Friday, 4 September 2009

Averagely Unnacceptable

Models have to be thin. This is the conclusion I've made after years of looking at fashion magazines and clothes catalogues. Models have to be thin and blank, so that the clothes can do the talking. I have never had a problem with models being thin - I never wanted to be a model as a kid, and to be honest, clothes always look better on thin people anyway. It would be nice to see more "normal" people striding down a catwalk, sure, but it wouldn't really make much difference to me. I see a waif wearing a jumper I want, and it makes me want to be a waif for almost 3 seconds. And then I eat a bacon sandwich. I like food too much to ever want to be size 0. I look at thin people with pity more than envy - which is seriously condescending and awful, I know. I just want to feed people roast dinners and stews until they look rosy-cheeked and cuddly. It's in my rustic nature. A hundred and fifty years ago I'd have been a Rubenesque farmhouse type, with flour on my hands and consumption in my lungs. Steak and kidney puddings and apple pie. That's the type of thing I like. Sometimes I fanatically try to lose some of the podge that's built up over the years, and sometimes I decide I actually really like exercise and recipes involving cottage cheese, but it nearly always ends in fudgecake squirty cream disaster. I'm a female cliche.

The thing is, I'm more or less consoled by the fact that I can't be thin AND eat everything with cream and pastry. I wish more people could be happy like this. It would solve a lot of eating disorders. Being thin might make clothes look really really nice, but that's all. You miss out on marscapone and lasagne and pies and cheese and scrambled eggs and cake. What's the point? But then, we're missing a very important point according to activists in this area - why can't people enjoy food and still be classed as beautiful? A somewhat patronising point, I find, considering that there are many people in the world who are over a size UK 10 who are very easy on the eye indeed. Claiming that we all have pre-fabricated views on how we see "normal" or even "fat" people seems to defeat the object, to me. "We're all disgraceful humans - why don't we fancy fat people?!" is exactly what this point of view seems to say to me. Which is rubbish. Squashing anything together in a forced generalisation like this helps nobody. This week, Glamour magazine apparently caused a "stir" by daring to have young model Lizzie Miller get her kit off and be pictured in their pages at a *gasp* size 12/14. Ho-ly crap. It's the beginning of a new era. Boundaries have been smashed! It's ok to be normal! Etc etc woo! This is the picture in question, so you may make up your own thoughts on the subject, before I share mine.

[Lizzie Miller photographed by Walter Chin as pictured in the September issue of US Glamour Photograph: Walter Chin/Glamour - Courtesy of]

As you can see, she's lovely, and not very fat at all. In fact, she's fairly average-sized. Thinner than me. If I was of a weak disposition, after all the fuss, I'd be feeling fatter and more disgusting than ever. How ridiculous. What irritates me is not the definitions the media and the fashion industry itself has for fatness vs thinness, but the fuss that gets made every time somebody tries to do something to change the way we think about weight and beauty. If you ask me, there is something vaguely point-destroying about photographing a normal model and then declaring how normal she is to all the world at every given opportunity. "She's a bit fat! Isn't that BRILLIANT! She's tubby, and she doesn't care! And she has a pretty face! WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT!!" It all got fairly hysterical. I just don't know why it matters so much. There seems to be a more vindictive way of viewing models now, in this post Bridget Jones age of "I eat ice cream, and I DON'T CARE" women (who clearly do care very much, or they wouldn't mention it quite so frigging often) where it's apparently alright to look at a girl on the catwalk and say "urgh, she's so thin...look at her stick legs...I bet she hasn't eaten in days...and I bet she's on crack". I know a few people who remain skinny no matter how much they eat, but rather than being overjoyed about this, feel they get more abuse from the media and the people around them than overweight people. One has actually been told to "get down the chippy" by a stranger on more than one occasion. So how is it ok to take the piss out of thin people, but doing the same to an overweight person is not acceptable? Looking at a model and assuming they are anorexic just isn't fair, just like putting an "average sized" model in a 3" x 3" picturebox with a neon sign that says "LOOK! SHE'S FRICKIN' AVERAGE! EMPOWERMENT!" isn't proving anything. Other than the fact that we are all idiots for falling for it. So what? I see average people all day long in the street.

