Wednesday 9 November 2011

What If Wednesday

What if skinny had never become the fashion industry standard?

(A brief disclaimer here: this is not a dig at the fashion industry. It makes sense that fashion designers would prefer skinny people to model their clothes, since it's easier to create the illusion of, say, breasts and hips than it is to disguise one: ergo skinny models are more versatile, and work out cheaper in terms of sample sizes.)

The in-vogue body shape has changed over time. Sometimes thin has been in - I'm thinking of the 20s and the flapper - and sometimes curvy has been in, like in the 50s and the days of Ursula Andress and Marilyn Monroe; and then thin came back in the 60s with Twiggy. But then it sort of became stuck at thin. Maybe the fashion industry got a bit lazy, or maybe this was when it cottoned on to the fact that thin women make better models.

So, here is my crackpot theory for the day. The 80s saw the start of the age of the supermodel. Thin and tall women became the icons. I can still name most of the famous supermodels of the early 90s, so often were they featured in the magazines I chose to read. Supermodels were paid megabucks, featured on front covers, in ad campaigns and music videos. They started popping up in films. I think if I'd been an aspiring actress back then, I would have felt a little bit sick about this.

So, instead of haughtily rising above the clothes horses, the actresses did what they thought was necessary: they conformed to the fashion industry standard. They got thin. If they didn't get thin, they put up with a lot of pressure and missed out on the best jobs. For those who got thin, the rewards were rich. Now ad campaigns and front covers are more likely to be not-a-model (I actually saw an editorial complaining about this) as the real talent returns to centre stage. Women prefer to read about women who do stuff, not women who wear stuff. The age of the supermodel is dead; the savvy ones are designing capsule collections for the high street, or have buggered off to be a muse, or got behind the camera instead.

Now for the impact. Where fashion and the famous lead, the rest of us follow, especially as the number of healthy, non-skinny role models dwindle. In spite of not needing to be superskinny in order to get parts/modelling jobs, superskinny became the thing to aspire to - and there's gold in them there hills. Diet pills, fitness DVDs, meal-replacement shakes, motiviational books - the works.

It is my theory that this has in part led to the obesity crisis we're facing. This unhealthy obsession with being thinner and thinner has pushed people in the opposite direction. An entire generation, or three, has lost its ability to relate healthily to food and diet. So, perhaps if there hadn't been the meteoric rise of the supermodel, the pendulum would have swung back, we'd all have a normal relationship with food, and the NHS would be a lot better off, and the weekly gossips would have features on how to copy Beyonce's moves instead of her diet.

I know, I know, there are millions of things that can be blamed for obesity: fast food, sedentary lifestyles, video games, blah blah. This is my what if, you know. I get to make up whatever crazy shizzle I like.

Are you telling me that Ursula Andress, the woman who, when questioned about why she posed nude for Playboy, replied, "Because I'm beautiful" (beautiful, mind you, not "worth it"), would be caught dead doing the cereal diet?

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