When a Runway Model is Fat-Shamed
When a runway model is fat-shamed, where does that leave the rest of us?
20-year-old model Ulrikke Hoyer has become the latest whistle-blower to reveal the industry's abusive fixation on unnatural thinness. A veteran runway model, Hoyer wears a US size 2 to 4, but was axed by Louis Vuitton for being too “fat" and "bloated." Hired to walk in the label's 2018 cruise show, Hoyer was ordered to fast for 24 hours and ultimately fired for not meeting the brand's measurement standards.
This is not the first time we've heard models complain about the pressure to be thin, but Hoyer's story reminds us that the pressure is then passed on to us, the consumers, who likewise struggle to meet an impossible ideal. She recounts her experience on her Facebook page, not to embarrass Louis Vuitton but to express her dismay with the industry. She laments that runway clothes are meant for girls with eating disorders, a fact we can see with our own eyes.
Louis Vuitton's casting director denies Hoyer's story, saying they would never tell a model not to eat, but we know the drill. No one denies telling Hoyer that her belly was bloated and her face too "puffy." We've heard the stories of models who stop having periods as they starve themselves, often with the aid of cigarettes or drugs. With each story, we cringe and shake our heads in disgust. But the practice goes on. New, younger models appear on the scene, wispy and thin as starving refugees.
In an interview with Business of Fashion, Ulrikke says:
I didn’t write this story to have other people say, 'Oh poor thing!' or anything like that. I don't want people to feel sorry for me because I don't care that I didn’t do that show — I have been canceled from shows before. It’s more about speaking out about these huge problems that are in the industry and some of the really big high-end fashion houses are part of these problems. If a girl comes to a fitting for a size zero dress and she’s 0.5cm too big or whatever, she will always be the problem. The dress will never be the problem. The other way around, if a girl comes in and a size zero dress is too big for her, they will make a new dress or alter the dress for her. I think it’s crazy and it’s scary.
It is crazy and scary. But the fashion industry resists regulations. The average international runway model has a body mass index (BMI) under 16 — low enough to indicate starvation by the World Health Organization's standard. France and Israel have passed laws that would levy fines against hiring models with a BMI lower than 18, but the US won't budge.
The debate over dangerous standards for fashion models has not led to any perceivable change, even though researchers say that body mass should be a workplace health and safety issue. Business is a business. Extreme thinness remains the ideal. It promotes anorexia, which results in more deaths than any other mental illness. Harvard public health experts say that banning images of dangerously thin models would benefit all of us, "by changing the image of women that is perpetuated so widely by the fashion industry."
Well, DUH, you might think. But there is opposition to regulating the industry, like this dissent from former Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Kirstie Clements:
It commodifies women in a kind of revolting way. This idea that you have to weigh women and check their bodies is creepy. It’s almost like getting a horse and checking its teeth. There needs to be more transparency and honesty when there are people around a girl who has an eating issue. Probably what we should try to do is embrace everything instead of trying to regulate one look.
The translation here, I believe, is Don't Rock the Boat. Not helpful at all. It sounds like a case of denial, at the highest level of the industry. Nothing to see here; move on. And yet Hoyer is speaking out, and we are listening. Is there anything we can do, as consumers, besides passive listening and sympathetic Facebook comments?
Can we boycott fashion houses who promote starvation as a beauty ideal? Can we boycott fashion magazines or at least write to their editors? Other industries have been disrupted in recent years, to put it mildly. How can we change the matrix of the fashion industry, to better serve society as a whole? Let's hear your thoughts!