St Andrews fashion shows have a size problem

6

On the matter of larger models, St Andrews’ fashion shows have fallen worryingly out of vogue

There’s a song you’ll likely have heard at some point over the last few weeks. It contains the lyric: “Yeah it’s pretty clear I ain’t no size two/ But I can shake it shake it like I’m supposed to do”. Say what you like about her credentials as either pop star or feminist icon, Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass has shot body positivity right to the top of the pop agenda – no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 to be preicse. With no fewer than 286 million YouTube views to her name, and having peaked at number one on charts across the globe, Trainor appears to be on to something.

As Beyonce, Christina Hendricks and more recently Iggy Azalea and Kim Kardashian can attest – enough column inches having been dedicated to their respective derrières to fell a mid-sized South American rainforest – the fantasy world of celebrity has over the years shown signs of progress. If not to attitudes towards the female body which can be described as healthy, at least towards one which is more inclusive of fuller-figured women.

Even in the famously unforgiving fashion industry, the campaign for more realistic portrayals of the female body has built up something of a head of steam. Moves by fashion houses Prada, Versace and Armani to ban size zero models from their catwalks have preceded a growing trend among A-List designers towards featuring so-called ‘plus-size’ models – UK dress size 12 and above – in their shows.

As early as 2006, Jean Paul Gautier and John Galliano made use of plus size models in their respective offerings at Paris Fashion Week, and since then innumerable designers, fashion houses and magazines have followed suit. Only this month, Calvin Klein caused a storm by featuring an advertising campaign featuring size 14 model Myla Dalbesio, whilst Pirelli for the first time cast a plus size model – size 16 Candice Huffine – in its notorious annual calendar. Curves, it appears, are very much in vogue.

It was against this backdrop that pre-eminent St Andrews fashion shows, FS and DONT WALK, this moth released their 2015 model rosters, ahead of their hotly anticipated events next semester. Boasting rich pedrigrees and – in DON’T WALK’S case – a royal connection in the form of Kate Middleton herself, these shows occupy a central position in the St Andrews student calendar. Synonymous with glamour, prestige and of course, cutting-edge fashion , both within and outside our town, they are widely regarded as being among the very best the St Andrews social scene has to offer.

Browsing the profiles of these beautiful, radiant faces, then, it is striking yet dismayingly unsurprising to find not a single curvy model posing among the hordes of skinny, athletic young men and women. In an industry where the boldest, most creative designers and most renowned fashion houses are making waves by presenting a broader range of body types, St Andrews’ fashion shows appear to have fallen painfully behind the times.

Not only do the staunchly retrograde approaches of FS and DONT WALK contribute to a mode of thinking that shames and stigmatises women for possessing the merest gram of “unnecessary” body fat, more worringly from their point of view, they are finding themselves left in the wake of the industry’s real trendsetters.

The 2014 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 10 million women in the UK feel depressed about the way they look, and it isn’t hard to see why. From the red carpet to Downing Street, women find themselves scrutinized forensically over their appearance every time they venture into the public eye. Magazines and advertisements ensure that even those who don’t still feel intense pressure to conform to rigid standards of personal presentation that most men – this one included – struggle to comprehend. Even in St Andrews, in my purely anecdotal experience, insecurity over physical appearance for many female students is an accepted part of daily life. These insecurities are only fed through the inevitable deluge of photos on Facebook which inevitably follow every night out, the pressures of fitting into those formal dresses and yes, portrayals of the St Andrews beauty ideal which are informed in no small part by FS and DONT WALK and the catwalk models they choose to use.

Yet, when approached for comment over the matter of plus size models, the committees of both declined. FS refused to comment at all, whilst DONT WALK somewhat enthusiastically highlighted “charisma” as the key criterion in their selection process before talking about creating “dynamic interaction with the audience” – whatever that means. Direct questions regarding plus size models and whether they felt they had a responsibility to promote a representative range of body types were met with a silence that spoke volumes.

