The idea of beauty today has become skewed, to say the least. With digital enhancement tools like Photoshop, beautiful has become synonymous with mythical and unreal.
In these times, the decision of 19 editors of Vogue’s global edition to use ‘healthy’ models and ensure that girls with visible signs of eating disorders are not selected, is significant. Spain and Italy have passed laws whereby models are hired based on their Body Mass Index (BMI), and Israel has told underweight models to pack on some pounds or get off the runway. But will this awareness ever catch on in Pakistan, where models on average have a BMI between 16 and 17.3 instead of the advised 18.5?
“I don’t think the BMI can be instituted here because our industry is too small and there are not enough models,” says Raheel Rao, editor of Diva Magazine. Editor of Xpoze Magazine Andleeb Rana concurs, adding that models are not seasoned enough either. “When I am selecting a model, my major concern is whether the model is over-exposed or if she has aged,” says Rana. “I need girls people can relate to.”
While the answer to the question ‘who is to blame’ will have everyone pointing fingers at one another, industry insiders argue that designers create unrealistic sizes that require skinny models. To be ahead in the rat race, models go through extreme measures to stay skinny. The motto in the fashion industry is: the skinnier, the better.
“You can’t [always] blame the models because there are certain designers who will not allow a model to wear their clothes if she is not super skinny,” continues Rao. “Many designers are sceptical of using Ayaan because they feel she is overweight.”
Rana reiterates that models in Pakistan cannot be selected on the basis of the BMI. “Our market is very different because of the clothes we have — if a model has a paunchy stomach, it will be hidden by a kameez,” she says.
Fashion photographer Shaani of Guddu & Shaani says, “Often, a model is perfectly fit and toned at the beginning of her career but gains weight and isn’t in shape once she gets some fame — most clients, editors and photographers don’t give such models priority. They avoid casting her.”
All editors and council members vow that adequate nutrition is provided to models during shoots and shows. “We spend almost Rs900,000 on food boxes for models and the organising committee during fashion weeks,” says Saad Ali of Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC). Shamaeel Ansari, Chairperson of Fashion Pakistan Week, adds, “Not only are two meals provided, smoking backstage is not allowed either.” While these measures are appreciated, there is still no regulatory body that ensures that models are healthy and drug-free. “We get all our models through Catwalk and they handle the hiring aspect of the Fashion Week,” she explains.
Iraj Manzoor, who has modeled for 23 years, speaks candidly about her experience. “Models need to work out for a couple of hours every day,” says Iraj. “While food is provided at fashion weeks and shoots, one can never know when one of the girls will go to the toilet and throw it all out.” She feels when it comes to taking responsibility for this obsession with being skinny, a vicious blame-game takes place which travels from one member of the industry to the next.
Iraj recounts instances where designers have yelled at models and made them cry for gaining weight. “When new girls enter the industry, it can be harsh. For them, fame means more than the profession, hence, they resort to various shortcuts to lose weight,” she says. “But one can’t just blame editors and designers either. You will often hear one model telling the other how she has gained weight just to put her down.”
This entire debate reflects the bigger problem of society’s distorted perception of beauty. Whether it’s models eating tissue paper to ‘feel full’ or H&M using computer-generated models to achieve a specific look, the truth is that the ‘emaciated’ look is en vogue.
“Regardless of what anyone says or what they believe, the skinniest model will be hired,” confirms Iraj.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2013.
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