The XX Factor

Barbie, Catwalk Models Now “Too Fat”

It’s increasingly clear that for many in the fashion world, there are two kinds of women: those about to die from starvation, and fat women. There’s been a disturbing denouement to the controversy over Ralph Lauren’s overzealous Photoshopping that led to a picture in which a model’s hips were narrower than her head: The model in question, Filippa Hamilton, was fired for being “overweight .” It took me a while to find a good, nonaltered picture of Hamilton so you can judge for yourself, but it seems to me that if you can call that woman “fat,” it might actually be time for psychiatric intervention for your delusions.

But those kinds of delusions define the fashion industry. In case you haven’t heard, it’s now been determined that Barbie is too fleshy for the delicate tastes of fashion designer Christian Louboutin. He agreed to join a larger project of fashion designers making specialty clothes for the doll, and decided that he had to redesign the doll herself because her ankles were “too fat. ” Feminists sit around worrying that Barbie will distort little girls’ body images, but fashion designers apparently fear that Barbie’s setting a bad example of what happens to you if you let yourself go.

Of course, part of the problem appears to be that many male fashion designers seem to think women get to dangerously obese weights like 95-100 pounds by doing nothing but shoveling chips in their mouth all day. Or that’s the impression I get reading Mary Elizabeth Williams’ post at Broadsheet on the issue , where she quotes designer Karl Lagerfeld denouncing “fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.” He was responding to Brigitte magazine’s announcement that they were no longer using profesional fashion models, as they were tired of Photoshopping away the inconveniently ugly parts of being painfully thin, such as the jutting bones. One can only imagine how Lagerfeld thinks a woman who reaches a whole size 6 must eat. Perhaps he pictures a woman with an IV pumping cheesecake directly to her veins 24/7.

In reality, many women take a pass not just on cheesecake but also on chips in order to even get down to a size 6, which the fashion world treats as morbidly obese. And as the Brigitte magazine example shows, according to the standards set by the fashion industry there is no such thing a beautiful woman, period. If you’re painfully thin enough to make it as a model, the Photoshop team has to spend hours covering up the boniness. If you have enough weight on you that you have a little softness to you, then you’re treated like the Goodyear Blimp.

The obsession with wiping out any traces of humanity from female bodies in the fashion industry reminds me of nothing so much as the obsession with sexual purity that flourishes on the Christian Right. In both cases, anxieties about the dirty biological reality of life are projected onto female bodies, and the solution proposed is an extreme form of control. As fashion designers balk at anything even resembling soft tissue on women’s bodies, some factions of the Christian right are moving towards extreme forms of premarital abstinence that ban even closed-mouth kissing before the wedding . But since the anxieties they’re trying to quash never actually go away, it’s worrisome in both cases to see what the next steps in appetite-denial will be.