(Originally blogged October 30, 2009)
I generally stay out of the way of contemporary fashion because I only really appreciate clothing once it has a bit of history behind it. However, a recent news snippet revived the old debate about thin models and since its Halloween I thought a brief historical perspective on the skeletal body ideal might be timely…
The idea of using live mannequins to display clothes is barely a century old. The earliest use of models was for small fashion shows at couturier’s salons for prospective clients. Until the 1910s most fashions were depicted in publications by artistic rendition. The increasing popularity of photographs in catalogues and the new fashion magazine of the 1910s allowed artists to become less literal in their depiction of fashion. Drawn figures became more elongated in the 1920s to show how the fashions would look on unrealistically tall and slender models.
By the 1950s, atelier models, favoured for in-house fashion shows by designers, were not the favourite of fashion photographers, such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, who preferred photographing tall, physically striking models who were also part actress and could portray moods through their eyes and shoulder placement. Models like Dovima, Suzy Parker, and Sunny Harnett became famous in the 1950s for their slim, curvaceous, figures and expressive, physical beauty.
The style of models changed in the late 1960s when the ideal model’s figure became girlish rather than womanly. Skinny was in, with stick figures like Twiggy and Penelope Tree creating the look of the modern generation. 1970s models Lauren Hutton and Cheryl Tiegs had crossed over into acting by the age of the supermodel in the 1980s. The term supermodel had actually been around for decades, but it became THE fashion catchword of the late 20th century when celebrity models like Iman (Abdulmajid), Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista strutted down catwalks as easily as they graced the covers of Vogue and Elle. These top models were ridiculously tall, slim, and beautiful but health advocates and psychologists were now drawing conclusions between eating disorders in teenage girls and unrealistic weight goals and body measurements.
It looked like the industry was beginning to change a couple of years ago – some fashion shows weren’t hiring dangerously underweight models, and the Dove soap campaign for real beauty was encouraging a return to looking at real women with real figures as sex symbols. But the parade of malnourished starlets continue, remember Emily in the Devil Wears Prada? ’I’m only one bout of stomach flu away from my goal weight.’ A couple of weeks ago a brouhaha erupted over the cover of the Ralph Lauren catalogue that had an overly manipulated image of model Filippa Hamilton that frankly looks comically disproportionate but eating disorder groups didn’t find the humour in the Bratz doll proportioned computer model. However, perhaps we should look at the bright side — does this mean computer manipulation is the only way to achieve the ideal figure? Might as well go eat the Halloween candy then…
It gets worse: Filippa Hamilton fired for being too fat!