When your family has been in the photography business for over fifty years, you learn first hand that the fashion industry can be very demanding of professional models to maintain strict weight requirements. Once a model is bound by contract, he or she is often required to maintain their own 'brand image' and not exceed the weight for which they were originally signed. Hence the infamous, 'weigh in.' If during a 'weigh in,' the models weight fluctuates too high or too low, their career, income and contract can be dissolved. The real issue in both the fashion and entertainment industry is that for years no one cared about exactly how the body image or weight of a model was maintained. Whether through healthy or unhealthy habits, as long as the weight stipulations in the contract were kept, a models real health was of no concern. Image was everything.
For years, fashion designers created the demand for models to be thin, preferring human hangers on the runway and models of picture perfect perfection in their advertisements. Many of the critiques in the fashion industry have less in common with the loving mother who tries to flatter you with compliments that empower you and more in common with a devils advocate who tells you to skip your next two meals because your ass looks too large in your favorite jeans and that you need to hit the gym daily for about three hours minimum. Both have their place but where one is said in love, the other is much more forceful and can effect the self esteem, income and career of an aspiring or professional model.
On the positive side, the training a reputable modeling agency provides their models can create essential building blocks to be successful in life or prepare a young person for a long term career. Modeling can teach aspiring models life skills such as; poise, posture, personalized branding & style, grooming, business acumen, etiquette, how to work well under pressure & with an extreme variety of personalities, anger management, how to work independently & as a team, flexibility, negotiation and customer service skills. The other bonus to modeling is not just the financial incentives or learning money management skills but the exposure to successful businesses & their associates, traveling and building long term friendships with other young people in the business that can often last a lifetime. The dark side to modeling is that young models can be exploited if managed improperly, drug use can become a method to lose weight quickly and eating disorders among models have never been a secret. In our experience working with models in the industry, we have met many a model who will subsist eight hours on half an apple or peanut butter on a single slice of bread. Models have actually fainted on us in the middle of photo shoots due to a lack of energy and proper nutrition. The fridge in the studio is stocked with low carb protein shakes, fruit and bottled water for this reason. We eventually lost count with the number of parents we spoke to about models as young as age 13, to encourage them as a family to seek out a nutritionist and a professional counselor to help with their child's struggle to maintain their weight because they suffered from either starvation, bulimia or anorexia due to the pressure to be thin. Many of these problems can be properly managed and healed if issues are addressed at the onset of noticing a particular problem, especially with teenagers. In other words, deal with any problems at the acorn stage of their career rather than once they grow into an oak tree.
We began to notice major changes in modeling industry weight standards when prominent modeling agencies Ford and Wilhelmenia first expanded into the plus size market. In the late nineties I remember when Mode Magazine was launched, it was the first fashion magazine specifically targeted for the plus-size consumer and was also supported by Wilhelmina. Then in 2004 Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty began pushing the envelope further with a national campaign using plus size models. The main stream public was accepting more variations in curvacious beauty with people like Anna Nicole Smith, Mia Tyler, Emmie Aronson and Queen Latifah shining in the spotlight. Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano took notice and both used plus size models for their advertising campaigns and catwalks in their Spring 2006 Paris shows. Yet that same year the world witnessed how the price for waif like perfection could be deadly when 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos reportedly died of heart failure after stepping off a runway during Fashion Week in Montevideo. In response to the tragedy, a positive paradigm shift in the modeling industry occured when Madrid Fashion Week organizers reacted by banning super-thin models from the runways in Spain. It was referred to as the 'Spanish ban', and demanded that "models have a BMI (height to weight ratio) above 18 to participate in shows. When the average runway model is estimated to be 5 feet 9 inches tall and to weigh in at 110 lbs. Resulting in a BMI of just 16 or a size 0," according to the British newspaper the Evening Standard. Never before had Fashion Week laid down such a strong desire for change within the modeling industry and like a domino effect, the rest of the world responded by demanding a new, healthier body image standard.
The photography and advertising industry could not help but notice as the rebirth of the classical voluptuous ideal of feminine beauty emerged as if it crawled out of an Michelangelo painting in the Louvre and unfolded like a beautiful lotus flower that had been buried in a dirty fashion aesthetic of what beauty was supposed to be or not be. Then Liz Claiborne further confirmed the new plus size industry shift when the company placed an advertisement of plus size model Natalie Laughlin in the heart of New York Times Square, not once but four times. The new modeling standard became not just one of beauty, but one of curvacious health as well.
Thankfully the plus size movement has continued with Wilhelmina W Curve Models organization, Curves for Change where the models are removing the superficial shell of the fashion industry to become personal mentors of success. They utilize their good looks and sharp wits to advocate for a variety of charities that empower and help women. Two of the organizations they are currently supporting are www.hardygirlshealthywomen.org a nonprofit organization that works to create opportunities, develop programs, and provide services so "that all girls and women experience equality, independence, and safety in their everyday lives." The other organization Curves for Change supports is the www.komeraproject.org , an organization created to assist girls in Rwanda where most struggle to be educated beyond elementary school. These girls have the desire to pursue secondary education, but lack the resources to continue with their education. "Komera!", means "be strong and courageous" and on November 20th, Avenue will present the Curves for Change : 5K Run/Walk with proceeds benefiting both of these organizations.
The expectation is for every able woman to come out and show off her "curves" to support both of these great causes and to celebrate how far we as women, have come to redefine and reshape the world standard of beauty. Come out and 'step' for every piece of salad you have ever had to eat in your life, 'step' for every ounce of tuna fish (and green beans my mother made me eat as a kid), cottage cheese and fruit, or $99.99 late night-tv-exercise contraption, pill or fad diet you have tried in your life just to lose weight. Come out and "step" to make atonement for every self doubting comment you have ever made about your body when you looked in the mirror or for trying to live up to the world's critical fashion standards of your ass-ets. Come out and 'step' for your health, 'step' for your curvalicious beauty and to celebrate the unique lotus flower of you.