More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Still Too Thin, and Getting Younger
By GUY TREBAY, New York Times
September 27, 2007

FASHION is not about clothes, as Carine Roitfeld, the editor of French Vogue and one of the shrewdest persons in the business, once told me. Perhaps it never has been. Particularly now, though, when the tentacles of fashion reach out globally, coiling around fat new markets like China or India or Russia, places marooned from global markets for decades, twining into traditionally style-resistant spheres like business and art, you can begin to make out how culture is shaped by a system of which dressmakers are just a small part.

A good example of this came during the recent New York shows when the Heatherette designers, Richie Rich and Traver Rains, ended their otherwise forgettable runway presentation with a scary Little Miss Sunshine moment. Not the first time 5- or 6-year-olds had been seen on a catwalk, the Heatherette show was, however, a first for showcasing girls just barely past ?Dora the Explorer? age doing credible impersonations of the runway siren Carmen Kass.

It is old theoretical news that childhood, or anyway innocent childhood, is an invention, developed largely from humanist ideas advanced in the 16th and 17th centuries. Before then, children were merely small adults, potential units of industry put to work as soon as practically feasible.

In many parts of the world this is obviously still the case. Child labor is properly deplored when the curtain is pulled back on underage pit weavers in Pakistan or 9-year-olds sent to comb through recycling dumps in Szechuan. One does not hear all that much, though, about the ways children in affluent cultures are being primed for competitive adult lives.

And this can be alarming, particularly if one happens to spend any time hanging around backstage during the monthlong fashion-show seasons that come around twice a year. Despite American industry guidelines proposing that models under 16 be banned from runways, they are becoming younger than ever. In Australia recently, the naming of 12-year-old Maddison Gabriel as the face of Gold Coast Fashion prompted that country?s prime minister to decry the loss of innocence in society, and one Labor leader to call for protection of ?the littlies.?

But people seem to want the littlies, and they like them thin. It?s true that some form of monitoring was put in place last year in the United States after the scandal caused when South American models were found to have died from eating disorders.

?It is important as a fashion industry to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in a business of image,? Diane Von Furstenberg, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said at a news conference convened in New York last year by Vogue.

?But how much are they enforcing it?? Ivan Bart, senior vice president at IMG models, said in New York in early September, adding that some agencies were still sending models to castings, even though they were underweight and underage.

Although the parallel organizations in Italy and France paid lip service to health issues, you?d have to search hard to detect the presence of the medically trained personnel who are supposed to be backstage checking models for wholesome body-mass index and overall fitness. Probably it would be more useful to send someone around and ask the mannequins to upend their Chanel pouchettes.

There, one might be startled to find, scattered on the makeup table alongside the iPod and the Motorola SLVR (a device that electronics blogs approvingly call the anorexic phone), other currently common tools of the trade like Vicodin, clenbuterol and Marlboro Lights.

Vicodin, of course, is the prescription painkiller Eminem liked so much he immortalized it on The Slim Shady LP, and a drug better appreciated in the fashion business for its appetite-suppressing powers than for the truly unappetizing truth that it is only slightly less addictive than heroin. Clenbuterol is a steroid used by athletes, horse trainers and models to reduce body fat (one study of clenbuterol in horses showed significant weight reduction in a matter of weeks). ?A lot of girls are using it now to keep their weight down,? said Kelly Cutrone, the founder of People?s Revolution, a fashion production company.

The one thing you will never hear anyone utter a peep of concern about when it comes to models is smoking. Yet it?s pretty common knowledge that they smoke more than long-haul truckers, road workers or Sylvia Sidney in ?Beetlejuice.? The blue-collar reference here is intentional since, despite its putative glamour, a modeling gig is more like that of a supermarket checker than one would imagine. Both draw on a work force that tends to be uneducated and young.

Models have no union (and if they did, there would be a lot better ethnic representation on catwalks). They often are without health insurance. The successful ones make astronomical sums, but for how long? These days eight years would be considered a gold watch career.

No matter where, fashion-show readying areas all seem subject to local fire-safety standards, which designers observe by posting No Smoking signs prominently above the communal ashtray. Models smoke every place and all the time, in a nimbus of backstage hairspray, in alleyways at the rare shows (Prada, Bottega Veneta) whose designers won?t permit smoking indoors. They smoke at smart fashion parties and in the little Smart cars their agencies use to ferry them from one casting to the next. They smoke in a number of surprisingly tolerant restaurants here, of course, because the ma?tre d? has not been born who would tell the gorgeously sultry 18-year-old Australian Catherine McNeil to stamp out her cigarette.

Of course, little of this would be anybody?s business but that of the persons involved were it not that so few of them are voting-age adults. Models are called models for a reason. Ask one of the 5-year-olds from Heatherette. Ask the nutty Web exegetes who treat as sacred scripture.

If people didn?t look to models or celebrities for behavioral cues, Hollywood would not currently be looking at banning cigarette smoking in movies or treating it as grounds for a ratings change. Hollywood probably knows what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention knows and also what the researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville recently found in a study released last month that established a connection between dieting, smoking and drug use.

After analyzing the dieting and smoking practices of 8,000 adolescents, the study found that, particularly among girls, dieting seemed to lead to smoking and for reasons any model could explain: nicotine suppresses the appetite. The number of children smoking in the United States has gone down over the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control (35 percent of high school age teenagers smoked regularly in 1997; the estimate is now about 23 percent), a reduction mostly attributable to changes in public health policy.

?In the last decade there has been a decrease in smoking among adolescents, in part because of all the campaigns against smoking,? said Mildred Maldonado-Molina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida and lead author of the study. On the other hand, dieting is experiencing an upswing in teenagers of either sex.

It happens that there?s a sinister circularity in this process. Killing appetite is one reason people reach for a Marlboro. And there is no question that dieting is an occupational necessity for the girls paid to make the refined but punishingly slim clothes that Raf Simons showed in his much-lauded Jil Sander show on Tuesday (brave and courageous were words that were used a lot) look chic and also humanly feasible to wear.

It is also true that smoking to lose weight only leads to more smoking. Or at least that is what animal studies linking food deprivation to the use of stimulants have found. When the fashion community is used to its next fit of moral dudgeon and wakes up again to the problems of underweight girls and the largely hidden abuse of things like clenbuterol, it will be worth reminding them that there is good science demonstrating that when you starve an animal, you make it a lot more vulnerable to self-abuse.


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The fashion industry is one I would never want to get into. Because I can be outspoken at times, I would be fired in no time. :D

Its only my opinion, but having children parading down a catwalk is like putting them in a circus for all to see. Children shouldn't be exploited like that.
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