All Worked Up about the Fashion Industry


It was an eventful third week in November in the Benjamin household. That’s because two of the biggest reality shows on TV, “Project Runway” and “America’s Next Top Model” had their season finales on consecutive nights. To My Lovely Wife and My Three Beautiful Daughters, all of whom are fashion conscious, this made the third week in November equivalent to the build-up to the Super Bowl.

Being a conscientious husband and father, I did my best to allow myself to be caught up in the excitement along with the Women In My Life, and I daresay I’m just a tiny bit more familiar with the fashion industry than are most American heterosexual men.

Still, at one point, I had to confess to My Lovely Wife, “I just don’t get the fashion industry.”

My long-suffering Lovely Wife sighed in that ever-knowing way she does and she said, “What’s not to get, Honey?”

We were watching a televised fashion show, where models parade down the “catwalk” or “runway” as it’s called in the industry, displaying the latest designs by the hottest designers. I said, “Look at all that stuff. All the feathers and outrageous costumes and colors that make one bleed from the eyes. Nobody wears that stuff in real life. You don’t see those outfits on city streets. Why do they go to all the trouble?”

My Lovely Wife said, “The things we’re seeing right now aren’t meant to be worn ‘in real life’ as you put it. The designers come up with the outrageous-looking things to attract attention from the magazines. Once they’ve gotten their interest, then the designers show off the more sensible and practical outfits, the ones that people buy in the stores. These outfits are like billboards or like the photos in your men’s magazines that advertise those phone sex numbers and websites. Use the hook to attract attention and then they see the real stuff.”

“Oh,” I said. That made sense. We were quiet for a while. Then I said, “There’s something else I don’t get about the fashion industry.”

My Lovely Wife sighed. “What now,” she asked.

At this point, we were watching “America’s Next Top Model.” I said, “This season, ANTM made a big deal about the fact that all the contestants are shorter than five feet seven inches tall.”

“That’s right. Five feet seven inches is considered the industry standard for fashion models, and ANTM wanted to promote the idea that shorter women can be professional models, as well.”

“That’s all well and good,” I said. “But look at these women. Short or tall, you’ve got to admit they’re all really thin.”

“Yes they are,” said My Lovely Wife. “Most of the highest-paid fashion models are size zero when it comes to the clothes they wear.”

“How small is that,” I asked.

During a commercial break, we hit Google and learned that for women, “size zero” translates to measurements of anywhere from 30-22-32 to 33-25-35. That’s considered really, really tiny. A Miss’s size 4, for comparison, is considered appropriate for a woman about five feet four inches tall, about 115 pounds, and with dimensions of 34-25-35. So a girl who can fit into a size zero is smaller than that, and probably has to run around in the shower to get wet.

During the same commercial break, we also learned that the median height and weight of American women aged 20-29 is about five feet five inches tall and about 133 pounds. We also learned from that less than two percent of American women can wear size zero clothes.

“So here’s the upshot of what I don’t get,” I said. “Lots and lots of girls want to be fashion models, right? It’s a glamorous-looking profession.”

“Right,” said My Lovely Wife.

“But to be a high fashion model, a woman has to be over five feet seven inches tall, yet considerably less than 115 pounds, and to basically have the dimensions of a pencil.”

“Right,” said My Lovely Wife.

“All this to be able to wear clothes that aren’t meant to be worn by ordinary people, and even if they were, the clothes are too small for ninety-eight percent of American women to fit into them anyway.”

“That’s right,” said My Lovely Wife.

“Just as an example, our perfectly healthy fifteen-year old daughter is too heavy by at least ten pounds and too busty by at least three inches to be a fashion model.”

“Pretty much,” said My Lovely Wife. “She’s also too short by three inches.”

“I just don’t get the fashion industry,” I said.

“It’s a real problem for the industry,” said My Lovely Wife. “Lots of girls in America are obsessed about their body images and they end up thinking they have to starve themselves to look like the models they see in the magazines and on TV. It’s tragic.”

My Lovely Wife and I spent a little more time on Google. Names like Ana Carolina Reston, a model who died of starvation at the age of twenty-one, came up. Sisters Luisel and Eliana Ramos, also models, died at the ages of twenty-two and eighteen, respectively, suffered from anorexia nervosa and who also literally starved themselves to death.

I spent a few moments staring at the pictures of these dead young women, with faces that were considered beautiful for a time, but whose beauty began to literally erode and wither away, resulting in gaunt, skeletal, haunting stares into a merciless camera.

I also came across a couple of fashion-related news items while I was surfing the net between commercials. It seems that in November, fashion institution Ralph Lauren got busted for airbrushing photos of models Filppa Hamilton and Valentian Zelyaeva to the point where the models’ heads were bigger than their photoshopped waists. I suppose doctoring pictures is better than endorsing anorexia.

In another scandal, size zero supermodel Kate Moss bragged last month that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” which led one wag to conclude, “Moss is a woman whose job it is to wear nice frocks. She isn’t paid for her intellect.” This may be true, but it’s also true that sculptor Marc Quinn created a life-size gold statue of Moss, called “Siren,” to place in the British Museum. Mr. Quinn called Miss Moss, “The ideal beauty of the moment.”

“This is depressing,” I said. “Essentially, the industry wants walking coat-hangers in lipstick.”

“There’s hope,” said My Lovely Wife.

“How,” I asked. “Our daughters watch this stuff, and as beautiful as they are, they’ll never physically match these insanely unhealthy standards.”

My Lovely Wife said, “Well, in the first place, your daughters know that YOU find ME attractive, even though I’m nowhere near a size zero.”

This is true. I’ve bragged on My Lovely Wife’s voluptuous, sexy, curvaceous body many times, including in this very column.

She also said, “Plus, some of the fashion magazines are starting to pick up on the idea that larger women can be models, too. She tossed me the November 2009 issue of “Glamour”, the one with Scarlett Johannsen on the cover.

Inside the magazine, I came across a picture of seven beautiful, curvy, sexy women, all plus-sized models, all seductively and nakedly displaying their assets for everyone to see.

One of them, Crystal Renn, actually used to be a size DOUBLE-ZERO and weighed only ninety-eight pounds on a five-nine frame. In an ultimate feel-good story, she announced she’d had enough, started eating again, and now she’s getting work as a model for clothes in sizes fourteen to nineteen, and she’s proud of weighing 165 pounds.

Oh, yeah. And she’s a helluva lot sexier as a plus-sized model, too.

Another model in the photo, Lizzie Miller, first created a stir when she’d appeared in the August issue of “Glamour” wearing nothing but a g-string and letting the whole world see her one-hundred eighty pound, sexy, curvy frame.

The response to both photos has been overwhelmingly positive, and the editors of Glamour hope this will spark a revolution and banish into the dustbin the notion that only size zeros can be models.

“So you see,” said My Lovely Wife. “There’s hope for the industry after all.”

“One more thing,” I said.

“What,” sighed My Lovely Wife.

I said, “High fashion’s all about wearing clothes, right?”


“So the most talked-about photos of fashion models these days are the ones where the models have taken their clothes OFF!”

My Lovely Wife sighed and gave up, turning up the volume on the TV.

I just don’t get the fashion industry.

J.T. Benjamin
December ’09 – January ’10

“All Worked Up” © 2009 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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