History Repeats? Not in Fashion and Zero Size Models

Skinny Models. Source: Cult Noise Magazine

Skinny Models. Source: Cult Noise Magazine

We are used to see skinny models in every fashion week. With the exception of brands for plus size women such as Elena Miró, Violeta by Mango or Marina Rinaldi, fashion designers just don’t seem interested in dressing real women and catwalks just don’t look like the place to be for models who look a bit healthier or, as some might wrongly say, “fatter”. But, has it always been like this? Have fashion designers always designed for skinny models? And when did this tight relationship began?

Modelling started being a proper job in the mid-sixties along with the rise of advertising, although there had existed some women who already modeled in the 40’s, like, for instance, Dorian Leigh, Dovima or Lisa Fonssagrives. However, the job itself didn’t work as it does today and models didn’t experienced the fame today models do. Popular “mannequins” in the sixties, however, actually shared a trait: thinness. If we take a look to pictures of Celia Hammond, Sandra Paul, Joanna Lumley or Jean Shrimpton, some models of that decade, they were all thin, yes, but they looked healthy as well. However, we can’t deny the influence Twiggy and Veruschka von Lehndorff had in those years, despite their skinniness was an exception.

The seventies were the years of Sue Baloo, Marisa Berenson, Lauren Hutton, Jerry Hall or Iman. Later, in the eighties, Paulina Porizkova or Cheryl Tiegs were the most heard names in the catwalks as well as in fashion magazines. The nineties were the years when the “dream team”, formed by Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford, appeared on every cover of every fashion magazine and also when the word “supermodel” began being used by media. It was the time when models became increasingly popular and started to be pointed out as icons, being equally or even more famous than some actors and actresses of the decade. All these models were also thin, but they had their curves and looked healthy at the same time. It all changed, though, in the next decade.

It was in the nineties when British model Kate Moss entered the fashion scene, and that supposed the point of no return. She was in fact the “anti-supermodel”: she was five foot eight, she had no curves at all and she looked like an ill, waif girl. Nevertheless, aesthetics in fashion wouldn’t be the same. Due to both success and polemic of Moss’ campaigns, from that moment on, the model stopped being the exception to be the prototype of woman which agencies and fashion designers looked for, and little by little, fashion shows were taken by skinny models, extremely different from the ones of the previous decade. Something that, unfortunately, has become the rule.

Now, supermodels which walk on the most important fashion weeks in the world don’t look as healthy as models in the past did, since what is acceptable and desirable is being as skinny as possible, no matter the consequences. The question is, is this just a temporary “trend” or has it become a custom? Well, trends usually last some seasons and then they change, so maybe it is a bad habit designers and agencies have acquired, and, as the saying wisely says, “bad habits die hard”.

The big issue is that not only models’ health is being put in danger, but also public health, as fashion brands, first, and media, then, encourage having a small size. As a result, many people have problems with finding clothes which fit them just because they don’t have a “normal” size. The message that they are passing on the audience, which includes children and teenagers, two groups that can be easily manipulated and influenced, can be extremely harmful: you have to be very thin to fit in (the clothes and the society), whatever the cost. The result is many people suffering from eating disorders and low self-esteem because of the promotion of unhealthy and impossible bodies which are supposed to be “beautiful”.

History of modelling shows us, then, this situation hasn’t been like this forever and, what is more important, fashion designers didn’t request skinny models in the past. What is important now is to raise awareness of what this “bad habit” is doing to our society, as it doesn’t seem that designers are going to change their minds anytime soon. Even though, the action of organisations and associations which promote healthy role models is not enough to end the zero size dictatorship if we don’t join forces. Even if it is complicated, as fashion and beauty are two business which pull many strings, we all should join the cause, reject the prototype of women they are selling us and make ourselves heard.