Fashion Week Brings Up Old Memories
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In New York, fashion week is in full swing. Recently, the fashion industry introduced health guidelines for models. Unlike in Madrid, where models with a low body weight were banned, the American guidelines are voluntary. The American Academy of Eating Disorders says the American guidelines don't go far enough. It says models should be required to get annual physicals.
Well, commentator Barbara de Vries is a former model, and she tells us what it's like to be at the beck and call of designers.
BARBARA DE VRIES: I started modeling when I was 16. I was six feet tall and 130 pounds. Over the next five years, I would be called too thin, too fat, too tall, too young, too old, my face too chubby, my feet too big, my back too long and so on. I was never called perfect. Yet I appeared in Vogue, on Yves Saint Laurent's runway and on the cover of Cosmopolitan.
My first fashion show casting was for Courege in the less '70s. There must have been 50 models cramped into a small, smoky room. And after keeping us waiting forever, an assistant came in and told us to strip down to our panties. She then led six naked girls at a time to the auditorium where Courege was waiting. We walked through endless corridors, passing Frenchmen who clapped like horny monkeys. I refused to be humiliated and took the trip fully clothed and defiant. Of course, I did not make the final cut.
Nowadays, designers consistently booked the skinniest models, as if birdlike bony bodies look chic in their collections. It doesn't take a fashion committee to figure out why girls who were rejected will return a few pounds lighter. But why are designers so infatuated by the adolescent boy look, rather than the fuller feminine figure of their customers? And why do female designers not stand up for their own sex? According to the Web site Obesity in America, 65 percent of adult Americans are overweight, 30 percent of whom are obese.
The space between skinny ideal and overweight reality is occupied by a multibillion dollar industry that includes fashion magazines, beauty products, self-help programs and so on. The profits from this self-esteem business grow exponentially as the ideal female figure becomes harder to attain. One of my first jobs as a model was a swimwear shoot in Positano, Italy. I had never tasted real Italian food before and on the first night, I feasted on antipasti, oso bucco and tiramisu.
The photographer was horrified, and told me I looked like a Dutch heifer. After that, he ordered my meals, salad and fruit. And I let him because I wanted to please him.
The attempt by the fashion industry to police itself by placing the main responsibility with the models is making scapegoat out of a 16-year-old, innocent, tall girl who desperately wants to enter a world that's portrayed as the most glamorous place on earth. And when she tries to live by the rules, she becomes the evil symbol, instead of the industry that denies the natural beauty of all women.
SIEGEL: Commentator Barbara de Vries is a former model and also the author of a forthcoming memoir called "Stupid Model." She was born in Holland.
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