Carola Long: Why fashion loves the super-thin

Share
Related Topics

Amidst Kate Moss's comments for a recent feature in Interview magazine, it's her thoughts on her own thinness that have sparked the most interest. The iconic model, now immortalised once again by Marc Quinn in a gold statue that will appear in the British Museum, talks about the unavailability of food while she was working as a model in the past. She says: "I remember standing up in the bath one day, and there was a mirror in front of me and I was so thin! I hated it. I never liked being that skinny."

Although Moss doesn't exactly frame this as an overtly political comment – she attributes her low weight to the fact that "when I was doing shows and flying economy, nobody ever fed me", when really, how much trouble is it to buy your own sandwich before boarding a flight? – it's still a significant comment. If even the world's most famous model wasn't happy with her waif-like body, why on earth does this continue to be a desirable ideal?

There are plenty of arguments about who exactly in the fashion industry is responsible for perpetuating the idea that extreme slenderness is the norm. The designers who book underweight models? The model agencies for failing to address the issue of their weight and health? Parents for not keeping an eye on their children (although the British Fashion Council has imposed a ban on under-16s, many girls of this age still seem like children)? Or glossy magazines, which are so reliant on advertising that they can't upset the labels who use skinny models?

Of course, a much wider group of people share responsibility, from those in the fashion industry who see just how unhealthy models can be, to people who buy magazines which carry adverts or editorial with very thin models, and perpetuate the super-slim silhouette.

There are two main ways in which the issue needs to be addressed: practical solutions and a change in aesthetic ideals. The former are difficult to impose – an initiative to introduce compulsory medical certificates was recently abandoned by the British Fashion Council – while the perception that skinny equals desirable is so ingrained within the industry that it's hard for insiders to see past it.

While it's impossible not to be shocked by the extreme thinness of some of the etiolated, sunken-eyed models that appear on the catwalk, generally, most of the audience at a catwalk show don't even notice the girls' shapes and sizes, because they are focusing on cut, silhouette, concept, fabric and trends. And this is the appeal of super-thin girls for designers – they don't upstage the clothes. Similarly, most editors, writers and stylists don't realise the damaging effect skinny models can have on self-esteem since, although they might not be as young and waif-like as the models, they don't fall into paroxysms of despair that they won't look as good as they do in the clothes because the whole effect is interpreted as a flight of fantasy and art. For the brief moment of presentation on the catwalk, the whole spectacle exists in an aesthetic bubble which is joyously removed from reality and normal life.

Unfortunately, just as the clothes will trickle down to the high street, so does the message that being skinny is a physical ideal. And that is where the fashion industry needs to look beyond the unhealthy images to which it has become immune, and develop a wider perspective on the social implications of the fantasies it presents. It might be art, but life often imitates art.

Carola Long is The Independent's deputy fashion editor

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: odd pub names, final polls in Scotland and war historians

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week