The crux of Foley’s argument seems to be that while, yes, caring about the models’ health is good, the fashion industry has been “forced into” policing it — a role she describes as having “faux-parental overtones” — when it’s ultimately not their responsibility for a few different reasons.
First up: because everyone is too busy. Foley takes issue with the idea that the CFDA has asked industry professionals to educate themselves on “the early warning signs of eating disorders and [encourage] models who may have an eating disorder to seek help” as well as a myriad of other health policy-focused endeavors. The CFDA has asked the industry to do this, she writes, all while “making sure that the collection is something worth showing; samples are made and arrive on time; the show production is of an appropriate professional quality; [and] the seating plan insults as few people as possible.” Sure, designers — and everyone else with a full-time fashion job — has, well, a full-time job to do, but to be so dismissive of the idea that people should put a little effort into regulating the health of their models is somewhat crass.
That said, Foley has a point — the people who work in the fashion industry are not “medical personnel, psychologists, social workers or hall wardens.” But contrary to her argument, “expecting them to be confident, accurate monitors of whom among the skinny girls is too skinny” is not, in fact, asking them too much.
When it comes to the industry’s responsibility with regards to body image, standards, and “the beauty ideal of a given moment,” Foley washes her hands of it.
Creatively, however, that responsibility is not black and white. Yes, fashion’s primary purpose is to make us feel good…but fashion has other purposes, one of which is to provoke and question the status quo, which may involve the creation of imagery at odds with popular notions of pretty. Such projects should absolutely be cast sensibly. But what other factors should play into the balance between social responsibility and creative expression? Should industry participants temper their more extreme inclinations toward perceived mainstream sensibilities, or should ultimate judgment be left to the public, as happened in the Nineties with its wholesale rejection of the heroin-chic schtick?
Frankly, that’s just lazy. Designers are artists and fashion is a creative industry, but the creation of their art should have little, if anything, to do with the looks and body types of the models. A true artist should be able to use models of a wide range of sizes, races, and body types; shouldn’t the clothing, the photography, the makeup, and the setting be the outlet through which they “creatively express themselves”?
Foley argues that fashion alone isn’t responsible for the so-called skinny model epidemic — equally slimmed down, she claims, are “celebrities and the most style-conscious among the general public,” though most would be quick to point out that may well be in response to the sight of super slender runways. But where Foley turns her biggest blind eye is the agencies’ responsibility towards teenage models.
To expect the fashion industry to function in loco parentis to legions of pretty, lanky adolescents who have been released by their parents into the care of twentysomething bookers, and who, once so released, can probably be trusted to act like teenagers, which is to say at least sometimes engage in behavior of which adults might not approve and might be dangerous — especially in such un-fun, nothing-to-do places as New York and Paris — is absurd.
That may be absurd when said teenage model is plucked from the hands of a middle class family in North America — but what about those international models of a much lower socio-economic sphere, on whom agents and bookers prey because they’re so darn profitable? What about them?
As Alyssa Vignan wrote on StyleCaster earlier today, designers, agents, and bookers are all equally complicit.
If a designer creates runway samples in a size zero, only the smallest girls will get the jobs, and the rest are in danger of getting fired, or living in debt to their agencies. So, if you were a model agent, would you take a chance on signing the size six girl with a beautiful face, knowing that she might never get hired?
In other words: it would be great if everyone — including the media — could stop passing the buck.