Ethical Dilemma: Fit vs. Fat in Fashion

What do you think? Are fat and fashion like chalk and cheese? Or are we missing the boat by looking at this as a vanity issue rather than discussing what really matters — our health?

The most recent issue of BUST magazine quotes Kate Winslet saying, “There are two things I’ve never been offered: one is cocaine, the other is a body double.” It resonated with me. Kate has been my ideal body type since I was 16 years old. Kate wasn’t skinny,  Kate wasn’t fat – just healthy.

Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that I used to weigh 82 kg. I laugh, ha – neither can I. It’s hard to see myself at that size.  Four years later, I’m somewhere around 126 pounds and about a size 4. I threw out the scale years ago, knowing the number the screen displayed could never equate to my self worth.

I thought I’d achieved an enlightened state the day I tossed that foul thing out the back window of my Santa Monica home. While a milestone in accepting my body as it was, it couldn’t correct the years of negative psychological influence that media had instilled. I knew I hadreached an acceptable weight about two years ago, but the hindrance of working in an industry and living in a city (Los Angeles) where what you wear and what you look like equate to your value, you marketability and how far you could potentially go was too much. I kept going, I couldn’t stop.body-image

A size 8 crept to a size 6, followed by a 4. Size 4 was acceptable –– the minimum. But still, I wasn’t the woman that graced the pages of Vogue. I yearned to be even thinner, that equated to marketability. That equated to being desirable. The pressure and stress left me me at 50kg. Did you know that bone (the bones of a human skeleton) weighs only 117. Too thin. I looked like death, body catatonic. I came back, size 4 okay.

Because of the idealistic forms set by the fashion industry – an industry I love, pulses through my veins on a daily basis, that causes insatiable cravings and occasional sleep loss, I’ve been damaged.

Today, I don’t deprive myself of food,  I love myself too much to inadvertently kill myself.  But I exercise. 1 – 1.5 hours per day, to maintain my current weight and support my food consumption. Being any bigger isn’t an option.  That’s what our industry has left me with. And while I hate the ideals of being dangerously thin (yes, I disagree with Anna Wintour’s ideal of women being walking skeleton-like coat hangers), I can’t accept a woman on the cover of LOVE magazine – obscenely obese. Both extremes equate to death in my mind. We have to find a happy medium.

As fashion marketers and industry professionals: Ultimately, we have to define what’s healthy, what’s acceptable, what’s desirable – and WE HAVE TO BELIEVE IT.

In an industry that turns a deaf ear when told by consumers “we don’t want air bushed,” how can you find the definition of healthy?

Read Sarah Sternberg‘s Article, Fat is a Fashion Issue: The Business of being Obese:

Anna Wintour’s explosive interview on 60 Minutes, in which she glossed over eating disorders like anorexia to focus on the growing problem of obesity (one choice quote: “I had just been on a trip to Minnesota, where I can only kindly describe most of the people I saw as ‘little houses’”), sparked a media furor. In light of Vogue’s uncompromising position on weight (Wintour infamously asked Oprah to lose weight for a cover shoot and put the Rodarte sisters on a diet), we started to wonder — are fat and fashion ever compatible?Contradictory trends seem to be emerging from the world of media and of retailers. Whilst established labels and stores are cutting their plus-size clothing or moving these lines online or into less visible spots in store, larger designs aimed at a younger, more style-conscious customer are flourishing, as shown by Forever 21’s decision to launch their own plus-size line, Faith.

Does this mean that fat is no longer acceptable for middle-aged women, but is being embraced by retailers appealing to the young, fast-fashion crowd? With obesity amongst children and youth on the increase, are these stores simply tapping into a new market? Or are they indirectly encouraging teens to continue down an unhealthy path by removing one of the most cited “problems” with being young and fat?Then there’s the media. While Vogue’s line (of a BMI under 21) is clear, a recent Conde Nast project in the UK, the inimitably stylish Love magazine, featured the outspoken plus-size feminist/musician Beth Ditto as the cover star for their debut issue. Were they making a statement, or simply courting scandal? While we don’t know anyone who aspires to look like Ditto, the curvy silhouette of Mad Men’s Joan Holloway (actress Christina Hendricks) is a completely different story. And even her figure is deemed “shocking” enough to warrant comment: Last fall the LA Times wondered if she was ‘too plump for primetime’ whilst more recently the Sunday Times in London celebrated her presence as a ‘triumph of curves’.

For now, it looks as if the debate will continue to rage — women’s bodies have been the subject of public scrutiny since forever. Wintour’s comments may have added fuel to the fire, but it will take more than Ditto’s voluptuous body on the cover of Love to fully extinguish it.

What do you think? Are fat and fashion like chalk and cheese? Or are we all missing the boat by looking at this as a vanity issue rather than discussing what really matters — our health?

