It’s London Fashion Week, and with that comes the inevitable return to what has become known as ‘the size zero debate’. The question posed by most journalists when naively attempting to cover a story on the subject is whether or not the fashion industry is to blame for the rise in cases of Eating Disorders, more often than not lazily jumping to the conclusion that yes, this constant bombardment of skinny ‘role models’ forces girls and women to ‘become’ anorexic. If only life were that simple.
As a recovering Anorexic and Bulimic, I can tell you quite simply (if you ask me directly, quite abruptly) that no, the fashion world is most definitely not, nor has it ever been the sole cause of the development of an Eating Disorder. Just as Marilyn Manson was the scapegoat for the Columbine shootings, the media points the finger at what to them is the most likely explanation – or with regards to size zero, sells the most copies of their magazine. The tired conclusion that stick insect models and rake thin celebrities are behind the huge number of people suffering with Eating Disorders only perpetuates the stereotypical belief that Anorexia is a lifestyle choice – a diet gone too far. This presumption angers me beyond belief. Throughout years of treatment being an inpatient, outpatient and using internet support forums, I have not met one single person who claims that images in the media have played a part in them forming an Eating Disorder. I can assure you that nobody makes a conscious decision to become so ill that they have to spend months or years in hospital away from their loved ones, be force fed through a naso-gastric tube or observed around the clock with not an ounce of dignity to their name. I would not wish any aspect of this illness on my worst enemy (not that I have any, but a saying is a saying): to generalise it to the point of accusing catwalk models belittles those who fall victim to it and completely dismiss the sheer complexity of Eating Disorders as a whole.
Returning to Fashion Week, it is important to observe where the interest now lies. In comparison to years gone by, the vast majority are more concerned and more familiar with the names of the designers – Luella, Balmain and Christopher Kane are acknowledged and recognised above the models who walk the runways. Of course, there are still big names such as Agyness Deyn and Lily Cole, but their popularity pails in comparison to the supermodels of the 80s and 90s – the emphasis and praise now tends to lean towards the talent, the brains behind the season’s collections rather than the walking coat hangers. Models are chiselled, robotic, zombie-like and expressionless – to see a smile on the catwalk is sadly a rarity and their often shocking thinness is certainly a worry and I do feel that it should be compulsory for agencies to take more care of the models they sign up (health checks, nutritionists and strict rules to prevent overworking), but their job is to be a blank canvas on which to demonstrate the skill of the designer, nothing more, nothing less.
Despite my passionate views against the notion that images of these women causes Eating Disorders, this is not to say that they are not damaging. Seeing models as unnaturally thin as those used on runways and printed in magazines certainly has a negative impact on what women regard as acceptable, and possibly due to how often we are confronted with the ultra skinny look, it has unfortunately become something that many women aspire to replicate in their own Weight Watchers and Special K filled lives. It seems that the gossip magazine culture in which we live has almost forced women to become impressionable and vulnerable, believing that the utterly unrealistic pictures of airbrushed models are attainable. We are pressured into thinking that we should do what we can to mirror that false ideal, forgetting that those we idolise have personal trainers, nutritionists, stylists, makeup artists and more importantly, that the average size for British women is a 14 – 16. Using fad diets in a desperate attempt to achieve such extremely unreachable ideals is a load of codswallop. Again, although they may not be dangerous with regards to the development of Eating Disorders, this obsession with wanting to be thin and fit in with a certain kind of appearance is dangerous in that it can and does perpetuate a worrying lack of self esteem amongst women. Magazines plastered with models with washboard stomachs, ribs sticking out all over the place and tips on how to lose a stone in ten days may not be to blame for Anorexia (although they may help perpetuate the illness), but they are to blame for promoting the message that we should work against what nature has bestowed upon us and that an unhealthy weight is more acceptable and admired than a natural, womanly figure.
There are, however, exceptions to this and more and more we are seeing movements against size zero idealism. The Dove Campaign, Gok Wan and Colleen’s ‘Real Women’ are refreshing examples to women that it is ok to be a normal, healthy size and weight. If we must look up to celebrities in the way that the Western world seems to have to, then we should celebrate the beauty and confidence in people such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Dita Von Teese. Even designers themselves, ever chastised for providing ridiculously tiny sized samples of clothing are now making a name by dressing big names regardless of their size (think Matthew Williamson for Beth Ditto). We’re a long way off a rosy future filled with grinning size 16 models or office workers happily chomping down chocolate bars without thinking they’re being ‘naughty’ and Heat magazine will continue to obsess over who has lost x amounts of weight, but it isn’t all doom and gloom if we don’t let it be that way. Let us just sit back, relax, forget all of this size zero nonsense and see this year’s London Fashion Week as it is supposed to be seen, as a celebration of 25 years of British Fashion.