The idea of the super skinny model has been something of an industry standard. And I believe, that like most industry standards, it was defined out of a variety of reasons.
There are two ways ‘standards’ usually develop, either as a formal or an informal standard. One, the formal standard, is that a body of people that can exert some influence, get together, and work to develop a formal regulation as ‘standard’. Then this body, publishes the specifications of this standard, allowing other people in the industry to adopt this as the new way to operate. Examples would be many technological device protocols, such as USB, or country-specific standards, such as DOT standards for car safety. And sometimes it’s a recommendation, and other times, it’s legally enforced.
The other standard, is an informal standard. This is when a company in the industry, that is of high influence, does something, and then others follow. They may follow because it makes something easier, or because it’s more efficient, or because they believe others will follow and want to piggy-back off it’s success, or be able to interface with these other companies in a comparable manner. One example would be the way Wal-Mart began palatalizing it’s shipments, leading to other companies following suit to be more compatible. Another would be putting docking connectors compatible with Apple’s iPhone and iPod devices into musical equipment, these companies are not required to do this, but do it to add value.
The use of skinny models, is not a formal standard, but rather an informal one. And it has been given various reasons over the years for existing, but most seem to be based around a statement that it allows the clothes distinctive lines to be ‘seen’ better. But the reality is probably different. There are probably some design houses that do believe this about the skinny model, but as in most industries, I believe that the vast majority are simply following along because it has become and informal standard. And when one deviates from that standard, it brings attention to them. And if this attention is seen as negative, then it may risk their companies image in the eyes of their customers.
The problem is that in this body conscious world we live in, larger bodies have been seen as bad. Accordingly, people that make clothes for people with bigger bodies are seen as ‘specialty’ clothiers, rather than what may actually be the median body size if calculated. And perhaps these brands do not want that ‘specialty’.
Another aspect, is as these fashion houses generally operate in the realm of luxury, they want to sell something almost unattainable. In the past 60 years, luxury goods went from being something that was sold and marketed to the rich, to something that was sold to the masses. The tactic was called ‘buying up’. And the consumer market rebuilt itself around this; and people bought up the goods. In some cases, people adjusted their minds to the products, in that where 50 years ago a $500 purse may have been seen as ludicrous, it is now seen as an accepted option. The easy availability of credit in the late 90s through mid 2000s helped. And so now we have goods once bought by folks whom these expenses may have only been 1-2% of their monthly income, now being bought by folks whom this purchase consumes 25-50% of their monthly income. And it’s happened with everything from chocolates, to bags, to cars, to homes.
But the idea of selling up is to have someone buy something just a bit out of reach. To stretch themselves a bit. And so it makes sense, when thought of in this realm, to have the body image also be unattainable, and push to ‘super skinny’. This extremity also plays into the idea of leisure and conspicuous consumption via Veblen’s theory that true leisure items must be impractical: The super skinny model has probably not had kids, can probably not carry many things around their house, the super skinny model instead, is fragile, and since cannot probably do many of the things people would generally do, is itself, an item of luxury.
The problem here is; just like a person spending 50% of their monthly income for a bag by a fashion house, a person working towards the lower body weight, the weight shown as luxury, puts that person into a dangerous position. With the bag it’s fiscal irresponsibility, but with weight, it’s medical. And when each of us turns ourselves into a supporter of one of these icons of luxury, we perpetuate the idea that it is realistic for someone of our income to have. And with buying in to it, this perpetuation, it is where the informal standards become accepted, and ratified through purchase, as a ‘normal’ thing in the eyes of those outside the industry. So now one doesn’t have to look to vogue to see either the bag or the model, they can just look around them, and see people of their own social group, replicating this.
So how do we change this?
Well, we can do it many ways, but in two methods, formally, or informally. New York fought back against foods that were bad for ones health formally, by banning certain configurations of them. This could be done, as has been mentioned in some attempts, by convening a group to regulate the practice of using super low BMI models in advertisements and products photos.
Informally, we can make the change internally, by changing our own views of what is a ‘good’ body, and trying to inform those around us to do the same. We can also boycott those whom use such advertising, and let them know that dangerously-low weight models do not attract us to purchase things. So much has been written about this, and in reality, there are so many different ways to resist against this.
But the reality is this: as of now, in the west, the super-skinny model is still accepted. And to me, it seems to be purely because of it’s rarity in achieving it, and thus, luxury. And those who promote it as the image of man or woman, promote with it’s inherent risk of peril. To me those images say; ‘strive for beauty at risk of death’. And such a choice is not beautiful.