Let’s not be naive here – both FS and DONT WALK revel in their air of exclusivity, and work hard to defend it. From model castings to selection for committee positions to the VIP tickets at their events, it’s apparent at all levels. Whatever one might make of it, they have every right to do so. But to cast models across the size spectrum would not, as they seem to think, be to the detriment of their brands. The most prestigious fashion shows and designers in the world have already shown that featuring plus size models is in fact a win-win. In addition to being seen taking responsibility for their impact on wider culture, they have made it into the ultimate fashion statement – our models don’t have to be picked from the country’s skinniest 5 per cent to look stunning in our clothes, anyone can.

FS and DONT WALK can cling to the illusion that curves have no place in their shows if they want to. Or they can choose to take responsibility and send a message to the fashion world and women in general that being a size 12 or above is not only perfectly acceptable, but that they can display great clothes that the entirety of their audience can wear too. If fashion shows from New York to Paris can do it so successfully, what on earth is keeping our St Andrews’ equivalents from doing likewise?

6 COMMENTS

  1. The problem may be not that FS and DONT WALK are not choosing plus-size models, more that nobody curvy even auditions in the first place, brought on by the closed-off elitist culture of those organisations composed of St Andrews students with nothing better to do but organise a fashion show (since they don’t need part time jobs or anything lowly like that to support their studies.)

    • At first I was agreeing with this post in that yes maybe ‘curvier’ people are apprehensive about auditioning however there is no need to make assumptions about the lives of those who do take part. (i have never been involved by the way – its not my personal area of interest.) but i do know that it is perfectly possible to hold down a job, do well in your studies AND take part in extra curricular activities. It does not need to be either/or and making rude assumptions about these people is just as bad as being elitist. Some may see it as very valuable experience for learning about a career in fashion.

  2. The problem isn’t that “they’re only using skinny models”, and the solution isn’t to “never use skinny models”. Beyond the off-putting “this is an exclusive club, and I got in, so I must be somehow better than you, hah” St Andrews atmosphere, the REAL problem hides behind the lyric:

    “But I can shake it shake it like I’m supposed to do.”

    The ‘modern’ woman’s measure of worth is still being defined by how pleasingly she displays her physical form (be it built, or svelte). Who is the person she is seeking to please, who is expecting her to “shake it”? Why does she obey HIM?
    As long as we keep looking to the wrong things to teach us “what makes us valuable and worthwhile” (for example “appeasing perverted male fantasies”), we’ll keep facing this problem of crushing anxiety and fear of failing impossible expectations, be it “not being skinny enough” or “not being Kim K. enough”.

    There is little need already to mention a man’s size in order to gauge his worth – indeed, we see it as petty and superficial, and rather shallow if (as men) we ACTUALLY let that get to us. The issue will be solved, then, when there is no need to even mention a woman’s size.

  3. This article is just irritating. It is another needless piece of journalism which is trying to state how women should look to feel happy or comfortable with themselves. So what if most of the girls in FS and DONT WALK are slender? Are you saying that because of the size of the models in FS and DONT WALK other girls feel inadequate about themselves just because some girls in a student fashion show are slim? It is patronising.

    The problem is that fashion shows by their very nature are selective and base their selections on their own standards of beauty. This doesn’t mean that other people aren’t beautiful, it just means that for a show they need 20 odd models and they chose the ones that they believed would be suitable. The issue with extremely thin girls being used in fashion is part of a bigger systemic problem, along with the way in which women’s bodies are perceived in general and I don’t think FS or DONT WALK go out of their way to choose students who conform to this image. They are choosing STUDENTS for a STUDENT show. These students (usually) are not professional models, they are people with feelings and whilst it is all well and good arguing for more diversity in size I do not think that specifically targeting a group of women helps with fighting issues concerning women’s body image.

    I think that with more research into the shows, the author would also find that the sizes of the models vary quite significantly, not that it is any of anyone’s business.

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