#896 Grace Coddington (and me) on super thin models

“It’s a big problem. I remember when I was young [and still modeling], they told me that if I didn’t lose weight, I’d be out of the show, so I spent a week living off of coffee. But I’m a very levelheaded person. These problems nowadays are with kids much, much younger than that, and that’s most of the problem – when they’re very young and vulnerable…”

Continued below

“But it is a big problem in the fashion industry. And you go to meetings to discuss it, and you think it’s kind of futile, because it’s such a big thing, and in the end, people are always asking for more and they’re always asking for thinner… [Models] have to be a little thinner than you and I because you always photograph a little fatter, but you don’t have to go to the extremes they go to. And because they’re kids, they take it too far and they can’t regulate their lives, and next thing you know, they’re anorexic, and it is tragic.”


What Grace Coddington doesn’t touch on here is how dramatically your perceptions change when you’ve been working in the industry. And not just your perceptions but your attitudes. I worked as a booker for about a year back in 2007 and I was amazed by how quickly I was able to look at girls as commodities. They became like cattle – ‘too short, crooked teeth, bad skin, fat thighs’ etc etc.

But your perception of what it means to be super skinny is even worse. After a week of Haute Couture shows in Paris, I went from being literally shocked on the first day by seeing girls’ full rib cages and spines, to finding the same girls attractive by the fourth. You see something enough times and it becomes normal. Likewise when I came back from New York Fashion Week in September and went to New Zealand Fashion Week, I couldn’t believe how big all the models were here. Compared with New York, the majority were a good two sizes bigger (a size 8 or 10 in NZ as opposed to a 4 or 6 in NY). So I was looking at girls and in my head calling them plus sized, when by any normal person’s standards they’d be considered skinny.

I have fights with my family over it. I’ve become so used to anorexic looking girls that I’ll literally have a 15 minute debate with my mother or sister about how it’s A-Okay to put extra-super thin girls out on the runway. Like I said, you see something enough times and it becomes normal.

And I think that’s part of the industry’s problem. Of course people from the outside look in and see what a nightmare it all is – they’re looking from the outside. When you’re surrounded by it, looking at it everyday, obsessing over Natasha Poly editorials or watching an Alexander Wang show where every girl is literally stick thin, it becomes harder and harder to see the problem.

The crux of the matter for me – and I’m loathe to admit it – is that I do think that the thinnest girls look best on the runway. And I can’t tell you if that’s because I’ve seen so many shows (and so many ano-looking girls) that my perception is skewed, or that they actually do look better in the clothes. I’m obviously not alone otherwise the thinnest girls wouldn’t continue to be booked.

So what’s the solution? An industry watchdog run by people outside of the fashion world? A compulsory BMI test? They’ve tried it all before and the thin models still slip through the cracks (pun not intended).

Like Grace Coddington said, “Anna’s trying to do it. Personally we’re not allowed, at Vogue, to work with girls who are very thin, but you never know, because you could book them and think they’re a certain size, and they turn up on the shoot and suddenly they’ve spun into this anorexic situation. And you’re on the spot and you have to get the job done and you have one day to do it, and what do you do? But you try to be responsible, as Anna is.”


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  1. Anonymous says

    have never modeled – I’m too short apart from anythign else. As a teenager and until relatiovely recently in fact, I was stick thin – model thin. I have always eaten though – and well. I am now a healthy size ten, but that is less to do with being picked up off the ground and put on a drip, and more about changign metabolism. I never thought it would happen to me, but it did and it will to all those girls too. One of the things to remeber is that they are teenagers and some teenagers are naturally thin. Yes – of course there are the ones who need help – there are in ‘real life’ too. And – yes – of course we should help them. I think the issue can be age too – should 14 years olds be allowed to be models? Are they mature enough to handle it? Should grown women be encouraged to look like children? It goes both ways. I used to get thoroughly sick of people telling me I was too thin and that I needed to eat. It needs to be case by case.

  2. charlotte says

    this is always an interesting topic. i believe in perceptions changing; since i was 16 and became obsessed with fashion and vogue and the models in vogue i’ve become ‘immune’ to the skinnyness of girls and rarely bat an eyelid at skeletal frames now, but think how great the clothes look, yet you hear people (usually mothers) pipe up in the media about how anorexic they are etc… and you’re thinking, ‘but this is normal?’, yeah, normal IN the industry/mind’s of fashion lovers like me.

    this reminds me of picture me, any news on that? i’d love to see that still.

  3. part-timer says

    I agree that you do get desensitised to it all. I model part-time and have a fairly healthy self esteem and body image. However, I do feel lacking and a little bit depressed around fashion week when I’m surrounded by 15 year olds with stick thin arms and legs.

