The XX Factor

OK, Mr. Lifshitz: Why Must Models Be So Skinny?

As I eagerly await my copy of the November Glamour -the one with the naked plus-sized models-I’ve been following news stories about models: There’s the Polo Ralph Lauren dismissal and photoshopping of Fillipa Hamilton controversy , and Brigitte magazine’s announcement that it was replacing skinny models with “real” women who have “identities” rather than “protruding bones.” Karl Lagerfeld has been slammed for his hilariously concise and snobby response.

Since the Polo story broke, I’ve been eagerly awaiting an explanation, or even just a theory, as to how the model ideal got so extreme to begin with-I mean, why it is that models are required to be so thin and young and tall? Who is in charge of this? Casting directors? Advertisers? Editors? Finally, yesterday on the Today Show segment about the Polo mishigas, I was hoping that Cosmo editor-in-chief Kate White might offer an insider’s explanation on the whole super-duper-skinny model thing. Instead, she merely passed the buck:

It really starts with the sample clothes, because they’ve down-sized-they’re now like a size 2 or 4. To some degree, it relates to the Kate Moss era. Before then, supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Christy Brinkley, they were really curvy. But they got skinnier and skinnier, and the clothes got smaller, and so it creates this cycle where you have to fit in the clothes to get the job, and then the models get smaller and that’s who we have to use in fashion stories.

Fashion folks are not the most self-reflective lot. But surely the editor-in-chief of a major women’s magazine would feel compelled to answer the simple question: Why do models have to be so goddamn skinny? My first instinct is to tack the “heroin chic” preference by image-makers to two major cultural events: the fall of the Iron Curtain and the mainstreaming of gay culture in the wake of the AIDS epidemic.

I’ll be pondering this as responses trickle in about the Glamour spread. In the meantime, if you have any theories as to why standards of beauty got to be this way-that is, drastically skinny and young and tall-please let me know.