Diversity in Fashion? The Eternal Struggle Against the Standards of Beauty

The normalization of Size 0

Miraculous diets and liposuction don’t necessarily alleviate women’s worries about their bodies. Nine out of ten woman aren’t happy with how they look, and almost all of us want to lose weight or fix something they dislike physically. Sacrifices for beauty have always existed, however, the obsession with thinness only started to be considered the “standard of beauty” beginning in the 1960s. Currently, many women struggle to attain an unachievable and nearly impossible to get.  But why?

the ever iconically curvy Monroe

During the ’40s and ’50s, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor won all the attention and admiration with their winding curves and generous hips, but on 60s, when models like Twiggy was discovered, everything changed and size 6 began to be the rule. “I do think some of today’s models get too thin for their own good because they’re pressured into it, but models are always going to be skinny. I even got blamed for anorexia back in the 60s, which was unfair because I ate like a horse. If I told you what I used to eat back then you’d laugh. I probably eat a third of that now,” the iconic English model told the Daily Mail.

According to the French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky, author of “Empire of the Ephemeral”, a lean form is something extremely liberating for women. This is because previously, the rounded shapes symbolized motherhood; the thinness was a way to get rid of the reproductive role of the woman and its secular imposition. But that subject took such proportions that it got out of control. We do understand that its easier for designers to present their collections  a woman who is 180cm tall and weighs less than 45kg, much like the painter prefers a blank canvas to create his art. Karl Lagerfeld, designer of Chanel, for example, really believes that models must be thin, and think those who disagree are jealous of their lithe frames.

“These are fat mummies who sit with bags of potato chips in front of the television saying that thin models are ugly,” he told Focus magazine. He insisted that fashion is all about dreams and illusions. “Nobody wants to see a round woman,” he continued. Lagerfeld has notably subjected himself to a rigorous slimming routine himself: “I lost 15 kilos and all my clothes looked just right again.”

image courtesy of mirror.co.uk; pin thin supermodel Stella Tennant walks for Chanel
image courtesy of mirror.co.uk; pin thin supermodel Stella Tennant walks for Chanel

Kirstie Clements, former editor of Vogue Australia, tried to explain how the business works in her book The Vogue Factor. “Designer outfits are created around a live, in-house skeleton. Few designers have a curvy or petite fit model. These collections are then sent to the runway, worn by tall, pin-thin models because that’s the way the designer wants to see the clothes fall.”

The editor said that she didn’t have many options. “As a Vogue editor I was of the opinion that we didn’t necessarily need to feature size 14-plus models in every issue. It is a fashion magazine; we are showcasing the clothes. I am of the belief that an intelligent reader understands that a model is chosen because she carries clothes well. Some fashion suits a curvier girl, some doesn’t. I see no problem with presenting a healthy, toned, Australian size 10. But as sample sizes from the runway shows became smaller, 10 was no longer an option and the girls were dieting drastically to stay in the game.”

One of these cases is Erin Heatherton, former Victoria’s Secret Angel. She opened up about how her decision to quit the catwalk was brought on by pressure from the brand to lose weight in a interview with Motto. “My last two Victoria’s Secret shows, I was told I had to lose weight. I look back, like, “Really? I was really depressed because I was working so hard and I felt like my body was resisting me.”

image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk; Heatherson's Instagram post
image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk; Heatherson’s Instagram post

The American model also posted  a photo on Instagram of herself with a black tank top displaying the text, ‘Empowered by Failure’, which she captioned: ‘The breakdown to breakthrough moment in my life has allowed me to become the truest version of myself. In my moment of ‘failure’, I stood in the face of adversity. I was struggling with my body image and the pressures to fulfill the demands of perfectionism upon me. I am not perfect.”

Challenging standards

Despite the normalcy of extreme thinness, some designers and style icons are trying to change this “standard of beauty”. But these moves were very much the exception, not the rule, in the fashion world. During New York Fashion Week in 2015, per example, Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet each featured a plus-size model, Candice Huffine and Beth Ditto respectively, and mega model Ashley Graham has recently launched her plus-size lingerie line.

“Yesterday, a question I’ve received for most of my career, ‘When are you going to walk in Fashion Week?’ was finally answered — the right way,” Huffine told Glamour magazine the day after Theallet’s show. “I couldn’t imagine a better debut than for Sophie Theallet. There’s no one like her, and I’m beyond proud to be a part of her efforts to celebrate diversity and showcase the beauty of all women. It was an absolute honor to be a part of one of the most diverse runways you’ll see.”

Actress and comedian Amy Shumer is another example of an icon that challenges the stereotype. She appeared on the cover of major fashion magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, and has made a personal mission out of illustrating the absurdity in seeking perfection, all along the way reminding women everywhere to love the skin they’re in.

image courtesy of vanity fair.com; a shot from Schumer's editorial
image courtesy of vanity fair.com; a shot from Schumer’s editorial

“A struggle for me my whole life…Going to put jeans on or things that I see girls in magazines or on TV wearing wasn’t agreeing with my body type. You feel bad and wrong. It creates so much anxiety. It’s really exciting for me to be in a position to say, what about loving yourself how you are. What about saying this is how I look and I’m beautiful and I’m strong . . . You’re not going to be what everybody loves. But you have to love yourself. Making the decision to do that is something you can actually do.” Shumer said during a recent Today Show appearance.

Even Adele said that she would only lose weight if it affected her health or sex life, because she “makes music for the ears, not for the eyes.” However, over the past year, the singer felt she had to start exercising to increase her fitness for her new world tour, and to be healthier for her son. Even though she has lost some weight, it doesn’t mean that she wants to be a size 0. or even thin for that matter.

“I was trying to get some stamina for my tour so I lost a bit of weight. Now I can fit into normal, off-the-shelf clothes, which is really a big problem for me. It’s to get in shape for myself, not to be like a size zero or anything like that,” she explained to Vogue.

While the runways are still 99 percent made up of miniscule-sized models, the demand for more body diversity is growing. Whether it’s to a supermodel or someone else, people will always compare their bodies to someone else’s that are deemed better or more desirable. Instead of comparing, we need to focus on self-acceptance. There is no good or bad, right or wrong body.