ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: The forgotten faces of fashion week

Another ‘fashion month’, as the industry labels it, has drawn to a close. Of course whether excited by the event or not, it has been unavoidable. From New York right through to Paris, Instagram has documented the whole charade. Yes, we have all seen the glitz and the glamour; the bloggers pictured outside ‘cute’ venues, wearing ‘cute’ clothes and tagging their location at many a ‘cute’ brunch spot. But how ‘cute’ is the reality of fashion week for the girls who actually appear in the shows? Unless a social media following has elevated them to the new found ‘model elite’ alongside the likes of Kendal Jenner and Gigi Hadid, then the faces on the runway become a blur. The average girl becomes just another clothes hanger. The pressure inextricably bound with this role comes with inevitable consequences. The ‘high fashion’ construction of an ‘ideal’ body is unarguably damaging in every respect. Not only does it project an unhealthy message to the greater public but the vulnerable young girls thrown into the fashion industry are expected to live up to this ideal. With no leniency on sample sizes, success and size become inseparable entities.

This week James Scully, a casting director in the industry, spoke in defence of the models partaking in Paris Fashion Week. He called out the Balenciaga show casting directors for being “sadistic and cruel” in their treatment of the models who waited in line to be seen by them. But this isn’t an unusual occurrence. Behind the scenes of the shows that the public witness as ‘fashion week’ the girls are put through an absurd ordeal in order to have a chance at becoming a ‘chosen’ one. The weeks leading up to each fashion capital’s show days entail girls having to attend up to twenty castings a day located all over the city. This could mean working anything up to an eighteen hour day with no guarantee of actually getting any shows, and therefore, any pay. The average wait at the castings is often over an hour with sometimes no other reason than the one that James Scully brought to light, that the casting directors want to break for lunch. When they then decide to ‘see’ the girls there are often cases when they don’t even look at them. If they do watch their walk and like their image then the next hoop to jump through is social media following. One girl that I have spoken to revealed that without a large Instagram following it is nigh on impossible to book jobs, shows epitomising this aspect of the industry.

France made the headlines in 2015 when they enforced laws in an attempt to prevent the use of excessively thin girls, a seemingly positive movement towards regulating the health of the models. However, having spoken to successful models who have made the conscious decision to leave the industry behind them, it can be evidenced that these laws have not been effective. With a high fashion ‘body ideal’ of what one model described as “tall, thin and flat chested”, a girl that ultimately looks more “like a fourteen year old boy”, the industry has obviously sought ways around these laws. According to a survey taken by the ‘The Model Alliance’, over half of the models in the industry start working between the ages 13-16. Ultimately this means that clothes designed for adult women are being showcased by children. Laws like the ones imposed in Paris have little power to make a change if the girls being used by brands are not yet fully grown. There is also evidence that these laws are not being enforced at all. One of the girls that I discussed the matter with divulged that prior to Paris fashion week she had been told to obtain a medical certificate attesting her health and therefore allowing her to work. But, upon arrival in the city neither the agency nor any clients requested to see the proof, something which, according to the laws, they should be fined for. There was even an indication that notes by some girls had been forged or attained despite girls being visibly unwell.

There is a knock on effect from high fashion’s idealisation of the pre-pubescent body. Although they have a supposed duty of care to the girls that they represent, model agencies themselves have under-taken and imposed the warped sense of size idealised by big brands. Agents constant berating of girls about their bust, waist and hip measurements is ultimately to raise their profile as an agency. This mistreatment of models is for personal gain meaning that there is no real protection for any young girls working in the industry. Their susceptibility is played upon as agents, under the guise of friendship and career promotion, force them to lose weight. An agent’s role means that they are undoubtedly responsible for the welfare of the models that they represent. Lack of experience in health and nutrition when enacting such a role is, therefore, dangerous. Incessant measuring by their agents will inevitably lead young girls to have an unhealthy relationship with their bodies. With top fashion houses requiring unhealthy and unattainable measurements, the model agencies have taken it upon themselves to promote and enforce these damaging ideals. One model spoke of having witnessed her agency encourage unhealthy weight loss on numerous occasions. Apparently any girl could be a “star in no time”, if and it’s a big ‘if’, they didn’t eat.

According to statistics founded by ‘The Model Alliance’ around two thirds of models are told to lose weight during their careers. And as Sara Ziff, the founder of the charity, points out, these are “people who have a BMI that already would put them in the unhealthy category and they’re being told to lose more weight.” The facts are certainly disconcerting.

Fundamentally the problem stems from the creation of a ‘body ideal’ at all. Even with emerging forms of ‘body positivity’ an ideal always seems to be at the forefront of any campaign. For changes to be made within the fashion industry the call for change has to come from the consumers. A stand has to be made by the wider public to ensure that the vulnerable ‘faces’ of fashion aren’t forgotten.

Kiera Greenwood

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