Montreal Fashion Week had a somewhat healthier appearance this season thanks to a Quebec charter calling on fashion designers to help reduce extreme thinness in runway models.
However Katrin Leblond, a Montreal fashion designer who participated in fashion week, says it’s still difficult to find healthier-sized models in the city and the charter needs some teeth to be more effective.
“There’s no centralized industry, there’s no centralized monitoring of modeling agencies,” she says.
Leblond, who supports a more realistic portrayal of women in fashion, broke out of the pack with her own choice of models at fashion week, which included a six foot tall “extra-large model” and a 75-year-old grandma.
She says she had a hard time finding models size 6-8 to show her collection. She searched four agencies and five freelance groups, including the circus community, the acting community, and Craigslist to find her 10 models.
“Most of the agencies couldn’t even provide me with a choice of more than one or two girls of that size.”
The majority of designers are still using models size 0 and size 2, says Leblond.
“I choose size 6s and size 8s instead of 0s and 2s. They’ve got curves, they’ve got bums and boobs, and they look beautiful.”
Introduced by Quebec Culture Minister Christine St. Pierre, the charter calls on partners in all fields to work together to diminish social pressures leading to unhealthy weights.
Post fashion week last Friday, St. Pierre, along with supporters from the industry and health professionals, held a press conference and a fashion show of their own. With the goal of promoting appreciation for different body types, they featured seven models ranging from bony to average to plus sized.
The charter is voluntary and has no legal implications, St-Pierre told reporters. “A law is not a good approach.”
The prevalence of extreme thinness in runway models and in fashion industry advertising is widely understood to be a contributing factor to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, mostly in girls and women.
Although a small percentage of women are naturally extremely thin, problems arise when super thin is seen as a beauty ideal. The vast majority of people cannot achieve the ideal through healthy means, so they fall into a destructive pattern of restricted and unhealthy dieting in an attempt to feel beautiful.
According to the Quebec Association for Assistance to People Suffering from Anorexia and Bulimia, between 40,000 to 65,000 women in the province of 7.5 million suffer from eating disorders.
Runway models are notoriously the absolute thinnest in the fashion industry. They are also often very young—something that doesn’t make sense to Leblond.
“I’m not interested in having 15-year-olds on my runway. I sell clothing to 40-year-old women—how are they going to identify with a 15-year-old who weighs 100 pounds?”
The Quebec charter is the not the first effort to address extreme thinness in the industry. A furor arose a few years ago when a pair of Uruguayan sisters embarking on modeling careers died from starvation within six months of each other. One collapsed on the catwalk while the other passed away from complications arising from anorexia.
Some countries have gone so far as introducing binding regulations that seek to measure the body mass index in models, a measure that can identify a healthy body weight. However, critics claim such measures have been unsuccessful due to the challenge of calibrating measurements as well as enforcement.
In a major move last October, Germany’s highest circulation women’s magazine, Brigette, decided to stop using professional models and use average-sized women instead in an attempt to reach out to readers.
Supporters of Quebec’s charter say it is not out of the question that they will try legislative solutions in the future.