blogging gobbledygook and such

Thin argument does a fat lot of good

By Lisa Armstrong, Fashion Editor

IN CASE it had escaped your attention, we’ve managed to get through another London Fashion Week. You know the one: it has designers, models, Julien Macdonald attempting to lure protesters onto his catwalk through gratuitous use of fur — and next season’s clothes, variations of which will filter into the high street and the wardrobes of millions over the coming months.

Except that this time we hardly got to hear about the clothes or the designers. Even the models at the eye of the furore became submerged beneath a tidal wave of simplification and cant.

It all began three weeks ago when Madrid Fashion Week banned size 00 models.

Actually, a few months beforehand, a wedding-dress exhibition in Barcelona had vetoed models below a UK size 10. But no one took much notice of the Barcelona announcement — perhaps there was more competition for column inches that week than the Liberal Democrat conference has provided.

It may be unfair to cast aspersions on Madrid’s motives, although its statement about not wanting fashion to be associated with promoting unhealthy images of young girls whiffs of brand control rather than of the milk of human kindness. It certainly put Madrid Fashion Week, a hitherto overlooked event, on the media map.

By last weekend, the British Fashion Council was being urged to follow Madrid’s example. When its chairman, Stuart Rose, suggested this would be impractical, not least because prohibition does nothing but give the outlawed a certain cachet, the row stepped up. Lily Cole and Erin O’Connor were pictured beside banner headlines suggesting that they were anorexic (and by extension, promoting anorexia). In fact, they are naturally thin young women who because of the business they’re in probably keep an eye on what they eat. So did my grandmother, and London Fashion Week didn’t exist in 1937. It seems ironic that in their concern for young women, some of the press are causing two of them considerable distress.

Yesterday, the London Evening Standard ran a name-and-shame feature, featuring members of the British Fashion Council (which comprises most senior fashion journalists, including its own).

Just as six years ago when Tessa Jowell, who was then Minister for Women, held her body image “summit” with the fashion industry and media, two separate issues are being conflated: the unhappiness of a minority of girls in a cynical industry and the serious weight issues that face the West. A reminder of what these are: about 2 per cent of the UK population are anorexic (90 per cent of them women); 23 per cent are clinically obese (as of 2002).

Politically though, attacking the morbidly overweight is risky — perhaps that explains the venom about skinny women. Moreover, scarcity is always prized — and if as a whole we’re getting fatter perhaps it’s inevitable that we will aspire to, or be fascinated by, being underweight.

As countless studies have shown, eating disorders cannot be contracted by exposure to photographs of thin people. Of course it is reprehensible when designers or magazines use skeletons — mainly because it is a tragedy for the individual girl involved and not because it tips thousands of women into starvation mode. Most of us are sufficiently balanced not to want to look like a cadaver.

What I yearn to understand is why we women have subjected ourselves throughout history to corsets, footbinding, waxing, arsenic and starvation — evidence for which exists even in the Middle Ages. For once, we can’t blame most men.

Instead we need to look into ourselves and ask why it is that the circulation of celebrity magazines with their faux concern for the “too” thin and the “too” fat continues to soar and why newspapers that berate Cole and O’Connor have their own unhealthy diet — of pictures of Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton and Nicole Kidman. Still, while the debate continues to be waged on such a simplistic level, I don’t suppose we will.

This is so typically biased of someone from the fashion industry. When she says “the debate continues to be waged on such a simplistic level”, is she being ironic and is really referring to her article?

Then again, it’s all about perspective, self have learnt.

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