Volume 91, Issue 14

Friday, September 19, 1997



The truly model image

By Jael Lodge
Gazette Staff

Cindy, Naomi, Kate and Shalom – these are all names familiar to those who follow the fashion world. Modelling has long been portrayed as a life of glamour, but models and the images they represent have been suffering from a public backlash.

The images of overly thin models, added to the infamous heroin waif- look appearing in the recent years have many people re-evaluating the ideals presented by the media.

"The world is still prejudiced against naturally fat people," program coordinator of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Merryl Bear, says.

As a proponent of the use of a wider range of shapes in modelling, Bear points out that only three per cent of the population have the kind of body types shown in magazines. "We need a wider range of role models. The majority of individuals understand that models are thin, but in the cultural context, thinness is equated with happiness and success."

Bear also notes that fashion industry images are not solely to blame for society's preoccupation with being thin. "The fashion industry is one media through which this is perpetuated, but not the only one. We all need to step back and analyze our own views and prejudices."

Health education co-ordinator at Western's Student Health Services, Cindy Camp, says one of the greatest concerns is the damage on health and self-esteem as young girls try to reach unrealistic goals. "We are trying to get people to realize that there is great influence from the media.

You're not just buying a sweater, you're buying a look."

Student Health Services has run for the past four years run a 'Body Image' campaign which speaks to groups of men and women about their own images and realistic goals. "We're not saying don't be fit and don't eat properly."

Camp feels the media is not responding to the demands of women because of the money involved in the multi-billion dollar beauty industry. Citing the $40 billion diet industry as an example, she says, "There's a lot of investment on keeping women insecure about how they look."

In response to the concern about self-esteem, The Body Shop, a retail chain specializing in alternative beauty products, recently launched an awareness campaign featuring a rubenesque Barbie look-alike dubbed Ruby.

Ruby's publicist, Sorya Gaolin, says "we're always trying to promote well-being among individuals and the community."

Gaolin says the Ruby campaign is in response to the ideals presented to women by the media: "Ruby's message is who you are, not what you look like."

The Body Shop's message is to "reclaim your reality and have a reality check."

After a recent meeting with the editors of various magazines Gaolin disagrees with Camp's assertion that the media is not responding to public concerns. "In my experience Toronto-based magazines have made a commitment to representing their readers in the pages of their magazines," Gaolin stresses.

This has meant, Gaolin continues, a wider variety of models in size, ethnicity and age among other factors.

Geography also plays a role in the image presented. Ann Sutherland, a Western MBA grad who runs Sutherland Models in Toronto and represents supermodel Shalom, says the Canadian market emphasizes models with a healthier image.

Sutherland, who does not represent the heroin look and once sent home a model she felt was anorexic, does note that internationally, models are very thin. "An anorexic model cannot work in the Toronto market, but can in New York," she emphasizes.

Sutherland adds that even naturally thin models may have difficulty finding work in Toronto markets. "Models are still very tall and thin, but it's a healthy look."

Whether the media will make a permanent change in order to better reflect the image of their readers is something that only time will determine. The backlash against the heroin look and all of its negative image connotations has certainly given both readers and editors alike something to consider.

To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997