The fashion industry is engaged in a constant dialogue about what is beautiful. And twice a year, during the world's series of major fashion weeks, an issue arises that divides public opinion like a shark fin cutting the still, mirrored surface of a lagoon: Is fashion's ever taller, ever thinner, Silly Putty standard of beauty harmful?
Several years ago, in the wake of the highly publicized deaths of several models who had struggled with eating disorders, many international fashion capitals considered mandatory regulations regarding models' weight. New York legislators ultimately declined to pass city or state laws enforcing controversial BMI standards, and American designers instead adopted health awareness guidelines.
Still, the debate rages on: If runways can become more racially diverse and still reflect designers' visions -- call it the Michelle O effect -- could diversity of size follow?
Your favorite law prof recently enjoyed a conversation about size with model/filmmaker Sara Ziff and model/author Crystal Renn, two wonderful women with a mission to make the world safer for models, and by extension for the rest of us. You can check it out, and join in, over at New York Magazine. And if you haven't seen or read Sara's and Crystal's respective stories, you'll enjoy them -- along with a guilt-free bowl of popcorn.
Still skeptical about whether models of different sizes could ever share the same runway? Take a look at this passage from Frieda Steinmann Curtis' book, How to Give a Fashion Show, originally published in 1950:
One...should be a well-built statuesque woman, not too heavy but certainly not thin, who can wear a size 16 or 18 and make a very smart appearance. It is also a good idea to have a white or grey-haired woman, with a young face and a medium-sized figure, as a permanent model. Add to these, two younger girls, size 10 and 12, and you will have a fine group around which you can always build a satisfactory show.Even taking into account size deflation -- a 16 or 18 in 1950 might be an 8 or 10 today -- that's a far cry from modern casting directors' uniform size zero.
Of course, change is always more complex to implement than it originally seems. A designer may wish to present a particular aesthetic concept requiring specific models. And in general, an interchangeable set of identically molded models is easier and thus less expensive to fit than a group of distinct individual bodies. On the other hand, fit is no substitute for performance and personality. And now that fashion shows are increasingly seen from the internet's infinite front row rather than by limited group of tastemakers, what customer wouldn't warm to seeing a more polished version of herself on the runway?
So, retro (size) chic anyone?