Model Sizes: An Objective Look at Skinny

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Most women care about their physical appearances. Across developed countries, and in North America especially, dieting has become a norm among women, although recently the fad seems to have given way to “healthy eating.” Yet, a close look at the issue has you understand that no matter what you call it, it’s one and the same: whether you’re dieting, restricting, healthy eating or watching your portions, you’re still depriving yourself or avoiding your sugary/fatty cravings at all costs.

Most women will stop at that, choosing to forego desert for low-cal treats. Once in a while, we start to think that it’s all very Sisyphean of us, and we give into temptation. Then comes guilt, right on schedule. Why do we feel guilty for having done something that has brought us pleasure? Hedonists live by the very mentality that you should enjoy life to the fullest, and live it on your own terms, but most of us opt for the Christian ways of the world: choosing to punish ourselves for having derived pleasure from… well, different things.

My theory on this guilty feeling is that we are constantly faced with people who did not give into their temptations. We are continuously reminded of the fact that we have failed our very own challenge for, most of the time, no other reason than ‘it felt good.’ We revel in flipping the pages of fashion magazines, adoring the clothes and accessories advertised and taking in all that this illusion-filled industry has to offer. As a result of staring day after day, season after season at ridiculously thin and almost flawless females, frustration tends to mount. Frustration with our obvious - and very relative – shortcomings and weaknesses.

I tend to believe that this is why many women have declared war on ultra-thin models. I’m embarking on a very slippery road here because the skeleton-like silhouette of runway models has in fact become quite the controversial topic for many. I already know that some of you do not share my view on the issue, as we’ve broached this topic before on Twitter, but I feel it’s an important facet of our lives that we must address.

Skinny Model

Over the past few years – and even more so since the launch of Dove’s campaign for real beauty – there’s been a growing movement of women (and some men) pressuring fashion houses to hire models of “normal” proportion, i.e., not below a healthy BMI figure. In conjunction with this social debacle, similar groups turned to fashion magazine editors requesting that Photoshop be used more reasonably. After seeing some of the funniest – but oh so scary – Photoshop bloopers on several sites, including http://photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com/, one must admit that the trend is being pushed a bit to the extreme.

Nevertheless, I’m not certain why we’re fighting this war. I believe that what matters isn’t that the girl on the cover of a mag is in reality a 12 year-old who’s had her baby fat erased digitally and her boobs grown out 3 cup sizes by waving a virtual magic wand, but what matters is that when I choose to buy the clothes advertised, it never quite seems to fall the way it’s supposed to – or at least, the way it does on the photo.

For a while, I, like many women, blamed my own proportions. I figured my body wasn’t made for these kinds of clothes. I guilted my thighs, and focused on my height. I trained and dieted, and it's only when I realized I floated in 00 pants that I understood the problem wasn’t my body. Because really, nothing I could do seemed to make these clothes fit just right. Janice Dickinson wrote in one of her books about the time she saw a girl at the beach wearing a bikini she had modelled in a magazine. The girl seemed uneasy in the piece, and Janice felt the need to reassure the girl that in the magazine ad, the piece was tied back with all sorts of pins to make it fit right so the girl had no reason to question her own curves.

International Models

So does that mean we should we accept the way things are and move on? That’s up for debate and really, the ball’s in our court as the primary consumers of these products, but we have to understand that we can’t realistically expect an entire industry to change its ways just because we would like to feel better about ourselves.

Companies and fashion empires are built for profit, power and prestige, and it’s not necessarily the sanity of teenage girls that they have in mind when they go to market. In fact, the less confident we feel, the more we are prone to turn to others – in many cases, models and celebs – to “observe and copy,” thereby giving these companies an easy way to creep products of all sorts into our life. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning any of this, I’m simply trying to lay reality's cards out on the table.

Working behind the scenes sure has its perks, and understanding what marketing and the business of advertising is all about is key to accepting the fact that Photoshop and 12 year-old waifs sadly aren’t going to go away just yet. The so-called “enhancement” through Photoshop occurs for a reason, and that reason is our lack of confidence, our low self-esteem as a group. Allow me to explain:

The business of advertising resides in the ability to create a need to then sell a product that fills that need. Today’s top marketers have even moved beyond that point to the art of selling lifestyles. Apple is one of such companies that come to mind. SATC, which started out as a simple book, is now a global brand, merchandising a wide diversity of products promoting a lifestyle. But this can get very technical so let’s just sum it up to: companies are playing with your mind and emotions. That’s nothing new, but with globalization and the peak in social media platforms, it has intensified.

So what’s different for fashion? Nothing. Most women want to be thinner, prettier, sexier. The fashion industry has done its research, and it is now selling its products through that very vein. Why would it stop reminding you of your shortcomings and weaknesses if it gets you to buy its products? Should it bear responsibility for our insecurities and mental anguish? Even if it agreed to hire only “curvier” women, there would always be something else to kick start your insecurity, be it a celebrity, a dancer, a girl in a club… it doesn’t matter. As long as you have doubts about your own body, and that you feel your worth is enclosed in that physical space, you will never win. Even at 65, you will never win.

Model w/bike

So I tend to laugh at the request that the fashion industry stop following the very basic principles of advertising, and close down shop for the sake of insecure women. Do I worry about our young girls falling prey to anorexia and other similar disorders? I do. Trust me, I know how that story goes, but I believe that the preventive cure to these illnesses starts at home at a very, very young age, not in the marketplace.

I do agree however that the industry has to put a stop to some extremes. For instance, I do believe we need to moderate the use of Photoshop and the hiring of pre-teen and below-healthy BMI models. However, I don’t believe in reversing the trend entirely. Why? Because I’m a health freak, and I don’t believe that having love handles of any kind is any better than being skinny. You may feel happier for biological reasons, but you may not be healthier if you don’t manage your weight, watch what you eat, and partake in some physical activity regularly. You may see the integration of Plus Size models as a nice gesture but again, it’s advertising so beware. Dove is not doing this whole campaign because it genuinely cares about you. It’s not on a mission to relieve your soul and nurse your personal self-worth and your feelings of belonging. It wouldn’t do that if it didn’t tap into market research that showed a potential need for this sort of thing. Think about it…

There are just so many things to fix in our society, the advertising industry is having a field day. Is it wrong? Morally, it may be but it’s business and it’s about generating revenue. The real discussion should not be on the BMI level of these models, but on whose responsibility is it to regulate advertising as a whole? Are we allowing true freedom of speech to preserve, or do we want to shelter ourselves from the bad and the ugly?

Images credit: blisstree.com; www.millionlooks.com

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