    And I agree with Anon (12.47pm), why are 14 year olds selling clothes to older women?? Surely that would screw with anyone’s self esteem!

    Another interesting note: although the skinny models look good on the runway, they look absolutely gross backstage when they undress!

  4. Anonymous says

    I use this as a gauge, you know that show the City. And how Whitney is like rake thin, and if you saw her in real life you’d be like ‘damn girl, eat some food, here eat this food, I don’t need it’. But she still looks reasonably healthy. Then there’s her friend Ally on the show, and you look at her and you’re like, oh god, you look like a ghoul, you’re so skinny, you look like Michael Jackson in the thriller video, dead eyes staring at me out of a gaunt skull. Even Kelly Cutrone in that episode called her on being too thin. I’m not sure what the point to this was anymore.. That chick Ally is a babe though.

  5. Anonymous says

    yeah dude she’s a babe, but what about olivia palermo? Who doesn’t want to do naughty, naughty things with her????

  6. Anonymous says

    I think as a older retailer I still like to see clothes on thin girls but 18years plus so they have a bit of depth in their faces. I know it is not right to like slim models but I love all the models from the 60’and70 and boy they where slim.I hate when people say to me “you should use real women in your shows”. Whats a real women for gods sake and I do not want big women on the catwalk and not older.They want to see what the clothes look like on bigger and older just look at me I am size 16, I do not want people like me wearing the clothes on the catwalk I do not care. Models should be slim and young that is their job.

  7. Anonymous says

    Anon 12.47 again. Good point there re. age. The girls should be 18 I think. Too young otherwise – to look after themselves properly in that world, as well as sell to women (I prefer just women rather than OLDER by the way !!!) Whose to say that because someone is thin that they aren’t real either? How damn insulting to naturally thin people! I hate thin bashing.

  8. Anonymous says

    what do you call over 40 year old women.They are older and when you get to my age it is bloody awful but I am older can not change the body but the mind is still 25Ithink a beautful n.z.girl was Ruby on nztop model,she just had something i liked and had a great attitude .

  9. says

    BMI tests are ridiculous. Mine says I’m supposed to be dead, and I know for a fact I’m not.. My thinness comes from a fast metabolism and good genes. People hate me for it, but I’m just lucky I guess.

    I know that showing thin models on runways skews young girls perceptions on beauty, but I really hate thin bashing (thanks anon at 3:03pm).

    People hatin’ on thin people sucks. I get that there is diseases like anorexia etc etc, but what about the obesity problem in NZ? Its a much larger problem than being too thin! Look at people like Beth Ditto (singer from the Gossip) who is so obviously obese, and will have a lot more heath issues than people who are too thin, though people applaud her for being fine in her skin. Then they boo the skinny models who are also fine in their skin..

    To finish, clothes look better on size 6 or 4 than they do on size 12 and 14, its just the truth. Designers realize this, and thats why models have jobs..

  10. Anonymous says

    Leah… I’m trying to understand your point.

    Is it “I’m thin and lucky, so BOO you haters! Fat people like Beth Ditto are gross even if they seem okay with themselves! In conclusion, skinny is best.’?

  11. Leonie says

    Some models look as if they could break, Isaac. If clothing looks better on a shape like that, then just stick garments on clothes hangers. Because that is what these models have become. Women are designed to be curvy. I don’t care what Karl Lagerfeld says. I’m not homophobic. This comment pertains only to him, but it seems as if he’d prefer to see young men wearing all the clothes he designs for women. No hips, no arse, no tits. Women do not look like that. So who is the market? The Victoria Beckhams of the world? Cindy Crawford was, and is, a healthy looking beauty. If the clothes don’t look good on real women, then we are talking about art, not fashion. If designers demand of their models a shape which requires them to only drink coffee, smoke cigarettes (and an awful lot seem to) and even use drugs to maintain a weight that is unsustainable, I believe that is irresponsible both personally and socially. It’s a no brainer really. Tight corsets that caused women to require smelling salts to regain consciousness. Footbinding in China to satisfy the whims of one kinky emperor. Emaciated models in the 21st century. Not much progress really.

  12. says

    At anon @ 5:48.

    If thats the way you choose to summairise it, then thats fine. I didn’t say that people like Beth Ditto are gross- I just think that if people are gunna have a big cry about skinny people, then they should also have a cry about the obesity problem. You can say to someone ‘omg you’re so skinny’ and noone will have a problem with it. But as soon as someone says ‘omg your so fat’ then its just mean.

    I’m also not saying that just because some models etc have eating disorders, not everyone does. Sorry if its offended, its just the way I see things!

