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Is It Fashion or is she Just Skinny?

By Carmella Contesti

Despite the fashion industry’s efforts for inclusivity and diversity, why is it that the term “fashionable” still means “skinny” in society? This is one of the most controversial and dangerous aspects of the fashion industry. The sensationalizing of ‘skinny’ not only creates unrealistic body standards but also limits the meaning of what fashion really is; an art form.

Since the beginning of runway shows, skinny was set as the standard for high fashion models. For years models have been very thin and tall. This body type was viewed as “perfect” for designers because it appealed to society’s desire to be skinny. In an interview with The Guardian, former editor of Australian Vogue, Kristie Clements, describes the culture around being skinny. With her experience in the industry, she shares eye-opening stories surrounding models. On a United States beauty shoot, Kristie noticed scabs and scars on the knees of a model. The model confided, stating that she is always hungry, so she faints. She thought it was normal to pass out multiple times a day. Kristie noticed more food deprivation the longer she worked with models in the industry. The truth is that these stories are devastatingly much more common than we think. The pressure around being thin makes many models deprive themselves of being in good health, both physically and mentally.

With this knowledge, why are the images from nutrient-deprived models still being perceived as the ideal body type? Why is it that the body society idolizes can be the most dangerous? The questions surrounding body type and the desire to be skinny are raised, yet never fully answered. It is time we acknowledge and dive into the unrealistic messages that are being sent to women. The standards set for individuals are often unattainable and can lead to unhealthy eating problems. The idealization and sexualization of women in the industry have had an enormous impact on young women and tainted their idea of beauty forever.

In the late 2010s, celebrities such as Rihanna were projected as the ideal body type. With curves and BBL, a curvy body was appreciated and desired. During this time, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian were known for their curves and butt. Recently there has been a shift. Kim Kardashian lost 16 pounds to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress and has changed her appearance, moving out of the BBL era. Y2K fashion re-emerged with low-rise jeans and thinness. From the ‘90s into the 2010s, each decade has been obsessed with thinness. After a decade of progress, where curves were celebrated and love handles praised, this cycle, unfortunately, remains true. In November of 2022, The New York Post published an article with the headline, “Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back.” This extreme thinness has been blasted all over the media. Our bodies are not trends. “Heroin chic” is not an aesthetic. In fact, the phrase was coined after a heroin overdose. With all the steps taken toward inclusivity in the industry, it is appalling to watch as this vicious cycle returns.

This harmful obsession has made its way into TikTok. A recent trend that has circulated on TikTok poses the question “is it a fit or is she just skinny?” People are beginning to recognize and bring awareness to the privilege surrounding being skinny. Individuals of different sizes partake in the trend by trying on outfits worn by skinny people to judge whether an outfit is truly fashionable. Some popular names you may recognize include Miranda Lapkin and Emma Artletta. They challenge the idea that skinny models such as Kylie Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Hailey Bieber have a good sense of style. Mainstream media has put them on a pedestal for their style solely off their build. They have earned a god-like status after seeing the revival of “the supermodel,” in 2022. But, with their idolized appearance, having style may get mistaken for being conventionally attractive.

A message surrounding the Tik Tok videos is that skinny people can wear something simple, or basic, and it is viewed as fashionable solely because of their body. Their stomach almost acts as an accessory in some cases. Without realizing it, people are analyzing bodies, not clothing. When determining whether something looks good, we unconsciously look at the body and fit. This skews the definition of the word ‘fashionable.’ Just wearing clothes, doing things, and going places that are considered popular at the time, does not make one fashionable.

This trend perfectly exemplifies the double standard in the fashion industry. Fashion should be proud of being diverse, creative, and expressive. It extends far beyond the shape and size of a body. Fashion is art. It takes on many forms and is used for self-differentiation and expression. Everyone can change lives and create personal connections through fashion. Inclusivity is when a garment is designed to be useful to everybody. Size inclusivity is not an option or a marketing tactic. We are on a diverse earth that should offer universal and inclusive garments.

The great challenge is that some brands have used inclusivity to boost their sales. There has been a decline in genuine diversity and inclusion. But, with this negativity, it is important to recognize the impact that Gen-Z has made on the industry. The young demographic embraces accessibility and diversity. We are committed to societal change and can shift the fashion industry. You no longer have to look a certain way or take part in trends. There are some new and emerging brands that have nailed inclusivity. The Girlfriend Collective is known for inclusive sizing with a range from XXXS-6XL. Allihalla is a one-woman operation that specialized in custom sizing and creation. Alpine Butterfly Swim is an eco-conscious, size-inclusive swimwear brand. The Girlfriend Collective, Allihalla, and Alpine Butterfly Swim are just a few of the inclusive brands that we all should support.

Fresh into 2023, we must re-direct the industry. Let us finally wave goodbye to skinny culture and say hello to happy culture. It is time we erase the vicious roots of the fashion industry and rewrite it as our own. If we are all beautiful and unique, the media surrounding us should be too. Never let the fashion industry dull your flame because the purpose of fashion is to help project our creative selves and embrace who we are fully.

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