I really like Tyra Banks. She’s
a smart, savvy business lady with a great personality. She had a long, successful career as a
fashion and runway model before aging out of the industry and moving on to
television. I even like her show: America’s
Next Top Model. The segments with teen
girls endlessly squabbling don’t interest me, but I love watching the
creativity of the fashion shoots and then getting to see the finished product
afterward. I don’t usually watch daytime
TV but I’ve seen a couple episodes of her talk show too and everything I saw
focused on being positive and bringing awareness to important issues. If I did watch daytime TV, her show, much
like Ellen Degeneres’, would have been at the top of my list.
This is what Tyra looked like when she was modeling for Victoria’s
Secret in 1997:
She recently stated in a letter to today’s models, that her size four
body would have been too big for today’s fashion industry – in which the
expectation is to be a size zero. This
is current Victoria’s Secret runway model, Chanel Iman:
I admit I can see the difference. Tyra has boobs, curved hips and thighs and
her body is more traditionally feminine looking whereas the current model is
more of a boyishly straight column.
They’re both extremely beautiful people, and which you like better is really just a
matter of preference. They’re both slim,
and to me anyway they both look healthy.
Tyra looks sexier to me, but there are probably plenty of people who
would find Chanel sexier and that’s okay – to each their own.
I personally know a couple of people for whom a size zero is really their
natural, healthy size.
It is, however, nowhere near the most common size for an average adult
woman. What Tyra was pointing out in her
letter is that expecting models to ALL be a size zero is to inform the majority
of them that in order to work in their chosen career, they need to deprive
themselves of adequate nutrition. It
also means that the industry is still promoting the idea that the ultimate in
beauty is to be zero. Even then, what
few bits of flesh remain on such slender bodies is studiously removed via
photoshop to create a perfectly unblemished and smooth final product.
I’ve watched Tyra struggle with this on Top Model, trying to figure out
if one of her contestants is just one of the naturally skinny types or if they
have an eating disorder – it’s an exceedingly difficult call to make.
I have seen her send girls home because she believed they were putting
themselves in danger. Right or wrong,
she didn’t want to take the chance with a life, and I find that admirable.
My question though, is why has this trend in fashion gotten worse over
time instead of better?
Despite criticism being heaped on the fashion and beauty industry for
its ludicrous standards and expectations, some things still remain constant:
politicians will lie, prices will rise, and women will always be expected to be
A few are fighting back. In
Israel models have been banned from runway jobs if their body mass index is
less than 18.5 and Vogue has recently agreed not to use models who “appear to
have an eating disorder” in all 19 of its worldwide editions.
But how can you say who “looks” like they have an eating disorder? That’s a bit too vague for my taste. And as I’ve pointed out before, using the BMI
to determine anyone’s health is about as accurate as strapping a paper sundial
to your wrist in order to accurately tell time.
Sure you’ll get a vague idea, but only a VERY vague one.
Occasionally the fashion industry will twitch a bit at some of the
negative backlash and make token gestures like these, but overall the girls are
still getting skinnier while the actual population gets heavier and the two are
looking less and less alike. When they
do make concessions they feel hollow to me rather than bespeaking real change. Even Tyra who I do admire, when casting “plus
sized” girls on her show (and by plus sized, I am sadly referring to sizes
eight and ten) will constantly focus on building those girls up in self esteem
as though they must naturally hate themselves.
She tells them over and over how beautiful their bodies are and refers
to them as “fiercely real” which, first of all implies that their more slender
counterparts are… what? Not real or
fierce? Secondly it focuses constantly
on their size, which isn’t even big, it’s just slightly closer (but still
below) what is average. Why does so much
fuss and attention have to be paid to their size at all? They’re all equally gorgeous, so why can’t
they all just be models instead of getting weighed, measured and slotted into
the appropriately labeled box?
I can only assume that it must still be cost effective to advertize
product on the most slender body available or else they wouldn’t still be doing
it. People must not want to see what
fashion would look like on their own imperfect body even though in countless
polls they have claimed to want exactly that.
The end result is that some of us have become so detached and bitter
toward the fashion industry that we perceive it as something that relates to a
whole different species of animal rather than to ourselves.
Despite what a bad dresser I am personally I actually do love beautiful
clothes. I wear glasses made by Michael
Kors, who is one of my favorite designers.
Recently a friend of mine admired them (they are after all, quite cute)
and I mentioned that I love the things that Kors makes, but since he, like most
designers, hates fat women – the only thing I can have from one of his
collections is glasses. Part of me feels
guilty for even buying them, because in a sense I picked up the one tiny
breadcrumb he was willing to throw at me.
In retrospect it makes me feel pretty cheap.
Michael may or may not actually hate fat women, I don’t know – but that
is the impression that he and all the others give by refusing to dress us. They leave money lying on the table, because
losing a sale is far better than seeing their lovely things on a hideously fat
There are layers upon layers of complicated reason as to why I despise
shopping for clothes.
As for runway models, obviously they are not meant to reflect the
general population and never will be.
But even a size four or six does not reflect the general population
which tends more toward the ten and twelve end of the scale. For models, apparently, sizes four and six
are now too big.
What’s next? Where is there to
go after zero?
By and large I can’t boycott the fashion industry because it’s already
boycotted me first. Victoria’s Secret is
one of the few high end stores that makes my size and I don’t shop there. I made it clear to them years ago that I
wouldn’t be shopping in their stores until I see some women in their ads who
look average. Keep in mind, I didn’t ask
them for plus sized models – just average sized ones, and so far even that has
been too much of a concession to make.
In the end I’m just one person screaming into the wind.
Until these people stop making money hand over fist, they’re not going
to stop and it’s not going to change.
Basically thin people need to stop handing them wads of cash, but… why
would they do that? Why would they even
care? The fashion and beauty industries
need to be struck at the bottom line for change to happen, assuming there’s
anyone out there besides me who actually gives a crap.
And what would I do if after achieving my weight loss goals suddenly
all the beautiful clothes I’ve always desired became available to me? If suddenly I was welcomed into high end
couture stores with a smile rather than given a puzzled or dismissive look?
I’d like to think I’ll be strong enough to continue to tell them all to
sod off until they stop promoting beauty ideals that are unattainable for most
Some days, I’m not so sure.
Edit: I hereby publicly apologize to Michael
Kors - as a reader was kind enough to show me, he in fact does design and carry a very attractive plus sized clothing line available at Macy's. Go Michael!