  13. says

    This debate is almost worn out, however it serves the important purpose of holding designers and the industry to account in a sense.

    If you consider women’s body shapes over the years, they have significantly changed. From Betty Grable (1940’s) to Twiggy (1960’s) and Naomi Campbell (1980’s) all of these women’s body shapes reflect the desired body shape of the time.

    At present, it would seem that extremely an extremely thin underdeveloped body is desirable. At some point in the future curvaceous will return and so the cycle will continue.

    To prevent eating disorders, negative media backlash etc this there should be a minimum age to be able to model maybe 15 is appropriate? I am unsure. It would have to depend heavily on the emotional maturity of the individual, it is something which cannot be reconciled easily with the social responsibility the fashion industry has.

  14. Anonymous says

    I was helping a new designer to-day choose a model for her look book, and as were are down in the south island there not lot good girls even being a unie town. Lots of big bums 8 tops 12 bums, but that is the nz girl shape and you have to make it work. thats why we love NomD down here.

  15. Anonymous says

    “The crux of the matter for me – and I’m loathe to admit it – is that I do think that the thinnest girls look best on the runway.”

    Did you write this and are you actually comparing yourself with Grace Coddington? Humble much?

    Comments like yours contribute to what is a very very damaging industry for a lot of women. A little like that complete crap NZ Top Model with Ruby being named as too fat – imagine how damaging that can be for some people. My six year old niece watched that crap and has already started to weigh herself and ask if she’s fat. There is research which shows that adolescent girls would rather die than be fat. Anyone remember Kelly Osbourne saying it was acceptable for her to be addicted to painkillers but not to be fat? Is that not just a bit f**ked up?

    And yes it goes the other way too.
    I’ve known girls who have worn two pairs of pants to make themselves look fatter because they get picked on at school for being too thin and “anorexic”. One of my ex girlfriend’s was constantly accused of being anorexic when in fact her metabolism was incredibly fast. She got excited if she put on 1/2 kg. I also know women who won’t eat in public because of the anxiety it raises. This is craziness!

  16. Anonymous says

    anon 3.03 here. For goodness sake anon 3.51 – anyone who actually IS an adult shouldn’t have to feel they should look like a fourteen year old. The fact that we as adults have 14-16 year olds held up to us as the epitome of adult beauty is disturbing. They are gorgeous GIRLS, but hey are children – with chirldren’s metabolisms to get back to the point.

    Agree with Leah I think it was re. obesity. Bash that instead. Way more of a problem. Long long ago when I was young (ha ha!) nobody wanted to be fat. Now I walk through Newmarket and see tenage girls PROUDLY showign their muffin tips. The anti thin thing has gone too far. Whats’ wrong with teaching proper nutrition. MANY people in this country could benefit from that.

  17. Anonymous says

    Skinny-bashing can’t be compared to fat-bashing. It just can’t. Skinny – ridiculously, mostly unachievably skinny – is held up as the highest form of physical beauty every day.

    People over a size 14 are discriminated against in myriad ways every day – by the fashion industry, in workplaces, on tv, by the airline industry… the list is long.

    As evidenced on this thread, criticising obesity is totally ingrained in society – someone who complained about being ‘skinny-bashed’ turned around just two sentences later and said ‘size 6 just looks better than size 12’ with no discernable irony. Wha…?

    I am a size 8-10 and still frequently feel ‘fat’ thanks to the fashion industry. Recently I dropped a couple of kilos unintentionally and was surprised by the number of people who mentioned it in conjunction with a compliment. This actually made me feel worse, like – ‘Oh god, so if I put on just a couple of kilos people will notice and judge me?’ This is patently ridiculous – nothing to do with health or obesity, but the reflection of a society obsessed with skinniness.

    The obesity epidemic has many causes, and isn’t as simple as telling people to eat less or get off the couch. Holding up size zero models as the ideal isn’t going to help either. Starting to accept as beautiful and normal a more realistic range of sizes might though.

  18. says

    This is a really interesting post. I agree, stick thin girls do look best on the runway.
    This may be an ignorant observation, but what I don’t understand about a lot of haute couture, is why so many of the clothes produced can and do only look superb on women of that size.
    The Satorialist commented a while back on a show he saw that he felt emphasised women’s bodies in all the wrong places, and yes, it was a standout example. But I think it is done by almost all fashion houses, all the time.
    Being able to afford these clothes doesn’t equal having the body to pull them off. And what is the use in your clothes looking phenomenal for their debut and then disappointing all customers who are not size 4s?

  19. Anonymous says

    Models are supposed to be responsible (along with the garments themselves) for carrying out the aesthetic concept of a designer. This is their job.

