October 3, 2006

What’s the Skinny on Today’s Models?

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Fashion models have long been criticized for their atypical body size and the ideal that they have allegedly instilled in our society. Now, adolescent girls starve themselves in order to attain the body shapes that they see in magazines and on TV. Recent media coverage of fashion weeks around the world has increased this condemnation and resulted in even more direct measures against thin models.

Just weeks ago at a fashion show in Madrid, models with a body mass index of 18 or under were banned from strutting the catwalk. Outrage at the prospect of future venues utilizing the same limitations has emerged from modeling agencies. However, this restriction does not take into account the fact that many people naturally have a BMI of 18 or below. Precisely as many models are naturally taller than average, many may also be thinner than average. As a result, banning these models would result in discrimination based solely on their physical appearance.

Alternatively, several models have recently come forward declaring that they are taking unhealthy measures to perfect their bodies. This, however, does not mean that all models have eating disorders. If models are eating and exercising differently in order to attain a more idealized physique, then it is just another necessity of their career. Models are the moving display of designer’s creations, and their bodies must be perceived as attractive in order to be successful.

Most societies, from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, created idealized images of the human form. Other eras and cultures have idealized overweight statures as a sign of wealth. However, such body types can cause diabetes, heart disease and other weight related medical problems. Like the sculptures of millennia past, models are modern day works of art. If fashion is wearable art, then models are living sculptures. In this light, models have the artistic license to mold their bodies like clay. The mold they seek is thin because our society wants them to be thin. Therefore, the idealized woman, in the current western culture, is waify.

Critics of the modeling industry often claim that models’ unhealthy habits are transferring to young girls. Similarly, young boys are being influenced by the violence in video games, movies and on TV. However, it is not the responsibility of the media to censor what the public is exposed to. If eating disorders, or violence for that matter, exist, then it is the right of the people to be aware of those issues rather than just pretend that they don’t exist. It is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that boys who love Nintendo don’t turn into serial killers and girls who watch Project Runway don’t turn into skeletons.

The modeling industry is not the only field where work takes a toll on the worker’s physical condition. There are a wide variety of professions that are detrimental to a worker’s health. Doctors are often called out in the middle of the night and continually lose precious sleep and many physical laborers, from construction workers to fishermen, suffer injuries or accidental death due to their vocations. However, because their careers aren’t exhibited on stages and in magazines around the world, they are not criticized.

In recent years our society has seen the increasing power of women in taking control of their lives and bodies. These liberal steps are based on women’s free choice to do with their bodies as they please. Governments and other organizations have no right to interfere with women’s relations with their bodies.

Unless we are going to ban all jobs that may be injurious to the workforce’s health and subjugate women to other people’s standards, it is extraneous to ban thin models. A model’s esteem is based on exterior form, and in our society the essence of that appearance is centered on a slender stature. The only way that models will increase their BMIs is if our society’s epitome of physical beauty changes. Despite the efforts of the Dove ad campaign with supposedly real, natural and healthy models, the craze of corpulent models has not caught on. Until then, we will prefer to see ribs rather than rolls.