Model Behavior: Has the industry really changed?

As I often page through my favorite fashion magazines, I’m often struck by the bizarre high fashion ads. You know the ones, with blank-faced, wiry girls, donning strange garments, as they stare into the camera like exotic birds (see: Versace). But flipping through the glossies can get mundane; on every page it’s like the same emotionless mannequin is staring right back. Fashion houses want women to picture themselves in their clothes? Sure, they try to make you feel good, showing women with giant grins on their faces, loved up next to hunky male models. Yet, it’s hard to picture myself as a 6’0″, 110 lb twig when I stand a proud 5’4″ and haven’t weighed 110 since middle school. Now to be fair, I am eating a generously sized bowl of ice cream while writing this. But to be honest, I’ve been thinking about this hypocrisy for awhile.

The modeling industry has been under the microscope lately. The controversies are stacking up: concern over the treatment of models, the call for more racial and age diversity, and concern over airbrushing are just a few of the headliners. But at the forefront of this debate is the issue of size diversity. Critics are calling for more representative figures – women who wear closer to a size 14 – the American average – than a size zero.

It’s safe to say that fashion houses are walking on egg shells. They can no longer rely on their status and reputation when, in the age of social media, new brands are bursting on the scene every season. But with companies like American Eagle’s Aerie line running ads with diverse beauties promoting loving your body and Sports Illustrated putting a plus-size model on their cover, it seems as though brands are desperate to put on a good face.

Now, those lithe and wispy creatures aren’t going anywhere – they still float down the runway with lifeless expressions – but here and there a voluptuous figure sashays with them. So there you have it! The modeling industry has banished the word plus-size and now all women can feel confident and live in perfect harmony with their bodies. Right?

The flaws in this perception can be seen in the faces of the “movement.” Outspoken advocates of “real” bodies include Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, Gigi Hadid, and Kate Upton. Upton and Hadid aren’t even considered to be plus-sized models, but both have taken to social media and interviews to talk about how they deal with body image issues. It’s anybody’s guess what their insecurities are. As for Graham and Lawrence, calling them plus-size makes one worry about what society considers a sample size. Both of these women are curvy granted, but in that, they have wider hips and ample decolletage. The industry fails to acknowledge their toned waists, tight stomachs, and regimented workouts. You have boobs, a butt, abs, and are paid to stay healthy? Lucky you!

Even throughout decades of wildly changing fashions, the modeling industry really hasn’t changed that much. Most agencies don’t hire models under 5’8”, even though the average woman stands at 5’4.” The “curvy” definition doesn’t seem to encompass enough women who have a little extra here and there. Your arms jiggle when you wave? Oh, sorry.

Now I know I sound like a bitter woman sitting in her sweatpants with her ice cream melting on her lap – oh wait, I am – but my point is that making young, impressionable girls believe that healthy, fit women who just happen to have bigger hips are the new “normal” is just as bad as telling them that chain-smoking, ghostly waifs are desirable. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 40% of models have some eating disorder. These are the beautiful women walking the catwalk and they feel insecure about their bodies. It’s no wonder how average Joes feel. Fashion has taught women that in order to deserve the clothes, you have to look the part. With fashion becoming tighter and more see-through à la Kim Kardashian, there is more pressure to have the “body” to flaunt in the clothes.

Why can’t we just promote loving ourselves: loving our beefy calves, squishy love handles, and that stomach dimple. Stop defining beauty because one definition is never attainable for everyone. Someone will always feel left out because they don’t have the body type of the moment. Stop making women worry about missing the gym that one day or reaching for that slice of pizza. In the timeless words of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!” – or ice cream in my case.

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