Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Recent moves by Spain to rein in eating disorders in the high fashion industry by sanctioning a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) and thereby curbing excessive skinniness among supermodels have spread to Italy and show signs of spreading to other countries as well. This is a good thing and only partly because it is a public health service to publicize and educate people about disorders like anorexia and bulimia. It is also a good thing because it is a major crack in the polite fiction that supermodels are attractive women, and that haute couture fashions can legitimately be called “clothing.” It emboldens me to stand up and declare that supermodels are not the model of feminine beauty that they are presented as being, and to deny that haute couture is attractive.
Maybe it’s only my opinion, but standard supermodel features - tall, lanky, bony, full-lipped and wide-eyed - have always struck me as vaguely equine, vaguely diseased, and more than vaguely ugly. Models habitually look like refugees from another African famine. Personally, I prefer women with binocular vision who can look straight ahead without having to turn their necks, and who do not look like they have a chronic lip infection. I know that comparisons are made between the popularity of these standard supermodel features and the popularity in the world of Japanese manga that feature the cute, big-eyed look. There is something to investigate there.
Thank goodness haute couture fashions are made-to-order and therefore not distributed among the general public. More often than not the rags we see supermodels parading down the catwalk are ridiculous and esthetically offensive to a public that should be courted as customers, not alienated by the cosmetic horror of it, or the offensively unctuous fiction that the clothes are beautiful.
It’s all a fiction. But I could be wrong.
Published on Sunday, January 28, 2007 as “What passes for attractiveness.”
What I disagree with the most is being told what constitutes feminine beauty, especially without being consulted on the matter. While I acknowledge objective esthetic standards and simultaneously acknowledge the principle that beauty is in the eye of the beholder I think that the public, in general, is led towards a corporate definition of feminine beauty rather than to its own sense. It’s true of fashion, as well. The fashion magazines and haute couture designers determine what clothes are available even at off-the-rack places like WalMart much more than people are aware or will readily admit. Corporations lead the public to buy what the corporations decide to sell.
Now, personally I do not favor overly tall women with the big Japanese manga eyes, or the thick lips, stretched necks and too-narrow hips. I go for shorter, squatter women with small features and genuine hips. The stereotypic supermodel look is a fetish. And, in the case of overly thin women and the current concern over Body Mass Index, it might be called a distinctly unhealthy fetish.