Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Size-Zero and 'Plus size' at Fashion Week

Mark Fast's stylist quit when he decided to use several 'plus size' models in his Spring/Summer 2010 show at London a few weeks ago. The 28-year old designer chose 3 models from a plus size agency to show alongside the size 8-10s that we are used to seeing on the runway.

I must admit that I have always been so interested in the clothes that I may not have paid too much attention to the models wearing them. Tall, slim, yes, but I have never really questioned it. That is just what a model looks like, as we have been taught to believe by the thousands of images from catwalks and in magazines. When I read about Fast's show on style.com, it was not the fact he used these women that shocked me, but the reaction his decision received. Here is someone questioning the accepted 'norm' of fashion, whereas in fact the three 'plus size' women he included were the only 'normal' sized women on any of the catwalks. I was thinking about Mark Fast when I watched Stella Mcartney's show on the Guardian fashion website this evening. As I watched the beautiful clothes coming down the runway, I made sure to really look at the models. And I realised something. Thighs are not supposed to be concave.

Although I applaude Fast for at least beginning to question stereotypes (he did still only use 3 'plus size' models) I think it should also work on the other end of the spectrum. Skinny equals anorexic is a stereotoype that should also be fought against. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and some are naturally skinny. I frequently hear people describing catwalk models as 'disgusting', and 'unreal'. I don't think it is fair to alienate skinny women, just at it is unfair to alienate 'plus sizes'. And granted, the catwalk models are stunning, but I just think many of them would be far more beautiful if they had a few more curves, and were able to enjoy themselves more without the constant worry of fitting into sample sizes.

I say 'plus size' for a reason. Because it is a term we have created ourselves, based only on our current ideologies and perceptions of size and beauty. Because plus what size? A model would typically be classed as 'plus size' when they are a UK dress size 12 or over. Yet the average dress size in the UK is 14-16. Why, therefore, are models classed as 'plus' when they are below the national norm? Are models not normal? They may be blessed by proportion and nature, but are they not women too?

Above all the main question should of course be about health. You can be unhealthy underweight and unhealthy overweight (although I was surprised to learn that people who are borderline overweight tend to have a greater life expectancy than those who are are closer to being underweight). Fashion is aspirational, but I do not accept that there should be one unanimous view of what aspirational is. Surely the most aspirational things of all are health, happiness and (this is still fashion), beauty. But healthy, happy and beautiful women come in all different shapes and sizes.

Best-selling German magazine Brigitte seems to have a similar opinion, as I found out today when I read the fashion section of the Guardian website. Andreas Lebert, editor in chief of Germany's most popular women's magazine has decided that as of 2010 they will no longer use proffesional models. Instead they will employ ordinary women (promising to pay them the same as they would a proffesional model) as well as women in the public eye who may be interested in modelling. Readers can apply to model in the magazine and as a result Lebert hopes to get a more representational view of women. He said he was fed up of having to use photoshop to fatten up the models they previously employed. "For years we've had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up, especially their thighs, and decolletage. But this is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real reader?"

The size-zero debate has been ongoing, and I think it would be unrealistic to say that because of Mark Fast and Brigitte magazine things in the global fashion industry are going to change. But perhaps people will atleast start to readress their aspirations and question what they have come to accept as the norm. I know I have.


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