not so long later, her sister, Eliana Ramos, 18, died of a heart attack while working for a prestigious Argentinean fashion company. Her diet consisted of apples and tomatoes. The close timeframe of these horrible deaths shocked the organizers of Madrid Fashion Week so much that they actually banned “size zero” models from their show, causing a drop in model applications from the 300 typically seen to 68, five of whom were disqualified for being underweight. While not many other fashion shows have taken as drastic of measures, the case of Madrid shows that there are ways to fight this abuse, even at the highest levels.

Even at the individual level, there are actions that we can take to help fight this harmful chain. Although it may seem like a fruitless act, boycotting brands that actively seek out size 0 models to advertise their clothing sends a powerful message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated, especially as several fashion houses have already committed to change. Even making a conscious effort to be aware of the models in the latest copy of Vogue or a fashion catalogue can help make others aware of just how widespread this health pandemic has become and the need for action.

Link reference: “bulimia nervosa symptoms” www.webmd.com/mental-health/bulimia-nervosa/bulimia-nervosa-symptoms

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