Some Small Sense

Shopping experiences and store reviews by a very petite woman. Indeed, it sucks. 4'10", 87 pounds, and full grown - is it a surprise I have trouble finding clothes?

September 21, 2006

NY Fashion Week - the Skinny on the News

This entry isn't going to be a style commentary - admittedly, my taste is pretty mainstream, not edgy or progressive. Honestly, it's mostly going to be a rant. If you want the "official" coverage, check out Style.com. Instead, here are some of my personal impressions of being a part and attendee of Olympus Fasion Week for the Spring 2007 collections. Sorry, we were asked to not take pictures while working, so you'll have to satisfy yourself with my prose for the most part. Working at fashion week opened my eyes to a lot of things. I never bought into the razzle-dazzle of the "beautiful people", so I approached it fully as a learning experience. And boy, did I learn a lot. My more mundane (but practical) understandings were posted a few days ago here, but I wanted to cover some of my emotional impressions too.

Working backstage as a dresser, I had a lot of down time. We came early and didn't really need to - except for the shows that had complicated looks or multiple/confusing costume changes. We didn't cost anything, so why not have the reassurance of everyone being ready? (And yes, the shows partially depend on the sweat of free or highly underpaid labor. No doubt about it.) Most of my prep work involved a lot of waiting around, with a few moments of frantic dressing a few minutes before they step onto the runway (less chance to muss the clothes), or quick undressing/dressing if a model was to wear more than one outfit. The stylists had a lot more to handle and tended to be mostly and noticeably short women. I guess some of them just want to be close to the action, since they can't be on stage.

A lot of my impressions came down to two things: hunger and efficiency. Hunger in all respects were clearly visible - the competitiveness of the photographers in the pits (I was perpetually waiting for an avalanche of equipment and photographers to go tumbling down - never happened), the actual aching and obvious surpressed hunger of the models, and the hunger of the emerging designers to make it this season. The efficiency and routinization of the events was also a thing to behold. Events always started late, but once they started, they were as precise as clockwork. Audiences rushed out of the door so fast that the halls were almost empty a minute after the designer stepped out to say goodbye. Tiny armies were backstage making sure that the troops were fed, models done up, clothing stored, and interviews given and conducted.

A lot of hard and frantic work goes on behind stage to pull off the shows. An enormous amount of money is also put into the event. At it's best, the efficiency of the hair and makeup artists is phenominal - seeing about 5 makeup, hair, and clothing people crowd around a model to get her back on stage with a completely new look in under 2 minutes is amazing. A lot of the efficiency, though, involves dehumanizing the model. Sadly, that part appears to be unpreventable. The model is already dressed but there's little bits of lint all over her chest - so you run the lint brush over her, just as if it weren't on a real human, but a clothes hanger. You don't have time to feel badly that you're practically ripping off her high heeled shoes to undress her between looks. Neither the nail artist or the model has time to wait for a stripping solution to disolve the nail glue, and so the fake nails must painfully be ripped off - both of the are already late for their next shows. The designer moves the model around like a mannequin because he's so focused on last minute touches to his clothes and how it's fitting a human being - while ignoring the person inside his clothes. The models are indeed, walking clothes hangers, both on and behind stage.

Hunger has been a topic of great concern lately. The last week or so has been touched by the news of Madrid's fashion show. They decided that any woman walking the shows must be above a certain weight. "Organizers say they want to project an image of beauty and health, rather than a waif-like, or heroin chic look." The New York Fashion shows didn't follow suit. The NY Times of course followed up post haste with a full blown article - When Is Thin Too Thin? by Eric Wilson today. "Linda Wells, the editor of the beauty magazine Allure, said there were moments during the shows when she could hear gasps in the audience at their appearance. 'What becomes alarming is when you see bones and start counting ribs,' Ms. Wells said."

