Christina Patterson: Fashion's denial of the skeleton in its closet

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For anyone who hasn't yet seen the film of Sex and the City (that's the entire male population of the world and the odd woman who's been on Mars), let me sum up how it's likely to make you feel. (If you're female, of course.) Irritated. Envious. Amused. Sympathetic. Relieved. Fat.

Never mind the shoes (fine for a drag queen, love) and the clothes (ditto) and the ih-shoes (should you forgive an infidelity? go down on one knee to propose? have Botox?), the real question blazing through the entire pseudo-narrative was this: how could a man (even a jowly, louche-looking, hopeless man) be so enamoured of a woman who looked as though she had been put together from bits of scrag-end and a butcher's job-lot of knobbly bone? And how, when another character (whose very name is a testament to her ability to swallow men whole) turns up at a party in a top revealing a midriff clothed not just in skin, but a minuscule layer of something approximating human flesh, did it trigger the kinds of screams you might expect to greet reports on US government spending on semi-bogus security contracts in Iraq (if the characters were to bother their coiffed little heads with such things)?

The answer to the first question is, I think, not that "Big" (ego? dick? bank account?) was so seduced by the cadences of Carrie Bradshaw's coruscating columns that he decided to turn a blind, charitable eye to her scrawniness, but that he, and she, and everyone in the universe of the film, thought that this was how a woman was supposed to look. Which makes the answer to the second question self-evident. And after two hours in Holloway Road Odeon, I almost felt the same.

Carrie is, however, obese compared to the latest additions to the "development" stable at Elite, one of the most prestigious modelling agencies in the world. Its website (until a few days ago) has given star billing to a young woman called Allyson Ertel, whose cadaverous face looms over a skeletal frame. She's one of a number of models on the site who look, quite literally, as though they have been frogmarched straight from Bergen-Belsen to the make-up studio at Vogue.

Yes, two years after two Latin-American models died from eating disorders, and a year after an inquiry was launched to "address any material size-related health concerns" at London Fashion Week, and at a time when a leading catwalk model has turned whistleblower on the industry, explaining how at 5ft 9in and 7st 7lb she was told she was "too plump", and when our TV screens are again filled with pictures of starving Ethiopian children, up to half of whom, a charity worker said yesterday, will die if urgent measures aren't taken to feed them, the so-called "gaunt" look is back. Never mind the British holy grail of a size 12. A size 8 is too big to be a model. So is a size 6. It's back to size 4, otherwise known (in the international lexicon of the celebrity mag) as size zero.

It was, as Tanya Gold reminded us in these pages this week, Wallis Simpson who said you "can't be too rich or too thin". You can, actually. And you can be too stupid, too. Too stupid to realise that perpetuating this grotesque image of the human animal in a state of extreme emaciation as the standard of contemporary beauty is damaging the lives and health of millions of women around the world, as we swing, in the face of an impossible, horrible, obscene ideal, between starving and stuffing ourselves to death. And while the fashion industry pootles around with green this and ethical that, it ignores the biggest moral issue of them all. Shame on them for selling us this myth. Shame on us for buying it.

An atheist (almost) to the end

Perhaps it's because he looks a bit like the Archbishop of Canterbury, or perhaps it's because, as he very bravely told the world, he's losing his mind (to a truly horrible disease), but the famous atheist Terry Pratchett, near-genius creator of fantasy worlds, has, apparently, succumbed to one himself. "I suddenly knew," he said in an interview this week, "that everything was OK". "On the other side of physics," he added, "there just may be an ordered structure from which everything flows." Well, who knows, there might be – though, as we all know, from Bush, and Blair, and Bin Laden, suddenly "knowing" something is rarely an indication of anything very reliable. Still, I hope it's some consolation. Next up, Richard Dawkins.

* "So why," a man asked me in Pisa last week, "don't you want to join the euro?" I sighed. Actually, I wanted to say, I really want us to join the euro. I really want not to watch my car hire, and my prosciutto and my gelato costing me a quarter more than it did this time last year, and I really want to be a proper part of a proper Europe.

But my Italian wasn't quite up to explaining how the mechanisms of the euro and Europe, as opposed to the food, people and scenery, and the fiddling with treaties, clauses and expenses while Rome (or its Romany population) burns, fills even a journalist at the daily coalface of political comment with the kind of weariness that has you dashing to the nearest Carluccio's for the strongest macchiato you can find.

It's hard to see how so much public money could be used to so little effect. Bring back the Romans, Ottomans, or the Greeks. Actually, bring on the Chinese. It's going to happen anyway, so we might as well get it over with.

Comments