weighty issues

The whole issue of skinny models is still raging on, while stories appearin left, right, and centre in the media about models and anorexia (The Guardian had a recent feature on a Brazilian model that died of anorexia-related causes), and on style-conscious blogs (Style Bubble was one of the many that did a post).

Actually it's nice to see that the issue hasn't died down after the whole hoopla last year with Madrid Fashion Week implementing their rules about a minimum BMI (thus introducing to the world what BMI is). The Council of Fashion Designers in America (CFDA) formed a panel to debate on the issue and draw up guidelines on educating young women about weight issues.

"Designers share a responsibility to protect women, and very young girls in particular, within the business, sending the message that beauty is health," read the guidelines. "The fashion industry [will] begin a campaign of awareness and create an atmosphere that supports the well-being of these young women", read the guidelines.

Suggestions from the Diane Von Furstenberg-led panel include asking designers to do things such as not hire models under 16 for runway shows; not allowing girls under 18 to work past midnight; provide healthy meals and snacks backstage at fashion shows and ban smoking and the consumption of alcohol; and educate the industry through workshops about eating disorders.

Perhaps in it's just a savvy PR move on the part of the American fashion industry (like Anna Wintour's very forced interview with Barbara Walters; see it on youtube), but I don't recall such a concerted effort in recent fashion history to deal with this problem. The Italian fashion organisation Camera Della Moda Italiana is also considering introducing measures to prevent any catwalk models at risk appearing at Milan Fashion Week in February. More recently, the British Fashion Council, which organises London Fashion Week, has prepared similar guidelines that it will eventually send to all designers and modelling agencies

Here in Singapore, we don't seem to have faced such an uproar over the same issues, perhaps because body image issues are not so often debated here (and possibly not considered an issue). This is not to say Singaporeans have no body image issues - just that not enough people have died yet for the masses to suddenly up and go, 'That's not right."

I've always been concerned about the type of women's magazines that constantly feature "Get Thin Quick" headlines and endless variations of diets and eating fads. Women are unconsciously influenced to equate thin with beautiful, and the publications here are just not doing enough to address that - there's no celebrations of different shapes (like American Vogue's "Shape" issue).

Worst of all are the slimming ads featuring slimming food products or treatments that are the bane of my existence. In any other more civic-minded country, such ads would have been banned or actively protested against on the basis that they are outrageous lies created to fool naive women. Advertisting regulating councils have forced them to include disclaimers and changed their language so that no empty promises are made, but what's the use? They still feature half a page in newspapers and entire advertorials in magazines.
Local fashion magazines need to get more professional here, especially the most widely-read ones like Her World, Female, and Cleo. They feature irresponsibly-researched, poorly-written articles, and deceptive advertorials that look like editorials - all of which has serious repercussions when their articles are being read by women who believe that there must be some form of legitimacy in the published word.

So while I don't believe in model-bashing (there is such a thing as a naturally skinny woman, we come in all sizes), I think it's heartening that all the noise made last year has not died down, but has seemingly gone on to create a more responsible role for the fashion industry to play.

In Singapore, it's a social norm for consumers to bear the most risk when they consume something, including fashion and fashion magazines, but it would make for a nice change for the publishing industry to play active, rather than reactionary role instead. In the words of fashion columnist Sarah Mower, "Clothes are fun, take them seriously." She was talking about fashion as a whole, but I think it's highly relevant here. Yes fashion is on most levels, a celebration of the frivolous, but let's not sacrifice the more important things entirely for the shallow.


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