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  • Reply
    June 5, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Thank you for this piece. One of “the guys” is a psychotherapist and has spent time working in the Stanford Childrens Hospital Eating Disorder clinic. We applaued your candor on this topic. The sad truth about much of the images portraid in fashion is not coming from regular guys, rather it is often coming from a small group of men and women. This issue needs to continue being confronted head on if it is to change. We can speak for hours on this. We will proudly share this article with everyone. If anyone cares to take up the issue, go out and find shallow damaging tweets and openly #twitslam them. @twitslam

  • Reply
    June 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    This issue always seems to devolve into big girls saying “Big is beautiful, skinny girls look like boys and need to eat a cheeseburger,” and skinny girls saying “We have fit issues with clothing too, the grass isn’t perfectly green over here, and stop calling us teen boys, why don’t you get on a treadmill”. If health really is the issue, then as much as we need to be free to acknowledge that starving yourself to a BMI of 17 is unhealthy, sitting on the couch all day and wolfing down McDonalds in a mumu is also unhealthy.Calling the fashion industry’s standards sexist and extreme doesn’t justify reveling in obesity and this dialogue often seems to turn into that.

    I think the fashion industry could (and should) show healthy women in their clothing and still sell them but that means women with a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, not 25+.

  • Reply
    AV Flox
    June 5, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    I am heartened by your journey to self love. I think this is an important journey for everyone to make.

    I have to confess, though, that this issue causes me some degree of distress. I’ve never hit 18 on the BMI. I’ve always been between 16.5 and 17.5. I’m tall and thin, but in proportion and according to the doctors I have had throughout my life, healthy.

    Some people don’t know how this is possible. The BMI! THE BMI! I hate the damn BMI.

    It’s just not a proper diagnostic devise and was never intended to be. The BMI is a simple statistical measurement that basically compares a person’s weight to their height by dividing one’s weight to the square of their height (mathematically, the fact that the height is squared and not cubed is totally arbitrary. Someone decided that was how it would be and so that’s how it is). It was created to help physicians loosely define a patient’s obesity without having to use any equipment beyond a scale. It was never meant to become a barometer for health or the authority on which to base medical diagnosis.

    The BMI doesn’t take a person’s frame into account. It’s defaulted to individuals who are physically inactive. It doesn’t account for fat or muscle or bone or water weight, either. (And bone weight varies from one individual to another, mine are less heavy than 40kg.) A perfect example of how flawed this thing is are athletes who, due to muscle being denser than fat, tend to be considered obese by the BMI. Another are the elderly who tend to have lower bone densities and are thus defined as underweight.

    We come in difference shapes and sizes and that includes slim and tall.

    I have dealt with people telling me to eat a cheeseburger or a stick of butter–unprompted–all my life. I have had women tell me they wish magazines would put “real women” on their covers, as though somehow women like me are not quite real, like we’re cartoons. Enemy cartoons that should be blotted out and never mentioned because we might offend the “full-bodied girls.” What the hell are we? Half-bodied girls?

    Fashion magazines are the last safe haven. You can’t stand in line at the grocery store for a pack of gum without seeing the covers of tabloids, “SICKLY SKINNY!” “TOO THIN” “ANOREXIC!” “SKELETOR!”

    Yes, eating disorders are a problem. Obesity is a problem. But calling people names or making them feel disqualified is not the way to make anyone’s body image improve. LOVE may be on to something. Put the icons on the cover of every body type. Show us the great scope of human figures. Anything other than criticize one or the other like this is somehow going to solve anything.

    I may not be Kate Winslet–I may only weigh 108lbs. But I’m healthy, too.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2009 at 3:34 am

    You fail to understand a simple concept here – anorexia is a disease. Obesity is not.

    Obesity is one simple thing – a person with a BMI over 30. That’s it. It doesn’t mean that individual is sick, diseased, or “obscenely” ugly. It doesn’t mean that person eats all day and doesn’t exercise. There are plenty of “normal” people in this world who do the same thing. Health is not exclusively tied to weight anymore.

    Women with underweight BMI numbers have higher mortality rates than women with “morbidly obese” BMI numbers. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of ANY mental disease. How many people drop dead from “obesity” between the ages of 15 and 24? How about none? How many people with anorexia drop dead between the ages of 15 and 24? It’s 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15-24.

    Please get your facts straight.

  • Reply
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    August 4, 2009 at 3:31 am

    lots of americans and europeans are getting obese these days because of over-eating. people should be controlling what they eat or they should workout their body to burn fat.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Great article!

  • Reply
    May 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    thank you

  • Reply
    June 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Thanks Timada!

  • Reply
    Marguerite Darlington
    June 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you! There have been lots of updates on this topic recently, including Israel’s ban on models who have a BMI that’s too low:

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