Banning size zero models is small fry. What fashion needs is diversity – The Guardian

New York Fashion Week hadn’t even begun when the big story emerged: the luxury groups LVMH and Kering have pledged to stop using underage and size zero models in their catwalk shows and ad campaigns. This means that from now on, in shows for brands as significant as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dior, models will have to adhere to the LVMH-Kering charter. While no one can deny that this will probably be good news for future generations of underage models and/or of size zero models, many media outlets are trying to convince us that this is good for everyone else too.

But I don’t think it’s good news for me, a size 20 woman, or even that it’s good news for the current crop of size zero and teenage models. To deal first with those who are directly affected, size zero and underage models in the industry right now have been lured there and whipped into shape to respond to the present trends enforced by the very brands that are now refusing to give them work.

They are being punished for being very thin and being very young – which have been the main currency of the 21st-century fashion industry. These are undoubtedly models who have turned up to casting calls and been told they would be perfect if they could drop 5lb, or that their face is too round, or their hips too wide. To ostracise them from an industry that has starved them into submission in order to get work seems a kind of cruelty.

Bethany Rutter.

‘I am a plus-size woman who works in fashion, and I cannot see how this will improve my lot one bit.’ Photograph: PR

I wonder if it wouldn’t be a more progressive stance for these big brands to – instead of banning these girls and women from getting work – make a sincere, ongoing effort to address diversity in their campaigns and catwalks. Slowly, quietly using more black, Asian and minority ethnic models, more models at the higher end of their sizing chart, more models above the age of, say, 25. Slowly, quietly, changing the face of fashion. The downside? It would be less headline-grabbing.

The secretary general of the French Federation of Model Agencies has said that agencies are simply responding to the requirements of their fashion brand clients. But until the fashion industry addresses its obsession with youth and thinness, there will still be no meaningful change in the kind of images we consume and the kind of women and girls who populate those images. What we will be left with now is an industry full of 16-year-old models rather than 14-year-old models who are a size 2 rather than a size zero. The catwalk shows will look almost identical post-charter to how they looked before. And we’re meant to be grateful for that?

Moves like this are heralded as great news for “real women”, but as a UK size 20, I struggle to see how I’m meant to feel more represented, more included, more a participant in the fashion industry and the world at large if catwalk models are a UK size 6 rather than a UK size 4. I am a plus-size woman who works in fashion, and I cannot see how this will improve my lot one bit.

Beth Ditto’s collection.

‘It’s always fun to see Beth Ditto on the catwalk, but it isn’t representative of meaningful change – despite her own clothing line having launched.’ Photograph: Ezra Petronio

The high-end fashion industry has shown time and time again that any interest in women who are actually fat or actually old is always a fad. Rather than employing models at the top end of their size chart, fat celebrities like the wonderful Beth Ditto have clothes specially made for them so they can walk in shows by designers such as Marc Jacobs. It’s always fun to see Ditto there, but it isn’t representative of meaningful change – despite her own clothing line having launched. It doesn’t end up with the clothes being made by other companies in my size that I can buy, it doesn’t end up with fashion magazines featuring plus-size clothes, it doesn’t end up with me being treated better in the world.

The inability to use real plus-size models undoubtedly comes down to the fact that high-end designers want to exclude real plus-size women from their clothes: our bodies are not aspirational, and this is an industry that deals in aspirations.

The LVMH-Kering charter moves the goalposts by the tiniest fraction of an inch and asks us to celebrate it. I’m left wondering who actually has cause for celebration.

Bethany Rutter is a journalist and blogger who writes about fat bodies, plus-size fashion and body positivity


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