Here is why I think we see more thin people in our everyday consumer culture. Skinnyness is something aspirational. There are very few of us who are naturally skinny, and so if you want to be, you have to work for it. So being skinny is seen as "special". It's pretty simple, if you think about it. You can rant and rave about "malnutrition" and "unnatural-looking" all day long, but clothes will always look better on a person who's job it is to be a clothes hanger. That's why its their job. They are good at showing the clothes off, without overpowering them. Fashion fans might have a favourite model (mine, of course, is Agyness Deyn) but a good model will have the ability to show their own personality and style without shouting over the style of the clothes they are wearing. It's a talent - at least, I think it is. It's possibly a lucky talent that you can only be born with, but not everybody can do it. I just wish for once in a while, people would stop worrying about the models and just focus on clothes. Because at the moment we're looking at a season filled with shoulder pads and leggings, and I for one, am terrified.


Anonymous said...

I think when it comes to catwalk modelling, it would take a serious move to get the sizing issue to change. Standard british catwalk models have to be a size 8. It's part of your job description to keep that size 8 figure. A designer won't alter a dress for you if you don't fit it (unless you're so ridiculously famous it's worth their time) If a size 10, or 12 became the norm, every designer would have to agree to this and no doubt a lot of models would start scoffing pies to be able to keep their jobs.

Again, as for the blank thing, each designer will ask their models to perform in a certain way that represents their clothing. Yes, by and large the personality has to take the back seat and the model has to be a walking mannequin, but there are a lot of fashion shows out there that aren't like that and the models are vampped up, manned up and fierce as a bull in a china shop. It tends to be these designers who will also feature larger models and more alternative looking models.

And no, there aren't many, or if there are they don't get the full attentions of the media spotlight. But fashion is a huge business that has to appeal to a huge audience. Yes, you might get one designer wanting to put neon pink sequinned harem pants on a size 14 but your average woman in Debenhams wouldn't be seen dead in them. If seeing an outfit on a size 8 makes it look attractive, there's more chance the size 12 in Dorothy Perkins is going to buy the highstreet version.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it's just business. Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that a model is just that - 'a model'. I don't think model needs to be synonymous with 'normal'. If they were just your average Joe, there'd be no need to have people who've actually worked extremely hard (and no, not just on their figure) to get where they are.

One more thing is athletes. A lot of female athletes, while wonderfully toned, are quite teeny due to their healthy diets and rigourous excercise regimes. And yet they never get criticised for being too thin - they need to be that way for their job. No one cares that they don't have dessert after their protein and veggie dinners. No one cares they get up at 6am to get down the gym to keep the weight off, and they're praised over and over again when they succeed in a sporting event.

Maybe instead of wishing your average model was an average size, so that we don't feel selfconscious and so our kids don't grow up with eating disorders, maybe we should just start accepting and informing these kids, that this definitely ISN'T normal, it isn't wrong, it isn't bad, but it's just a job.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the ridiculously long rant, and it's not against your post in anyway :)

Katie said...

It's quite alright, I designed my post today to get people talking :D

Interesting views, you're right, it'll either take a lot to change, or it won't change. My point was that I don't care really about the size of models - I worry about size 0 girls, but essentially like you said, we don't worry about sportswomen, so we shouldnt' worry about people who choose to remain thin as part of their job. It's like worrying about me because I have to read to increase my vocab or worry about you having to keep your finger dexterity so you can carry on making ace dreads. :)

Anonymous said...

Hehe. Yeah, I'm not sure how it came about that everyone decided this was what we all wanted to look like - it's not really the models fault at all, and I don't think the media have forced them to be tiny either - its the fact that the media pushes it on to us that this is what's attractive. And then that if you go too far it's ridculously and then they go and blame superskinnies like Victoria Beckham. How about blaming themselves for plastering her photos everywhere?
But I can't have a go at magazines and papers either because again, it's just business.
Maybe we should blame teenage girls and their parents for not bringing them up to think for themselves.

Katie said...

Or maybe we blame nobody, and instead concentrate on teaching our kids how to be happy for real fulfilling reasons, instead of striving for unnatainble physical goals.


mr bear said...

That is totally in your rustic nature

Katie said...

What is? Consumption or talking bullshit?

the_man_in_the_middle said...

"fudgecake squirty cream disaster"... hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan of plus-size models! There's a great site with lots of images of plus-size models here:

They're all gorgeous.

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