We have all seen recent headlines of Madrid Fashion Week turning away “too skinny models”. Organizers, Pasarela Cibeles, along with Spanish health authorities used the body mass index (which measures weight according to height) to judge who would be able to walk the catwalk. The decision to cut the 30 percent that did not meet this requirement, was made voluntarily by designers in partnership with Madrid’s regional government. By cutting these models, the designers and government hoped to give “an image of beauty and health” and discourage eating disorders and poor body image amongst young females.
When I first began to read about this I was elated with Madrid’s decision and could not wait to weigh in because of my personal history with the issue. Some people blame the models; Armani has blamed stylists and the media, touting “no girl needed to be anorexic to be fashionable”. But do you need to be anorexic, bulimic, or starve to work? Yes.
Let’s go back to the 80’s, to the 9th grade, when I first became familiar with body image and eating disorders. I was tall and lean, but because of my mixed heritage I was curvy, a body most women dream to have, and I dreaded. My girlfriends were wiry, bendy, and flat in the behind, you get the picture. They were my friends, my peers; I just wanted to be one of them. Then I saw an after school special on bulimia and anorexia. I thought with some improvements on her “great idea” I would be just fine and not turn out like the character. By the time I was finished with my “improvements”, and high school, I looked like Olive Oyle in Doc Martins and was ready for New York.
When you first began hitting agency armed with a lifetime of “you’re so pretty, so tall, you should be a model”, no industry wolf could blow you down. But by the fifth turn-down you began to ask so many questions of yourself. Am I to fat? How do I lose more weight off my already 110 frame and still walk? The standard for models is at least 5’10 120 lbs, and to a lot of these girls it comes naturally to be so tall and svelte. But in a world where Caucasian beauty is the standard, ethnic girls and their body type lag far behind. So as a Spanish girl in Madrid, or a little mixed girl from Maryland with a dream, you find yourself skipping a meal, running an extra mile, and the occasional purge too have the same opportunity to get the job.
The truth is so painful, and Armani is right, as well as the Madrid government and designers. The blame is on everyone who hasn’t taken into consideration the unique beauty of individual cultures and their women. It is natural to want to be accepted and represented, even within the media. We have the power to create a fashion movement, a renaissance, which develops from the female figure drawing from all cultures. When covers of magazines and catwalks look like the new Dove ads, that is when a little girl can look at this medium and say yes I can do that, and poor body image as well as eating disorders will decline.
And for the designers who will complain “but I want my clothes to look their best on the runway.” Understandable, but you also need to worry about how it’s going to look its’ best on me, a real woman, with my real money.