Over the past week, France and Denmark have taken measures to end the unhealthy body standards that are currently the status quo in their fashion industries. France will likely ban unhealthily-thin models from working, fine the designers who hire them and imprison the modelling agencies who represent them, while Denmark has strengthened its Ethical Fashion Charter, which 300 industry bodies have signed, to ensure models are over 16 and models are paid for their work. At the other end of the scale, Australian model Stefania Ferrario has launched a social media campaign, via the hashtag #DropThePlus, to demand the fashion industry stop the "plus size" tag, because she believes it's "damaging to the minds of young girls".
When the news about the French legislation broke, and with our own premiere fashion event, Mercedes-Benz Australia Fashion Week, only a couple of weeks away, I called a couple of modelling agencies to ask what they thought about France's initiative, whether they felt France's concerns were legitimate, and whether Australia should consider instituting our own legislation to control the industry. No-one would comment on the record, not that it would have mattered, because the responses were vague at best, describing Australia as a healthy country and modelling agents as naturally nurturing and protective people. Their answers had nothing to do with my questions. I also talked to colleagues who work in the fashion industry, and we all concurred that, while a lot of models are perfectly healthy (I can't overstate how annoyed healthy, naturally thin models get by being constantly described as sick, and I sympathise with them on this), some models are unhealthily thin, and they are often unhealthily thin as the result of pressure from their agents. Over the years models have told me countless stories of weight loss being the stick and travelling overseas to work (which most young models really want to do) being the carrot. Some stick. Come to think of it, some carrot, too.
I guarantee you that everyone who works in the fashion industry would admit the weight, age and treatment of models in the industry is often cause for concern. But few are prepared to talk about it publically. The fashion industry is notoriously insular and relationship-based. In Heidi Klum's concise words: you burn a bridge, "you're out".
However, there are some great documentaries and stories that dig into the industry and try to uncover the issues, and basically conclude that the unrealistic body standards present within the industry are the result of the age at which models start, and the industry's obsession with youth.
1) Picture Me: A Model's Diary
Model Sarah Ziff was a successful model who, upon growing skeptical of industry and how it was affecting young women, started filming her experiences and interviewing other models.
2 Girl Model
There are no two ways about it: Girl Model is fucking depressing. It follows a former model-turned modelling agent who recruits 13 year-old girls from Siberia to deliver them to the Japanese market. The age at which girls start modelling is another delightful part of the industry.
3) About Face: Supermodels Then and Now
This documentary explores what happens when supermodels – who have built huge careers based on their youthful looks – age, and concludes that the industry's focus on age is destructive. It's worth watching for the hilarious quotes from Jerry Hall and the insightful quotes from Isabella Rossellini alone.
3) Advanced Style
This is supposed to be a heartwarming documentary that celebrates style at any age, but it's actually a pretty depressing expose of how youth and looks are revered over age, style and intelligence by society today.
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