Use of Larger Models Does Not Equal Higher Prevalence of Obesity

by Barb on July 8, 2011

crystal renn chanel Use of Larger Models Does Not Equal Higher Prevalence of Obesity

Plus-sized model Crystal Renn featured in 2010 Chanel ad campagin

For the last couple of days, the focus on renowned stylist Nicola Formichetti has been anything but positive since W Magazine released Formichetti’s anecdote on working at Dazed and Confused with “fat people:”

“I was only used to dressing models and skinny kids, and I turned up and it was, like, three fat guys. I just left. That was the last time I tried to work with fat people.”

While the stylist has told fans not to believe everything that is published via his Facebook (as reported by Jezebel), he has stopped short of saying that the magazine has misquoted him. In any case, it isn’t so much what the Thierry Mugler’s creative director has said that bothers me, but rather the rationale of the UK based Stylenoir magazine, which I find troublesome.

The magazine attempts to synthesize an argument by simply stating that “[s]ociety looks to fashion for what to aim for … the fashion world is not reality. It is a projection, a make-believe place, to inspire and impact society.” And upon first glance of what I have quoted, it seems as though that there is a layer of truth in what has been said; however, what proves to be the major fault in the argument is the meat of it: “[i]f we then replace these sizes with a larger size, there is nothing to aspire to. Then where is the target? As a result obesity becomes an even greater epidemic.”

The misconstrued shift in alignment of cause and effect is something that might pose as the perfect case study or exercise for first year economics students. There is a lot more complexity about the concept of aspiration and the subsequent consequences than a simple “if A moves forward, so will B.” This idea that fashion generates aspiration lies in the most popular mediums consumed – advertisements and editorials – which both rely on societal factors and values, as opposed to solely proposing their own.

Advertisements are reflections of societal aspirations and dreams; note that I have said “advertisements,” and not specifically “fashion.” The power of the image conveys what we imagine and desire on a variety of levels. Fashion in itself is a means of self-expression, articulating a point of view that we may have or a stance that we take. For instance, we can see the emergence of subcultures, which may oppose the hegemonic values and culture of a particular mainframe. Granted, there is the commercial aspect to fashion, what with trends and brands; both of which we often associate with the concept of the “industry.” The transmission of messages vary and mostly seek to direct the audience to equivocating the purchasing of a product to a particular lifestyle or goal. With that said, when we analyze images, we often note the slender body and associate that with a desire; however, we cannot take that analysis and apply to it another scenario, which we believe to be similar. The multiplicity of advertisements does not lend to the changing of one variable and the production of a completely different message and result.

And on the more artistic level, there are the editorial, which are in essence, the true point of reference to aspiration and the imagined; advertisements are also composed of such elements, but lean quite heavily towards the commercial component. I do concede to the fact that editorials also promote product, but there is a trade off in which artistic direction is elevated and product promotion slightly decreased. Coming back to the idea of multiplicity in an image, it is essential to refer to theorist Roland Barthes’ idea of fashion photography, which is composed of three levels: literal, romanticized, and mockery. It is to say and illustrate the depth of an image and the many routes that are possible for its artistic direction.

To add, there is a distinguished line between obesity and larger sizes (than industry standard) – the two are by no means synonymous. Unfortunately, a lot of people do use the terms interchangeably; and because Western society roots itself in this “win and be thin” mentality, it is supported and propelled. Addressing the root of this idealization of this body shape is for another discussion (because of the considerable length and time that it would take for me to delve into). Anyway, it takes much more than an advertisement for a person to be obese, under medical classification, and relies on a number of factors (socioeconomic, lifestyle, etc.). In other words, Stylenoir makes a poor comparison with no grounds for exaggeration (there are times in which exaggeration can lead to greater emphasis, but only when it has some truth).

In considering the aforementioned, what the use of larger models may do, in lieu of “furthering” an obesity epidemic, is provide affirmation of the female form. Many women, in actuality, are no where near model sizes or anything of the such – the average size of the American woman is 14 – and in seeing something that resembles themselves, there is an opportunity for them to better embrace themselves, as opposed to eating more. Even in writing the last sentence, I wonder what logic is there in seeing a poster with women that are larger than a size 4, and then wanting to eat a copious amounts of food to keep us on the same ratio/scale.

crystal renn vogue paris october 2010 Use of Larger Models Does Not Equal Higher Prevalence of Obesity

Maybe if plus-size model Crystal Renn was diving into pasta like she is here, then I would want to eat more because of an image using a larger model

Images courtesy of Josual Molou and La Mode de l’Amour


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