Before I get into this, I need to emphasize the disclaimer that I’m not a big fan of the idea of a Sports Illustrated catwalk fashion show, where models show off the latest swim wear. Perhaps marginally less objectifying than the swimsuit issue itself (which is clearly not about the swimsuits but about the models and has nothing to do with sports), its emphasis still appears to be more on the bodies than the fashion.
But that aside, if you’re going to do it, then why not represent a diversity of shapes and sizes. That’s what a Sports Illustrated swimsuit fashion show in Miami did recently. And it sparked a debate in Australia, as reported by the BBC news. Objecting to including plus sized models in the show, columnist Soraiya Fuda of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, wrote:
“If the fashion industry decides to stop using models who appear to have starved themselves to skin and bones – as they should – they shouldn’t then choose to promote an equally unhealthy body shape.”
The president of the Australian Medical Association also chimed in, comparing “overweight” models to models walking down the catwalk smoking cigarettes. His point: both send an “unhealthy” message. We should not, in his words,”celebrate obesity.”
Professor John Dixon, head of clinical obesity research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute advocates for body diversity among models. He says:
“We know the stigma associated with obesity is so strong that we should respect people who are obese for their ability to feel good, look good and dress well,”
The fact is, people come in all shapes and sizes. We have said a number of times on the blog that it is possible to be both fit and fat. And in any case, let’s be clear. fashion shows are not trying to represent “health” anyway. They set the normative ideals for our society’s conceptions of beauty. For a long, long time, the ultra thin beauty ideal is about all we ever saw in the fashion industry.
Clothes were made to fit thin, lean bodies. If you weren’t of the normative body type, it was (and still is) more challenging to find comfortable, stylish clothes that fit. Having a diversity of body types represented on catwalks is a win in the sense that it sends a message that beauty is not one size fits all.
To promote this idea in the most revealing of all items — the swimsuit — is a radical move. If the fashion industry doesn’t just represent beauty but actually has a significant influence on its construction, then presenting attractive swimwear for larger bodies and modelling it as such is an extraordinary break from past practice.
What are your thoughts on body diversity in catwalk modelling, particularly but not exclusively for swimsuits? (I recognize this as a loaded question because many of us have complicated feelings about catwalk modelling of swimsuits more generally)