    A design usually starts with a sketch. The sketch is arguably the most accurate manifestation of the designer’s “idea”, because it is not constrained by reality. Look at these sketches – they are not drawing _people_ in clothes, they are drawing human-like figures that, if real, would not have the capacity for bones or organs, let alone a breast or two. But that’s OK, because it’s just pencil and paper.

    The designs are beautiful, but the girls have to be not-quite-human to carry them off.

    Models who can best imitate these sketches are booked. Tall skeletons with inoffensive faces. Some people just look this way – they have “impossibly” tall/thin proportions. Most don’t, and many of these ‘don’t’ girls who have nice enough faces and potential, resort to extremes.

    This is obviously a problem – a morbid collaboration – but who is at fault? Why do designers have these ridiculous ideals? It is a form of art (yes with $$$$$). Some would blame the gay men and het women who own the industry, and don’t really appreciate female sexuality.

    I have no answers, just observations, and I think that in ‘fashion’ – very thin models look best. Walking down the street, this isn’t the case. It doesn’t make sense but that’s just the way it is.

  20. Anonymous says

    what are we all going to bitch about next week. Have a good think over the long weekend. I need a new subject each week. Debate is good for fashion people and keeps us on our toes.Have a good weekend Isaac

  21. Anonymous says

    coming from a 15 year old girl who is going through the most targeted age for these problems…I just hope for the sake of keeping women and men psychologically sane that this extremely distorted view of women and men only looking ‘beautiful’ when they are scary thin STAYS ON THE RUNWAY. Because the runway view of beauty is another thing really it’s the impossible for most people.
    I just hope my children will be able to walk through a mall without these f***** up views spiraling out of control in their minds!
    Your either apart of it or not is what most people say, but this affects everyone even people who are COMFORTABLE living in their size 12 body like me. It kills me to see my model friends go through this BS! Most of them are on drugs or have some sort of psychological problem but still go through with it because it’s who they are now and they’re my age.

    But I like you Isaac…apart from all this crap about models lol

  22. Anonymous says

    I never thought these stick thin models actually looked good. Yes, they may have pleasant or striking facial features. But, other than that, there’s not much else about them that interest me.

    Also, I feel it’s rather lazy on certain designers’ parts to hang clothes on these girls and send them down the runway. The average women has curves and is not stick thin. Therefore, I feel designers would be well advised to proportion, fit and size their clothing with that in mind, instead of presenting us with these literally flat, two dimensional representations of their collections.

  23. says

    Just a thought:
    One thing that I do think is going to be interesting in the next few years is whether fashion bloggers and the online fashion industry have an impact upon the skinny models debate and the image expectations related to it.

    The bloggers on all of our favourite sites (I am thinking of Style bubble, Childhood flames, Garance Dore, Maya from Turned Out and many others while I write this) tend to photograph, or are themselves, mostly beautiful, fairly young women and men. However what makes these subjects successful is not their figure or weight, it is their personal style. It is the job of runway models to make everything and anything the designer puts them into – be this haute couture or a paper bag – look good, look desirable. Bloggers, on the other hand, choose clothes which suit themselves. As stunning as Rumi is, she is unlikely to walk the runway at Paris FW anytime soon.
    Although the image pressures on women obviously extend far beyond the fashion industry into celebritydom and beyond, essentially a ‘fashionable’ body is one that will look good in fashionable clothes. However in a world where what is ‘fashionable’ does seem to be so increasingly determined by the street-style photographers and style bloggers, I wonder if the expectations on the average person might become increasingly softened, even if never erased altogether. Obviously there are limits as to what people who are themselves influenced by high fashion will convey as desirable, however most of these people are not models, they live in the ‘real’ world, are not 15-18 and probably do not spend 90% of their time hanging out only with other modelesque people with modelesque eating habits.

    Readers relate to style bloggers because they show clothes looking good in context. Instead of desiring the lifestyle and clothing of models and celebrities, they show us (just as a fashionable or charismatic friend or acquaintance might show us), that everyday life can be glamourous; that you should go to the supermarket in a fur and heels.
    They express a way of looking at beauty which is about creativity and self-expression (and making others jealous of your cleverly thrifted fur, and discounted louboutin ankle boots). I find that many of them display a confidence and a pride in their own image and their own skin that is encouraging in itself.

    Women and men will always be concerned about image. Personally, the impact which style bloggers have had upon me has been incredibly damaging…to my bank account!
    However I can completely see that in the next ten years, we will see ordinary people having an even greater impact upon what is seen as stylish in the fashion industry, and therefore upon personal image itself.

    (That was long because I have an exam tomorrow, hah.)

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