JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

'Healthy' body image hysteria has no place in fashion

Date

Helen Razer

Vogue is deluded if it thinks its ''get real'' diktat can reduce eating disorders.

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.

twitter Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU


8 comments

  • Ahh! Sanity...and a laugh...first thing in the morning! ...and in the Age! More Helen Razer - a class act all round!

    Commenter
    81dvl
    Date and time
    May 07, 2012, 8:22AM
    • Nicely done, Helen. And as Oscar Wilde nailed it: fashion is so abominable that we feel obliged to change it every six months.

      Commenter
      barfiller
      Date and time
      May 07, 2012, 8:50AM
      • "There is no compelling evidence that skinny models cause anorexia."

        Ahh, but Helen, there is. Several studies of Fijian adolescent girls, a populaton isolated from western style media -with all the attached images of beauty our own adolescent females are routinely exposed too- have demonstrated a significant rise in eating disorders subsequent to such exposure. This is compelling evidence and difficult to refute. I suggest you do your research.

        Start with Levine and Chapman (2011), a well written chapter entitled "Media influences on body image" , in Cash and Smolak (Eds.,2011), "Body Image: A handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd Ed.).

        That should give you a nice overview.

        Commenter
        person
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        May 07, 2012, 9:03AM
        • These fashion magazines are just an extension of the advertising industry. To claim or pretend that they have no influence over their readers is like believing that advertising and marketing don't work. And a multi-billion (or probably multi-trillion) worldwide industry says Helen's assumptions and assertions are wrong.

          Commenter
          rudy
          Date and time
          May 07, 2012, 3:25PM
      • Vogue was a style leader decades ago. Style all women could aspire.

        Now it's just like Dolly, chasing the young and impressionable market but with more expensive clothes.

        Price and brand to not make a good look, style does and Vogue has lost it.

        Many clothes just look ugly on undersized women and the extreme makeup is unflattering.

        People working in the fashion industry are in a bubble, believing their own hype and convinced their customer base is still hanging on their every workd. In reality their customer based has just moved on.

        Vogue is making itself irrelevant. The biggest sin of fashion!

        Commenter
        Used to be about style
        Location
        Not where Vogue is
        Date and time
        May 07, 2012, 9:20AM
        • The moves to curtail use of unhealthily skinny models is not just about preventing anorexia. It's about reclaiming a realistic standard of beauty, promoting healthy body image and self-esteem in women of a range of body types. It's about fighting double standards about male and female beauty, where we admire a healthy male and and emaciated female. It's about women of the "wrong" race, colour, age, or size being treated as though they don't exist. It's also about combating female objectification in general.

          There are many, many good reasons that the culture needs to change, and prevention of eating disorders is only one of these.

          No, women aren't all sheep who will starve ourselves to look like the size 0 models, but it's facile to pretend that media saturation of only one, very narrow definition of beauty does not have hurtful or serious repercussions for women as individuals or our society in general.

          Commenter
          Red Pony
          Date and time
          May 07, 2012, 10:29AM
          • Heretic! You are dangerously close to suggesting personal responsibility plays a role in modern women's lives.

            To the gallows with you!

            Commenter
            watchman
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            May 07, 2012, 10:49AM
            • When are peopel going to wake up to the fact that the fashion industry and magazines like vogue exist for only one purpose. To separate the sheeple from their money. Wake up sheep and stop allowing others to manipulate your for their gain

              Commenter
              Jollyjumbuck
              Date and time
              May 07, 2012, 2:04PM
              Comments are now closed
              Featured advertisers