THERE are those who simply purchase clothes to fit them. Then there are those who fit themselves around their clothes. These people do not wear but inhabit their raiment; they mould themselves to suit the contours of the season. These are the people who have always read Vogue.

This month, readers of fashion's holy book will learn in 19 international editions of its newest diktat. This month, Vogue has ruled that fashion must get ''real''. We can only imagine this is a terrible shock for many. Being ''real'' was never in the fashionista job description. Nonetheless, Vogue has declared its intention to make the message ''Health is Beauty'' global.

This autumn, health is beauty. Perhaps by spring, health will be passe and fashionable women can begin purging again. Who knows? Only Vogue does.

Vogue knows everything there is to know about fashion. It has long been the principal visual guide to elite, farcically priced couture.

While it's true that emerging media have eaten away at its dominance, the magazine is still read with a passion that borders on mania. So, when Vogue does a piece on Kirrily Johnston's ''sexy nun'' look, you'd better start pole-dancing for Jesus. Now.

Such caprice is, depending on your view, either the best thing or the worst thing about fashion. Either way, it is the thing about an art form that has always been in love with its own fast-vanishing urgency. Part of the pleasure of fashion has always been its revulsion for lasting truth, and part of the genius of Vogue has been its long-standing ability to celebrate this meaninglessness in beautiful pictures.

Vogue and the work it so masterfully represents has always moved to adolescent rhythms.

You can read this in the breathless, confident prose of writers who are certain that structural jackets are out, out, out and you can see this in the quixotic photo spreads that seem to suggest that the practice of wearing barbells in one's hair is in, in, in.

Grace Coddington, the well-regarded creative director of US Vogue, is arguably the world's oldest and most gifted teenager; her fanciful shoots catch that sense of youthful joy so fleeting that even as it yelps ''I am'' it is already gasping for its last living breath.

Non-stop puberty; this is the nature of Vogue's authority and, by extension, the nature of fashion. It is not the work of elite fashion commentators to grow up. But, surprisingly, it seems that Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is willing to act like an adult.

Perhaps she has no choice.

There has been agitation around the developed world for a change in fashion more significant than hemlines.

In the US, body image activism has forced the Council of Fashion Designers of America to write a list of industry guidelines endorsing ''healthy'' body sizes. In Israel, authorities have actually banned use of ''unhealthy'' body sizes in advertising. Here in Australia, our own government-sponsored Positive Body Image Awards will soon honour fashion media that promote ''healthy'' body sizes. Lobbyists here and abroad are determined that fashion takes responsibility.

Put aside for a moment the thought that a publication whose stock in trade is evanescence could not, in fact, serve any purpose higher than chic, and there is still the matter of under-informed ''healthy'' body image hysteria to consider.

There is no compelling evidence that skinny models cause anorexia. There may be some that these skinny models cause an upsurge in sales of Prada tunics, but there is none that they lead to eating disorders. The female refusal of food has a history that precedes Vogue by some several thousand years.

Anorexia is not new. What is quite new, though, is the arrogance of mass communicators who believe they are able to cause widespread behavioural change for the better or the worse.

It is a gloomy view that holds that humans, and women in particular, are so suggestible that an airbrushed thigh will cause them enduring emotional pain.

It is similarly pessimistic to think that we are so imitative as a species that we will follow examples, both good and bad, set for us by popular media. I, for example, have owned a PlayStation for many years and have not once taken to the streets to kill zombies.

Vogue believes it can not only break the cardinal rule of fashion by announcing an unchanging trend, it believes it has the power to kill zombies.

This makes considerably less sense than one of Coddington's photo shoots set in a barn with men dressed as cow-robots.

Fashion cannot, by the terms of its own ambit, take responsibility for any long-lasting change. If fashion causes long-lasting change, then it is no longer fashion.

If Vogue aspires to make long-lasting change, then it is no longer Vogue.

Helen Razer is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.

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