September and October 2015 saw the annual AW fashion weeks in the most prestigious fashion capitals of the world. The events showcase the autumn and winter trends from designers at the top end of the haute couture spectrum, down to new and upcoming designers hoping to break into the industry.
Since Anna Wintour’s reign over the Vogue Empire, the world of modelling has been pushed into the limelight with many of the girls being considered ‘celebrities’. Wintour was the first Vogue editor to feature a celebrity on the front cover, which, at the time, was a ground breaking move from the young editor who had come from GQ. It was a move that faced criticism, but ultimately pushed towards changing attitudes in the industry that would shape it into what it is today, with models like Kendall Jenner coming from reality TV, Cara Delevigne from a rich family and now working in film, and of course Kate Moss who can be found in gossip magazines almost weekly.
The backlash of this evolution, however, are that models are now under public scrutiny more than ever. Fashion Week has forever been condemned by the masses for its use of excessively ‘skinny’ models, with France being especially notorious for what some suspect to be anorexic girls. The realities of the fashion world are not glamorous, as designer houses are after a pre-pubescent-like figure on which their designs will sit perfectly. This is problematic as very few models over 16 are able to maintain this body image via healthy means, hence the estimated 40% of models with eating disorders.
Wintour’s changes in the industry and the subsequent fame of many models may have acted as a catalyst for many countries to be called to act, and the British Fashion Council to produce the Model Health Inquiry. Madrid has also implemented a Body Mass Index (BMI) regulator at its fashion week which deems a model with a BMI below 18.5 unfit to walk at any show.
Using BMIs to regulate models has been one of the biggest arguments put forward by many as a way to eradicate the use of underweight and unhealthy models. France especially has been called to follow suit and Britain has also faced much pressure to implement the system.
Measures of BMIs have a history, however, of being considered problematic for their overly simplistic use of data and not taking into consideration many factors that could affect the reading. A professional rugby player, for example, will often have a very high muscle/fat ratio in comparison to other non-players of the same height. This leaves the rugby player with a very high BMI which, medically, makes them overweight or even obese. This is obviously not the case, but it demonstrates the flaws in the use of BMIs, particularly if it is the only measure being used to analyse someone’s health.
There is clearly an issue within the industry and many designer houses are accused, with just cause, of promoting an unhealthy body image to the general population – particularly younger girls. Equally the increasing use of Photoshop on editorial covers has been deemed to cause the same problem, and many people are calling for a ban on its use.
But if the driving force behind this global outcry and subsequent inquiries like that of the British Fashion Council is that young people are being subjected to a distorted picture of what ‘beauty’ is, then surely similar regulations should be put in place for others who have access to a highly viewed performance space? Musicians, actors, TV personalities and many more public figures are watched everyday by the masses, and are on equal footing, if not even more so, than these models to be seen as ‘role models’ and affect the outlook of younger people on their own bodies.
Those canvassed by the British inquiry concluded that the use of BMIs during fashion week would act as a “blunt instrument” which could actually lead to binging before weigh-ins and perhaps increase the 40% of eating disorders or worsen those existing. The problem of weight and body image in the industry is a highly complex one, and the use of BMI is far too simplistic to even attempt to combat it. This is why, ultimately, the Council did not support this system and it will not be implemented.