While I applaud Mr. Wilson's reporting, I don't particularly believe that he supports the sentiment. Perhaps I am too cynical, but I was actually sitting not 5 feet away from him and some of the other writers from the NY Times at one of the shows. They weren't particularly dismayed by the women walking in the show. No gasps were heard from them - they were in fact, seemingly bored with the whole affair. I should, perhaps, give them the benefit of the doubt and say, perhaps they've been too numbed by the experience to notice. Or perhaps, it was only the newbies like me who were gasping - those who haven't yet become desensitized to image of skin covered bones walking down the aisles and runways.

Maybe I should have sat next to them during the Rosa Cha bathing suit show. This was the first one I saw from the audience. I was in the standing room section at the back of the hall, and even there, I was aghast when the models emerged from behind stage. Very tiny bathing suits were worn, so there wasn't much to hide the ribs, hip bones, and knobby joints of the women parading down the stage. I was quite mistaken in believing that the swimsuit models might be a bit curvier - after all, these were supposed to be sexy suits no? Frankly, they were so uncurvaceous, that they could have been men without their naughty bits. It looked like bandaids and tiny little bikini bottoms. Like toy soldiers for the final bow out, they were all the same exact height and looked almost exactly the same impersonal type. I also came to suspect that the models at this show weren't any less thin than anywhere else.

It was somewhat surprising to see that when offstage, many of the models seemed awkward and uncomfortable about their lankiness and their height. They almost all wore flats and had an almost dowager hunched look about their shoulders. These women didn't actually seem all that comfortable in their own skin off stage. I guess it's hard being a tall woman, no matter how idolized. It's shocking to realize that you can be used to seeing anything - like lots of bony ribs and hips, and thinking that it's just plain normal.

So, after barely a week of looking at towering stick figure models up close and personal, the feelings of years of built up "I'm too skinny-ick" thoughts have somewhat abated. While certainly a personal hurrah for me (well, we all have our personal body issues don't we?), this still strikes me as a rather perverse thing. Great, I have a better self image. But that's only because I started out thinking that I'm too thin. It's a little shocking, that somehow, less than a week around a ton of incredibly skinny tall women has shaken a view I've held for at least a decade. I can only imagine the influence this experience would have on woman with actual curves - you know, one with real hips and a full chest.

Modeling agencies cried foul when Madrid's show cut out the super thin - they didn't believe it was the industry's fault or responsibility that generations of women had body issues or eating disorders. How ridiculous, I snorted when I read this. Of course it is their doing! And it is ours too for romanticizing and fetishization these models. When observed closely from a few inches away undressed, these girls were freakily skinny and awkward looking. They are compared to gazelle, but the first thing that came to mind when I saw them up close was newborn horses. Seeing some of them practically stumble around backstage, I don't know how they managed to keep upright and strut once they were on stage. From a model card, I read the following measurements: 5'10", size 2, size 10 shoes, 33" chest, 22" waist, 34" hips. (Hell, I don't even have a 22" waist, and I'm a foot shorter!) This cannot be natural slenderness but some sort of combination eating disorder/drug use/smoking habit/overexercise. But somehow, we as the audience are only dazzled by their height, their slenderness, their fabulous and glamorous image.

Some of the other women working backstage were practically sighing and oogling the models. I heard more than one utter something like 'oh, I love watching the models get ready. I wish I was able to be a model!' Apprently, what's not to like? It's practically the lifestyle of the stereotypical kept woman. They had their hair, nails, makeup, and clothing attended to by people like me. But looked at it another way, these girls don't really own the bodies they have. Everything was free to be touched, massaged into place, primped. Another image crossed my mind - a groomer attending to a much loved pet poodle. Am I souring your impression yet?

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anderkoo said...

Genesis had a song "I Can't Dance" which, for whatever reason, made fun of jeans models. Based on the lyrics, it seemed to exude a resentment that these models have no talent but get all the attention, but I always felt that the song was mean-spirited and petty. Now I know why.

September 22, 2006 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Cynthia said...

What I've never understood is why they don't use slightly shorter girls if designers want to keep the same sample sizes. I really don't see if there's really a difference, between using a 5'7, size 2 girl and someone who is 5'10 and a 6, proportionately speaking. Oh well, most designers live in a different world anyway.

