Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Pressure to be Thin

The fashion industry defines what is considered to be en Vogue whether it is clothing, hair style or body type. Spain's recent ban on the use of runway models with a body mass index lower than 18% has raised the question, is it ethical for major fashion houses to advocate an unhealthy body image to the mass media?

Major fashion houses such as Chanel, Gucci and Prada mostly use stick thin models on their runways and this projects a narrow view of what is considered to be beautiful. During the rise of fashion designers in Paris, designers began to have a one-on-one relationships with their clients in which the dictated what theywould wear and the images used that would promote their designs. Promoting a narrow beauty ideal implies that if you do not fit that stereotype that you yourself are not en Vogue. Models have been known to succumb to the pressures of fitting into beauty ideals. Removing lower ribs, back teeth and eating disorders have been common practices that have occured among models to achieve the ideal model look that many fashion designers create and deem beautiful. Fashion's elite excludes those who are not able to afford all the fabulous things that are included in fashion advertisements as well as imply that you will be improved if you emulate the look and lifestyle of your social superiors.

Many of the models used in fashion advertisments are as young as 14 years old. In a 1995 Calvin Klein advertisement the use of very thin teenaged models in a seedy motel setting, sparked FBI investigation for its references to child pornography. It is images such as this that brings up the issue of how fashion industry, at times, represents woman as young as prepubescent girls. The popular 1990's emaciated, dazed look for models entitled, "Heroin Chic" was considered to be a rejection of fashion's rigid beauty ideals. However, it created an entirely. The look of a model in a fashion advertisement or runway is the look of a finished product that has been highly altered and constructed to fit the mold of whatever the designer considers to be beautiful at that point in time. Unfortunately, fashion designers feel the need to project unobtainable images of woman because not only does it make high fashion seem even more exclusive but it creates an even stronger desire for woman tot go to whatever extreme it may be to become that standard of beauty.

Implicating the Body Mass Index for fashion models is a form of discrimination for models that are naturally thin. For 1960's model Twiggy, who naturally had a stcik-like frame, would it be fair to ban her from the runway? Adult magazines such as, Playboy Magazine try to promote women who have a more voluptuous figure and although some may feel that this is a positive because it no longer promotes the thin beauty ideal, it is still promoting another extreme image that a woman "should have". Woman who do not naturally have a voluptuous figure are then meant to feel if they are not voluptuous then they will not be considered sexually desirable. In the 21st century the fashion industry should strive towards equality and promoting images of models in all shapes and sizes regardless if they are thin or full figured.

Elite fashion designers set the bar for what is beautiful and part of women's fascination with the discriminating images that are portrayed in fashion advertisement and runways is the idea of an escape from their everyday lives. Women's desire to be part of the high fashion world has always existed. Napeleon's wife, Josephine de Beauharnais who was once a sommon woman becuase a queen of fashion through emulating the looks of her wealthy predecessors after marrying Napeleon. The ideal images that the fashion industry promotes, makes everyday woman want to emulate the way that models appear in the images and thus be part of the fashionably elite. However, the narrow representation of women in the fashion industry is unobtainable because the ideal look is forever changing. The popular "lean and lithe" look for models fo the 1970's soon became less popular when the muscular cosmetically enhanced look of the 1980's emerged. The fashion industry needs to show that women come in all shapes and sizes and should never be discriminated against because of the shape of their body. Luckily, as we move through the 21st century we realize that some small steps are being made to promote a more positive body image to the mass media. Dior fashion designer John Galliano is known for using thin and plus-sized models in many of his couture fashion shows.

Above all women need to learn to love themselves first regardless of what ideal beauty standard that major fashion houses promote as being en Vogue because fashion's ideal image may come and go but a woman will always have the same body.
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