Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

We, world, are messed up; on the one hand, one in four adults in the UK is obese with that figure projected to double in the next 20 years. On the other, there is a widespread obsession with 'thinness', which is almost always blamed on the fashion industry. But, do nine year-olds read Vogue? No, they watch TV, and use the Internet.

On the Daily Mail website today, a quick count down the infamous sidebar-of-shame shows 24 different stories which refer in some way to a female celebrity's body, whether she is 'showing off her tiny tummy' or 'heading to the gym after her fast food slip up'. Vogue has a circulation of around 200,000 while the Daily Mail has 52 million unique visitors each month. Nobody has boycotted the Daily Mail or Heat magazine yet, so all of us who check the site or the read the magazine, even as a guilty pleasure, are feeding the monster.

A Kardashian hits the gym today to work off the burger she ate yesterday. 
The Daily Mail today uses this picture as confirmation of Drew Barrymore's pregnancy. WHAT?
Vogue, Elle or Grazia would never be able to write a story along the "look at her cellulite", "ooh she is thin" lines;  they would be villified. So how does the Daily Mail get away with it?  The readership is complicit.  However, judging by a triumvirate of comments coming from Camp Vogue this week the power players of fashion are sick of the culture of thinness in the media and are fighting back, and to my mind winning.

On Monday, Vogue's new Fashion Editor Fran Burns told Business of Fashion," I never want to make women look ugly or depressing or too thin or miserable. None of those things."  Also on Monday, Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani told Harvard University "We will do our best, but it will be impossible to fight this widespread idea of thinness all by ourselves". In an interview which she gave to The Guardian this weekend, British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman explained the thinness problem (which she has tried to address in the past by writing to the world's biggest designers) in this way-

'I find it very frustrating and I don't know quite where it comes from, but I think if I had to absolutely nail it, [it's] probably the designers, because they're the ones who are cutting the clothes so small. And if the girl can't fit into the clothes, then they won't get booked. So then you've got the model agent saying: 'You've got to lose weight.' And then, when it comes down the wire, the photographers – and to some extent the fashion editors – want to use the girls that they think are the cool girls, and the cool girls are the ones who have got to be working with the designers, so it kind of feeds itself'

I'd like to give high fashion magazines a break when it comes to this problem- they do seem to have a done a lot to address issues in the industry over the past few years. But it's hard, when on one side they are duty bound to use healthy but slim models for their pages, yet when it comes to actual celebrities their standards slip. They need girls like of of the moment, 'cool girls' like Alexa Chung on their pages, but if she were just a model they probably would not hire her because she is too thin. It is a catch 22.

Barely a week goes by when images of her wearing exactly the kind of fashion Vogue needs to feature are beamed around the world. Alexa in a Chris Kane dress or J.W Anderson paisley PJs are gold dust for British fashion. Alexa has become scarily thin of late yet she is still in Vogue and nobody dares mention it. There's a lot of skirting round the issue, like interviews which mention her playing with her food and sort of forgetting to eat it.

I think it IS terrifying that Alexa is the girl every fashion obsessed teen and twenty-something wants to be, but also that someone isn't making sure she's being looked after. We have to separate the fashion from the girl.

I hope people remember Alexa is not just a clothes horse (image from
If you have an eating disorder, then you ARE ugly, depressed and miserable. And I know, because I had anorexia for four years when I was a young teenager. I'm no psychiatrist but I would hazard a guess that my problem, and that of hundreds of thousands of others, is not really rooted in fashion magazines but in our relationships, genetics and personalities. In fact, I'd be quite offended if someone had tried to explain away my problem with a prescription of fashion cold turkey. As Hadley Freeman said in her brilliant column on this subject last year, 'eating disorders have existed for hundreds of years, predating, amazingly, Kate Moss'.

Maybe designers need to use a bit more fabric so that they can make their sample sizes more realistic. But that's not going to un-fuck-up a world where a normal sized person thinks they're fat or where it's fine to say 'oh my god, you're looking so skinny' but unheard of to tell an obese person that they're doing themselves no favours. I am really happy that Vogue is taking up this issue, but I hope that everyone else doesn't think it's just Vogue's battle to fight. It's really patronising to those suffering with eating disorders to tell them that their life threatening, debilitating illness has been brought on by them looking at some pictures of thin people in nice clothes.