Big models spark debate over health messages

By Greg Ansley

Myers' ‘Big is Beautiful’ campaign has prompted critics in Australia and beyond to say its message is as unhealthy as favouring anorexic models. Photo / Getty Images
Myers' ‘Big is Beautiful’ campaign has prompted critics in Australia and beyond to say its message is as unhealthy as favouring anorexic models. Photo / Getty Images

First it was matchstick-thin models and anorexia. Now the fashion industry is copping flak over big women on the runway.

Chain store Myers' "Big is Beautiful" parade at the Sydney Fashion Show has sparked a backlash from fashion writers and obesity experts.

The show featured fashions for sizes 16 to 24.

In a debate that has reached the Northern Hemisphere, Myers and its big models have taken heavy fire.

"Most of the models looked healthy but some looked obese," fashion writer Damien Woolbough said in the Australian. "While most fashion festivals ban models for being too skinny, why is it okay to see fat women on the runway?

"There is a place for women of all sizes in the fashion media ... but obese models send just as irresponsible a message about the need for healthy eating and exercise as models with protruding clavicles and ribcages."

Fashion editor Georgina Safe wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that "Big is Beautiful" was no answer to fashion's problems with anorexia and bulimia.

"Putting plus-size models on the runway might have seemed an easy way of addressing the body dysmorphia the industry is accused of promoting but ... female relationships with food and fashion are more complex than that," she wrote.

Ms Safe took issue with plus-size agency Bella Model Management director Chelsea Bonner's view that true size equality would not occur until models "beyond sample size" were routinely part of shows.

"Just chuck one or two in each show; don't make an issue of it, just do it," Bonner said.

"Why should we?" Safe replied. "Standard-size models, like Olympic athletes, are a genetically gifted species.

"Most consumers understand they will never look like them. The simple fact is that clothes look better on beautiful, slender young women."

In Britain, Maysa Rawi wrote in the Daily Mail that adopting the slogan Big is Beautiful, "and thus encouraging women to remain unhealthy", could be almost as harmful as promoting the widely-criticised "size zero".

But the Government's National Body Image Advisory Group chairwoman Mia Freeman said the fashion industry needed to make up its mind.

Freeman, a former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Dolly, said that while the industry had denied linkages between skinny models and anorexia, it had suddenly linked bigger models with obesity.

And Tam Fry, of Britain's National Obesity Forum, said the dangers of seeing skinny models far outweighed the message sent by larger ones.

"If the show Big is Beautiful is for ladies that are size 18 because that is their natural size, then I see no problem," he said.

- NZ Herald

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