Last week, Israel passed a long-debated bill that would ban extremely thin models from being used on runways and in photo shoots. The law states that models must have a body-mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or more — for example, a model who is five foot eight must weigh at least 119 pounds. For context, supermodel Kate Moss, who helped popularize the “heroin chic” look of the early ‘90s, is five foot seven and reportedly weighs about 114 pounds. Israel’s own Bar Refaeli, who has a curvier bikini-model figure, is five foot eight and reportedly weighs in the 125 to 130 pound range.
Many feminists are hailing Israel’s law as a huge step forward for the fashion industry. However, I’m not one of them.
Most of the other laws or public agreements aimed to combat the overuse of extremely young or thin models have not worked. Last year, Vogue magazine vowed that it would not use any models under the age of 16 in any of its editions around the world, but they’ve broken their own rule multiple times since then. American designer Marc Jacobs has also violated rules about paying models for their time and was caught paying some models ‘in trade’ (aka free clothes) and not following labor laws, but he has not been sanctioned in any way by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Perhaps that’s because he is a board member? Spain passed a similar BMI-based law in 2006, and Australia wrote its own legislation in 2010. But Spain, Australia and Israel are all second-tier fashion countries when it comes to worldwide attention and corporate dollars. In order to make real structural changes, the four fashion capitals of the world — Paris, Milan, London, and New York — will have to step up. Simply passing laws about models will not change the real, underlying issues of body image, health and labor exploitation.
The September 2012 issue of Vogue marks the 120th anniversary of the publication. To celebrate, Editor in Chief Anna Wintour reflected on some of her favorite covers and offered insight into how they came together. One of those highlights was her very first cover as editor, in November 1988, which featured an Israeli model named Michaela Bercu. The image was positively revolutionary compared to previous Vogue covers: Bercu was photographed casually on the street, her natural waves loose and unstyled, her smile wide and infectious. Nothing about her evoked the heavy makeup or choreographed studio scenes of the era. She was the first model in Vogue’s history to wear jeans on a cover, and she sported a bejeweled Christian Lacroix jacket that showed a little bit of belly (“she had been on vacation back home in Israel and had gained a little weight,” Wintour explained). Although the high/low mix is now a staple in fashion, Bercu’s outfit was, like the rest of her look, ahead of its time.
But the clothes aren’t the only things that have changed at the world’s most iconic fashion magazine. Since Bercu’s big break, few Israeli models have appeared in Vogue. The most famous, Bar Refaeli, gets regular work, but she’s considered more of a fit for underwear and bikini shoots than for high glam. Unlike fellow swimsuit model (and fellow Leonardo DiCaprio ex-girlfriend) Gisele Bundchen, Refaeli has not fully crossed over into the styled shoots often seen in Vogue. Similarly, Israeli Esti Ginzburg appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, but she never made the jump to editorial work. (She later took a break at the peak of her career to do her mandatory IDF service.) Moran Atias, a Haifa native, did some high fashion runway work for designers like Roberto Cavalli, but she ultimately switched tacks and became an actress, most recently appearing in Adam Sandler’s “Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”
It’s been two years since I’ve experienced symptoms of an eating disorder, such as skipping meals or over-exercising, but I’ve thought about the disease every day since then. In our world, it’s hard not to.
I’m reminded of it when I see my friends who have eating disorders post on Facebook about the challenges that their eating disorders continue to present. I think about it when I hear girls in the Stern College cafeteria debating which foods have the fewest calories. And, most of all, I see it all around me — the Photoshopped actresses on magazine covers, the half-naked model in car dealership commercials, the emaciated women on the product billboards that line the highway.
In Elissa Strauss’ recent Sisterhood post “Should we Lighten Up About Weight?” she posits that in a perfect world the topic of gaining or losing weight wouldn’t send everyone into a tizzy, and I agree. But until we reach that perfect state of living, I can’t imagine most women or young girls taking too kindly to someone calling them “a little fat,” no matter the critic’s intent.
For now, sensitivity is required.
Am I the only woman who hates those Victoria’s Secret “The Nakeds” commercials, which feature tanned, lithe young women with tiny bits of underwear covering their own tiny bits, as they writhe in apparent ecstasy?
I doubt it.
Now I’m joining the many American women who are angry that ABC and Fox have restricted this Lane Bryant lingerie commercial for their “Cacique” brand of lingerie.
The television networks’ purported reason? That the commercial is too revealing and “shows too much cleavage,” according to the plus-size retailer. On its Web site, Lane Bryant writes:
In the style world, there has been a lot of talk lately of a possible return to “curvy,” or “womanly,” figures on the runway. In The New York Times, for example, fashion critic Cathy Horyn wrote the following about a recent Marc Jacobs show:
But to me, this collection wasn’t as much about returning to the glories of Bardot as it was about presenting an artificial and super-enlarged beauty — and where else could Mr. Jacobs go but to an era when women were still built like women, right down to their girdles?
Bonnie Fuller, a former editor of Us Weekly (and Cosmo and Glamour and YM) wrote a post on the Huffington Post, titled “Why the Return of Gorgeous Curvy Supermodels to Fashion Runways is a Victory for All Women!”
On Jezebel, by contrast, there was a sense that the new curvy isn’t curvy enough:
We’d welcome any divergence from a standard that can be hauntingly gaunt. But let’s not get carried away with the Dove-style celebrations. These women are “curvy” in the way Lara Stone is curvy: They have tiny waists and very little body fat, but they have relatively large breasts. Neither feminine ideal breaks the mold particularly.
To be sure, if days of emaciated models are coming to an end (after the better part of two decades), that is a very good thing. I understand why many see this as a step forward in the feminist battle for the proliferation more realistic images of women. But underneath all of this cheerleading, there is something I find unsettling.