Google says training apps are the fastest growing app category; Instagram is littered with glowing celebrities fresh out of the gym; personal trainers are becoming as famous as those they train, showing us the perfect deadlift technique, and you can’t flick through Facebook without seeing the latest gruelling challenge being undertaken by your sporty pals. And now, because it’s 2015 and someone decided one day to be brave, we girls even venture into the weights room! But it seems the fashion industry hasn’t yet caught on.
Against a background of the excellent This Girl Can video from Sport England, designers are still fetishising frailty. We kicked off 2015 with Urban Outfitters using a model the Advertising Standards Agency called “harmful” for encouraging eating disorders. Next up was Miu Miu, which had their advert pulled for “sexualising a model who appeared to be underage.” A few weeks ago the ASA were at it again, banning Saint Lauren’s latest campaign, which shows an extremely small young woman lying on the floor – looking vulnerable, pained and “unhealthily thin”, as the ASA’s statement said.
“The ASA considered that the model’s pose and the particular lighting effect in the ad drew particular focus to the model’s chest, where her rib cage was visible and appeared prominent, and to her legs, where her thighs and knees appeared a similar width, and which looked very thin, particularly in light of her positioning and the contrast between the narrowness of her legs and her platform shoes.”
I think for years we might have been missing the point. The majority of the Western world, or the ones who possess the intelligence of your average 13-year-old or above, at least, have long-criticised the industry’s obsession with skinniness. “Use real women!” we cried. “All bodies are beautiful!” But the use of dangerously thin models as an example of beauty was perhaps just a symptom of the much wider problem; those who design our clothes are fixated with female frailty, and it seems we’re only now catching on. Restrictive clothes, shoes we can’t walk in and the desperate need to look young. Male fashion doesn’t follow these rules, so why does ours? A former boyfriend of mine once left his own birthday party after an hour because he was wearing a pair of shoes that pinched his feet. Bless. If pinching was the worst thing my feet were subjected to on the average night out, I’d thank my lucky stars.
Wider society isn’t immune, either. We pour over stories of vulnerable women. It’s why we’re fascinated with the demise of Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston and most recently Amy Winehouse – whose vulnerability has treated us to a documentary of her sorry tale, out next week to satisfy our voyeuristic needs. For years we were told that sex sells – combine that with self-destruction and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Stella McCartney has been quite open about her objection to strength in the past. The designer, said to be worth £46million – a figure that presumably doesn’t materialise without being considerably strong, both in terms of business and character – claimed that strength “wasn’t terribly attractive.” Instead, her 2013 collection “celebrated the gentle side”. The outfits “welcomed the fragility” of women, she decided to add. Oh, Stella.
So while many of us real world women are busy working up a sweat and flexing our guns, because, like, it’s 2015 and #strongnotskinny is a Thing, as is being strong enough to open our own jam jars, the same magazines that claim to be championing feminism are being funded by the likes of Saint Laurent, who still insist on dressing and posing models like new-born animals – all limbs and no clue.
So let’s start demanding more from the industry that decides what we wear – whether you realise it or not. Asking designers to use women that are healthy is a start, but we should also be asking that they drop the out-dated fetish they’ve engrained in the industry, of women as frail, and that fraility being the epitome of femininity. It’s time we were allowed to show our strength, and it’s time designers flexed those creative muscles and made clothes for real women – quads and all.