The above disturbing image is that of a self-confessed anorexic and model by the name of Isabelle Caro. She’s 27 (twenty seven) years old and weighs about 70 lbs. That’s roughly 31 kgs. She has been starving herself since the age of 12. Part of an ad campaign unveiled by an Italian clothing company called Nolita, the No Anorexia posters shot by famed photographer Oliviero Toscani went up at the start of the Milan Fashion Week. According to the Times:
Toscani, who is renowned for his provocative Benetton campaigns, which have shown death-row inmates, copulating horses and an Aids sufferer, said: “I’ve been looking into the problem of anorexia for years. Who’s responsible? Communication in general? Television? Fashion?”
The posters are funded by the owner of Nolita, Flash & Partners, an Italian clothing company based in Padua. It said that its aim was “to use the naked body to show everyone the reality of this illness, caused in most cases by the stereotypes imposed by the world of fashion”.
The Toscani advert is supported by leading figures in fashion, including Giorgio Armani, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and by Livia Turco, the Italian Health Minister. Armani denied that the fashion industry was to blame, saying: “Even people who take no notice of fashion get anorexic.” Dolce & Gabbana said: “Anorexia has nothing to do with fashion but is a psychiatric problem.”
While it’s definitely getting its share of press and is generally seen as a positive move by the fashion industy, the fears expressed by healthcare professionals seem to be justified as the pro-anorexia internet community appear to love what Caro looks like.
Nolita’s campaign comes one year after Milan made the headlines by asking designers to ensure that all models invited to walk the ramp satisfied certain weight and health requirements. In spite of protests, Madrid shortly followed suit. Then, last week, as the London Fashion Week began, a report targeting “size zero” models which also proposed a ban on runway models less than sixteen years of age came out. The age factor is also popping up in Australia where 13 year old Maddison Gabriel is taking the fashion world by storm and the rest of the country rather less so.
The country’s Prime Minister John Howard strongly criticised the decision saying it was unacceptable. He said: “Catapulting girls as young as 12 into something like that is outrageous.” Mr Howard wants Australia to follow the example of Europe and ban models younger than 16 appearing on catwalks. “There should be age limits, I mean there has to be, we do have to preserve some notion of innocence in our society,” he said.
But the 5ft 7ins youngster, who turned 13 yesterday, believed she deserved to win the modelling competition to become the ‘face’ of the show. “I believe that I can fit into women’s clothes. I can model women’s clothes, so I should be able to do it,” she said.
Her mother Michelle Gabriel has defended her child’s right to model and demanded an apology from the Prime Minister. “I believe the Prime Minister is getting very doddery,” she said. “He does not know exactly what 13 and 14-year-old girls are like. I used to vote for him. We’re trying to get our teenage daughters to act older. I am so happy that I’ve got a daughter who has got a good head on her shoulders.”
Well, doddery and loudmouthed or not, Howard is on to something. Should kids be allowed to do things considered adult just because they can? Would you allow your 12 year old to drive a car, for instance? Even if you think that your kid is a better driver than the legions of morons who cut you off on a daily basis on the highway, the fact is doing so could land your kid in trouble with the law. Your modeling career might not end with you bleeding to death in the middle of a tangled car wreck (well, unless you’re on CSI or something) but is a tweenie mentally ready for that kind of pressure?
And over in France, the Mecca of fashion:
Leaders of both France’s powerful couture world and the ready-to-wear industry had joined a working-group set up by the Health Ministry in January amid concern over teenage anorexia following the death of two South American models last year.
But talks to fine-tune an ethics “charter on body image” drafted in May were suspended and will not resume until next month, a ministry official said. In France, agencies require a government-registered licence and must request special authorisation for models aged under 16, who undergo regular medical check-ups.
In India, where the Lakme India Fashion Week has just drawn to a close, such concerns are yet to make their presence felt but alarm bells are beginning to toll even if India’s problem with her women has traditionally been just the opposite:
Aditi Gowitrikar was a catwalk model until she started making films. As a model she was under pressure to be stick thin. But as a film actress, performing not for India’s elite but for the masses, she was suddenly required to change shape and develop curves.
“They tried to feed me – they used to send a little bit extra so that I managed to eat more and gain a little weight,” Ms Gowitrikar says. “Maybe I added a couple of kilos, I don’t know. They tried a little bit and then they just used to send padding to me with every costume.”
