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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Union forever

Inspiration: When is thin too thin
Images: Fashion Spot and style.com

So those jaded New Yorkers at Bryant Park last week finally noticed that all is not well in the state of fashion. Eric Wilson's article in today's NY Times quotes Linda Wells, Allure editor, describing audience gasps at the sight of certain models: "“What becomes alarming is when you see bones and start counting ribs." Indeed. Finally an editor at a prominent magazine who is not taking Anna Wintour's crazy pills.

Wilson also found models who have not forgotten that the rest of the world does not find the living dead attractive. The thin, but not frighteningly so, Jessica Stam said, "I don'’t know if they are healthy or not, but I don't think the frail, fragile look is very feminine, and I don'’t think it'’s attractive." Right on, Jess.

Milla Jovovich went one step farther and actually demanded that steps be taken to fix this problem. She said, "There need to be more rules and regulations within the modeling industry. A lot of problems that are very gray areas need to be put in black and white." If only Jovovich's design partner Carmen Hawk shared her thinking. Hawk certainly looks like she could benefit from those clarifications:

Though the 'grey area' could be cleared if designers and their booking agents started hiring exclusively healthy looking models, I find it extremely unlikely that Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada will radically shift their aesthetic paradigm anytime soon.

If there are models out there who haven't completely internalized this aesthetic, then they have to make their voices heard -- models need to unionize.

Most models are Eastern European teenage girls living in the crowded apartments providing by various modeling agencies throughout NYC. These girls can hardly speak English and are here on work visas. If a 125lbs model is told to drop 5lbs by a booking agent, she's not going to tell that agent to fuck off --that would mean a one-way ticket back to Slovakia. Instead, she lives and dies on the whims of the fashion world, which is fine, to a point. Clothes, shoes, bags, hairstyles, and makeup are all whims of fashion. Preferences for certain ethnicities, gender presentations, and heights are also whims. However, these latter whims push the boundaries of social responsibility -- think underrepresented people of color, self-hatred, and painful high heels. Weight is an example of a quite dangerous whim because it seems so easy to manipulate. If you are short, you can't really take a pill to get taller. But if you're already tall, and you see weight as your barrier to success, then there are a lot of options available, and most aren't healthy.

A models' union would be able to provide support and resources for models who feel unduly exploited or pressured by their agencies. It should be SAG-like in structure, but have the unique concerns of young vulnerable women in mind. As in the case of actors, few models are irreplaceable (Kate and Gisele being the most notable exceptions). Because of their precarious position, models would have to unionize in secret, with support from successful models -- a tall order, since most popular models are barely 20 and are extremely busy trying to keep those nameless 16 year old Slovakians from taking their place. But if the actors could do it, I'm sure the models could too.

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