Model Isabelle Caro has died at 28, presumably from causes linked to her long-time battle with anorexia.
Our first clue that something happened was tied to the sudden rise of one of our many article on the fashion industry and body image: Uban Hassan Does Look More Like Ralph Lauren’s Photoshop Version of Filippa Hamilton.
Isabelle Caro was also featured in our response to one of the stranger articles newly-hired, very talented News Beast style writer Robin Givhan wrote about the fashion industry and fashion models: A New Point of View: Concentration-Camp-Inspired Models Are Fat Women’s Fault.
As American women becomes more obese, models become skinnier. “The fatter the general population, the thinner the idealized woman.” Maybe it’s “self-loathing” that makes super-skinny women look so good to the chunkier masses.
While I agree with many points in Givhan’s essay, her logic — which leaves the fashion industry off the hook on model size, until women lose weight — escapes me. I’ve seen no documentation that women — except for the slimmest fashionistas — embrace this model imagery in any way.
I am very clear in my mind that we can package the model BMI debate however we wish. Writing about feminism, fashion, religion and sexuality concurrently gives me a perspective different from most.
My own impression is that both America’s (and the world’s) obesity problem and 15 BMI models are part of the same patriarchal, religious, aristocratic power trip.
Fashion’s Male Patriarchy
1) Fashion may be about fantasy as Robin Givhan writes, but it is also about control, consumption, defining self-image, and maintaining prevailing, patriarchal values. Fashion is also dominated by gay men, many of whom would prefer a world without women. At the very least, they have no respect or like for female sexuality.
2) The ideal woman is asexual to many men in fashion. I have argued with consistency that expressed female sensuality gives some male designers nightmares. There are gay men designers who worship female sexuality, and I include Tom Ford at the top of that list. There is never been a quarrel in my mind over Tom Ford’s motives about women’s place in the world.
Tom Ford is gay and prefers men sexually, but his clothes accentuate female sensuality and the female body. YSL was a gay designer who honored female sensuality. Perhaps he was more traumatized by women generally but YSL was good for women. Marc Jacobs is a totally femme-friendly designer.
By contrast, Karl Lagerfeld’s influence over women gives me palpitations of the heart. He believes that women should be as thin as possible, preferably with ballerina bodies. In his interview with Vice Magazine, Karl Lagerfeld makes is clear that he doesn’t hold passion and sexuality in high regard, except in the case of his male muse Baptiste Giabiconi.
We agree that Baptiste Giabiconi has one hot body, but it adds insult to injury that Lagerfeld chooses to lens Baptiste’s gorgeous butt in high heels but would fire a female model with the same derriere.
We believe that Karl Lagerfeld’s views of women border on misogynistic and very controlling. I’ve written extensively on this topic. See articles that follow.
3) As the second wave of the women’s movement rolled into high gear, Conservative forces worldwide moved to stamp it out. Truly liberated women threatened to upset the whole damn apple cart. Religion and Conservative politics led the movement to repress women, but politicians and the patriarchy generally joined the effort. By the nineties, Conservatives led by Phyllis Schlafly (whose own son is gay) convinced American women that feminism was a bad-bad world.
Between Conservatives and religion, the good girls got in line in America. Women in Scandinavia progressed; American women paled by comparison and we still do.
The most important learning I had at the Metropolitan Museum’s 2008 ‘Model As Muse’ exibit was just how far America slid back from the late sixties in fashion media. Looking at the late sixties exhibit, women were vibrant, even with Twiggy. Fashion was a mix of bodies, and the editorial was daring.
4) By the mid-nineties, the Supermodels (the real models like Crawford, Schiffer, Turlington & company) were getting more attention than the designers. Weighing in at size 4-6 US, these women had hot, sensual bodies and a lot of muscle lust.
The real Supermodels were smart, strong and in control of their lives. Simply stated, the fashion patriarchy designed to take down uppity women and turn them into coat hangers for their clothes.
5) Most young women who want to become models have no mind of their own, so the models complied. The fashion world is a power play between designers and clients, who also want to be in the good graces of the man at the top.
Sarah Jessica Parker Says “No Sex Please, We’re Shopping”
6) At the same time, we have the rise of Sarah Jessica Parker and ‘Sex & the City’. I laughed recently that Sarah Jessica Parker is proud of the fact that she never had sex or anything but a sweet peck sexually. As I wrote, the good girls got in line in America and Parker led the parade.
Fully de-sexualized under prevailing Conservative morality codes, ‘Sex & the City’ teamed up with the business world, redefining safe sex as buying stilettos instead.
We are at a fork in the road on this sad fashion story in which sensuality has been stamped out of the world’s women and scowling models have replaced muscle lust and a healthy body in order to look fierce.
Models Like Crawford, Schiffer, Turlington Too Hot to Handle
Forgive me for being gauche, but any of the fabulous ones from Naomi Campbell to Cindy Crawford could take down most male designers with a single bunch. Sorry — bad example using Naomi, but you get my point.
The great models represented a totally liberating physical vision for the world’s women — unless you totally reject fashion in the world of women, as some feminists do. The nineties supermodels were a better mix of realistic fashion image bodies with other models who were smaller.
You will never find me arguing that BMI 18, or even 16, models shouldn’t be in the business. But don’t ever try to hoodwink me into believing that the beauty standard for women should be an anorexic body.
I value life and sensual vitality too much. When you look at the gorgeous images of Filippa Hamilton, told by Ralph Lauren that she was too fat, you understand that Hamilton’s sensuality was at play. She had that ‘terrifying’ strong, sensual body that gives men nightmares.
Asia’s Growing Luxury Market
7. The only accentuating circumstance the enters this discussion is the growth of the luxury market in Asia. It is reasonable to expect designers to create products for Asian women, who are smaller. Even in Japan, you have young women rejecting their 18 BMIs because Karl Lagerfeld tells them they are fat.
Accustomed to being told what to do, the Japanese girls are diet crazy, trying to get more weight off their already small bodies.
In Summary: It’s About Female Sexuality, Stupid
This is the model and body image debate from my perspective. I’ve pulled together all my writing referenced in this thought piece about the death of model Isabelle Caro. We must note that Isabelle Caro spoke openly of her troubled childhood and those connections to her anorexia.
My articulation of these views about size 0 models and the fashion industry isn’t specifically accusing them of creating Caro’s anoxexia. Let’s just say that she fit right in to the body image ideal of men like Karl Lagerfeld, who is on record saying a woman with a body like Heidi Klum is unfit for modeling. Anne
Size 0 Models