Madhuri Dixit, once the queen of all Bollywood, can probably relate. After all, when she’d first entered the Hindi film industry, filmmakers would constantly tell her that she was too thin to be a heroine. That was in the 80s when Southie siren Sridevi reigned supreme. By the end of the 90s, at the top of her game, people were criticizing her for being too fat.
But that’s precisely the kind of change India has seen over the past few years. No further proof is needed than an article titled “India’s New Beauty Ideal Is a Wisp of Its Former Self” by Margot Cohen & Vibhuti Agarwal in the Wall Street Journal. The site is subscriber only (stodgy pants!) so I can’t give you a link but I was shocked to learn that even Tamil cinema, the bastion of well rounded ladies, once home to some of the plumpest, most successful heroines of Hindi cinema, is now going in for slimmer beauties:
“The new generation doesn’t want to see these fat ladies,” says Anto Francis, father of a 22-year-old starlet with the stage name Gopika, who has made 30 movies in the past five years. On set, she chats about a daily treadmill routine and weeklong regimens of fruit juice and vegetables. While not stick-thin by U.S. film-industry standards, the exercise and diet helps hold her weight down to 121 pounds on her 5-foot-4-inch frame.
Fat ladies? Well, hello Mr. Rudesby! I’d like to see you say that to Hema Malini’s face – heck, I’d like to see you say that to Khushboo’s face and get away with it.
Kidding aside, there is something to be said for keeping in shape. Obesity isn’t something you want to encourage, however much credit it does to your bank balance. Sooner or later your hips are going to protest, your internal organs are going to revolt and it’ll take you a half an hour to climb a single flight of stairs only to be struck down by a heart attack. Not good. But there’s a difference between working out to keep healthy and obsessing about the size and shape of your different body parts. And it’s already a big business:
In a country where full figures have long represented the ideal for feminine beauty, thin is increasingly in. An influx of glossy international fashion magazines and a growing number of opportunities for women in the work force are prompting a move toward fitted Western-style fashions and away from flowing national garb. Now, weight-loss clinics are proliferating in urban centers.
Classical Sanskrit poets immortalized the appreciation of the wide-hipped, voluptuous female, and through the ages, India ‘s widespread poverty played a part in nurturing the view that a well-fed woman was to be admired. Though Western countries embraced a thinner ideal, that had little impact in India until recent years.
The combination of swelling incomes and rising angst about weight is spawning new business opportunities… India’s slimming and fitness industry now amounts to about $750 million in terms of revenue, and is expected to grow 25% to 30% annually for the next three to five years, according to Indian research firm Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd. “The next big wave will be from smaller urban centers,” says Harminder Sahni, managing director of Technopak.
$750 million?! I need to get me some yoga mats and lease an empty warehouse or something. Of course, this being India, some things never change:
Yoga clinics and weight-loss centers say many of their patrons are women under the age of 30 with matrimony on their minds. Supriya, a 21-year-old M.B.A. student who goes by one name from Taddipatri, a town in the state of Andhra Pradesh, came to Vyasa International yoga center in Bangalore , to try to meet her fiance’s demands that she lose weight. The 5-foot 3-inch tall Supriya, clad in a tight-fitting lime-green salwar kameez, says she lost 5.5 pounds the first week, bringing her weight to 186 pounds.
But fashion appears to be the biggest factor driving the newly weight-conscious. While some men have been swept up in India ‘s slimming craze, it has mainly affected women. Sudhir Kakar, a highly respected psychoanalyst who has published books probing Indian cultural and family dynamics, says the weight-loss phenomenon is most pronounced among upper-class females, always the first to pounce on Western styles. “I think it’s their way of distinguishing themselves from the mass of Indian women — almost a new caste-distinguishing,” says Dr. Kakar, who lives in Goa , where many wealthy families have beachfront vacation homes.
Still, some fashion labels in India are targeting women whose physiques are more in line with the nation’s traditional idea of beauty. Indian brands such as Revolution, Just My Size and Mustard offer larger sizes in both Western styles and Indian designs. “The designers have infused ‘bias’ cut into the collection that shifts attention from the flab to the style,” says a fashion promotion in the August issue of New Woman magazine. A number of high-end Indian fashion designers such as Wendell Rodricks, who makes funky, Western-style designs for men and women, are customizing their creations to accommodate wider girths.
Still, some doubt that plus-size fashions will exert a lasting appeal in India . “More than designers going for larger sizes, I think women are toning down their sizes,” says Vogue India editor Priya Tanna. “They want to make the body work for the clothes, not just the clothes work for the body.”