Thursday, January 04, 2007

What’s ‘Eating’ You?

Harper's Bazaar January 2007 Issue - “Highlights from Milan” photographed by Daniel Jackson

Is it just me, or are we all collectively obsessed with food, diets, eating, body image, and body weight? We ended the year dishing (sorry about the pun) about unhealthy and unnatural skinniness, debating the issue of what constitutes ‘too thin’ (vis-à-vis models and the fashion industry), talking about eating disorders, diets, exercise regimens, losing weight, gaining weight, sharing festive recipes, reading about food, planning our menus, thinking about our next meal, and contemplating what restaurants to visit.

And here we are, just several days into the New Year, and it continues. Many of us have made resolutions to lose weight, tone up, get into better shape, and of course, eat healthy. The cover of New York Magazine boasts “Adam Platt’s Where To Eat: The Best Restaurants in Town”. But it seems some of us are not eating but starving,‘dying’ to be thin, and as a whole, we are generally as obsessed with what we eat as what we don’t eat. Which is not a good thing. Not only from an appearance standpoint but in terms of health, it can be downright dangerous. The headline of AM New York on January 2 was “Rail Thin” (“Women on crash diets fainting are a top cause of subway delays, MTA staffers say”), an alarming statistic that was also confirmed by an article that ran in The New York Post on Wednesday, January 3.

Harper's Bazaar January 2007 Issue - “Highlights from Milan” photographed by Daniel Jackson

In Bernadine Morris’s interview with James Galanos for the Look On-Line (“A Conversation with James Galanos”), she asked him about the current controversy today regarding whether models are too thin: “Mr. Galanos says he always liked thin models. Pat, his fitting model, was very thin and there was a problem getting other models who could fit into her clothes. The problem today, he believes, is that designers use models who are too young and who have not reached their maximum development. He certainly doesn't believe models should starve themselves, and that gangly legs can look terrible in clothes.” Indeed, but there are plenty of gangly arms and legs out there…on the Red Carpet, on the street, on the runways and staring up at you from editorials in magazines.

This brings up another point. I have always felt that to a certain degree, what constitutes as “too thin” can often be subjective, a matter of taste, and an aesthetic call. (I happen to be very thin so what I consider to be too thin may differ from someone else’s point of view). That said, the January issue of Harper’s Bazaar magnified the reality that in some cases, it is not subjective, but in-your-face obvious.

Harper's Bazaar January 2007 Issue - “Highlights from Milan” photographed by Daniel Jackson

Perhaps because the issue of unhealthy and unnatural thinness has been so much on all our minds, with the fashion world trying to regulate and uphold certain universal standards for models which must be met, I was immediately struck by images of a young model, who appeared throughout the portfolio “Highlights from Milan”, photographed by Daniel Jackson. While on some of the pages, clad in voluminous layers or covered up designs, she just looked ‘normally’ skinny (well, normal in terms of fashion models), in the images where her body was exposed (three shots in particular), she appeared to be shockingly emaciated. She was literally skin and bones, with rail thin arms and legs, and protruding collarbone. And, when you factor in that the camera adds at least 5 pounds, you may be unable to put your finger on something or know exactly what "IT" is until you see it -- these photos exemplified "IT". Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.

- Marilyn Kirschner

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Walking a ‘thin’ Line

With the latest news that Diane Von Furstenberg, President of the CFDA, has recently met with Anna Wintour, and a group of designers to examine the industry’s responsibility for what appears to be an epidemic of young women who are literally starving themselves, it is obvious that this issue is being taken very seriously. And well it should, the fashion industry’s impact on this growing problem cannot be ignored or underestimated. As she put it, “It is not responsible for members of the industry to ignore the impact fashion has on body image.”

What cannot be denied is that while artistic visionaries may try to promote different visions of beauty, being lean and narrow, especially if it’s stretched out over a long lithe frame, will always be perceived as the ideal form. And it will be worshipped by the fashion industry, particularly fashion designers, whose models and muses unsurprisingly tend to be women with ‘ideal’ bodies (to the extreme). This was exemplified by the long time relationship between Nan Kempner and the designers who dressed, worshipped, and befriended her, like Valentino and Yves St. Laurent.

In fact, this relationship was explored by Cathy Horyn in her front page review of the Nan Kempner exhibit in last Thursday’s Style section, (“A Woman Who Wore Couture Like a Second Skin”). The late Mrs. Kempner’s impossibly tall and skinny frame was as much a part of her entire chic persona as was her amazing wardrobe and there is almost no article that has not made reference to the fact that she was a walking ‘clothes hanger’.

As Ms. Horyn describes it, “While Saint Laurent’s tailoring -- the sharp shoulder line, the slight drape in the front, the natural waist of the pants -- owed much of its rightness to his sense of proportion, it helped that his favorite American client had long legs, a 26 inch waist and narrow, boyish shoulders. When you see the posse of Saint Laurent clad mannequins, you realize as well that Nan played a more vital role in his career than merely wearing his clothes well. In Paris, the equally thin Betty Catroux, the designers’ friend and muse, represented rock n’ roll, decadent Saint Laurent. But Nan- was the Americanized ideal.”

Being fit, lean, athletic, and healthy are all desirable traits. When thinness is unsightly, unhealthy, and life threatening, there is absolutely nothing chic or fashionable about it. But it is impossible to separate fashion from thin or to overstate the connection, and unfortunately, as long as it is held up as an ideal standard (in the same that being tall is perceived as such), it is human nature that some will take it to an unhealthy and even dangerous extreme. “One can never be too rich or too thin” is apparently a mantra which is taken literally by more than a few.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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