I'm not the world's best artist, but if I was, I would have come out with a line especially for shorter women a while ago. And, on top of that, I would demand that only "short" people model my clothes ("short" = 5'2" to 5'5")

(apologies if this appears twice)

September 23, 2006 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's ironic that the mainstream standard of beauty is freakishly impossible to achieve naturally and pretty ugly up close. Thanks for this eye-opening essay.

September 23, 2006 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am amazed by how blind you are to your own prejudices. You are a grown woman who is 87 lbs. Are you aware that,regardless of your height, many people would happily label you "anorexic" just for your weight? That people might conclude that your "obvious eating disorder" is the reason why you turned out so unnaturally short(i.e. like some gymnasts)? But you know different. You are healthy, naturally thin and petite, and fine as you are. Where do you get off pointing fingers at another body type and deeming it unnatural when your body type is equally freakish and equally unattractive to some people? If you expect the world to understand and embrace your rare body type, you shouldn't be a hypocrite by dismissing the genetic anomalies in other people. In doing so, you void the credibility in your own arguments. Implying that runway models are freaks does not make you less of a freak. You have more in common with those women than you think; don't alienate the very people who are in the same boat with you.

October 23, 2006 8:04 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

To the 10/23 commentor - Interesting, but way off the mark. First off, if you had been actually reading through my entries (or even this one), it's clear that I'm not exactly happy with my height or my mass. (See the 9th paragraph of this entry starting with "So, after barely a week...") My image is also not being plastered over every fashion site, magazine, etc. Comparing me to the models is perhaps some sort of backhand compliment, but altogether completely laughable.

I see that you completely missed the irony of my own self designation as being "4'10", 87 pounds, and full grown." I am, for all intents and purposes, the height of an average 8 or 10 year old girl. My blog, in fact, captures the practical difficulties and irritations of being the size and height that I am. I am nothing, if not a completely and irritatingly practical person.

I agree in that it's disturbing to hear that someone is 87 pounds and a full grown adult - but only if you make the assumption that she's normal height (5'4" is the average height of an American woman). You can't look at these numbers independently of each other - they just don't make sense otherwise.

I am very aware that I am a statistical anamoly - I am so far from "average" that it actually becomes at least a little difficult to live in a world whose tools, products, and environments are tailored to those that are bigger. Hence, my blog is both a source of information and a way to open dialog to discuss my viewpoint. In fact, the models that walk these shows are no different than me in that respect - they are statistical anomolies - but on the other end.

My second major point is that my irritation with the entire Fashion Week experience was not with the models, but with those that stage and demand this sort of aesthetic. Galliano's 2006 Spring Show gave a refreshing slap back to reality for everyone in the industry. He sent out every body type and age...and it was outrageous because he pointed out the industry's own blind eye to their sizing standards.

The problem with using the aesthetic of the super thin isn't that the thin models should be reviled...it is that this statistical abberation (and by medical definitions, unhealthily thin) shouldn't be used as the standard of beauty.

I actually have a huge amount of sympathy for the women that walk into the modeling industry. It's a terribly vicious, dehumanizing, and exploitive industry. These girls (and yes, they are mostly under 18) are literally starving themselves to make it. Perhaps it's not really accurate for me to portray them as romanticisze victims either - ending up with an eating disorder can also be coldly and rationally seen as just the cost of doing business, after all. Many of them come from a foreign country, where perhaps opportunities may be slim.

Unless you're willing to make the claim that every model is naturally able to stay as thin as she is without massive amounts of exercise or severely curtailing her appetite, I don't even see your complaints about my remarks as being valid. Several ex-models (and current models) even comment about the lengths that their colleagues go through. If you'd like to consider the grueling upkeep some sort of hardcore training, go right ahead. But then it isn't exactly natural or normal is it?

And if it's really the case that hundreds of medically handicapped women can make a living from their condition (pancreatic insufficiency being one example), then hurrah for them. But wouldn't you think that this little detail is something that would have come out the second these complaints hit the fan?

October 24, 2006 12:23 AM  

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