Models and models are all thin again?

After years in which efforts for greater variety and inclusiveness had been seen, at the latest fashion shows the people on the catwalk had a very canonical and homogeneous appearance

by Chiara Lanzavecchia

When we watch a fashion show or a fashion advertisement, the protagonists of those images are often models. The choice of those models (which with one of the many anglicisms of the language of fashion is called casting) is a complicated process that goes through agencies, casting directorcreative directors and production companies.

It all starts with a casting director: the person who takes care of finding and selecting the models who – literally – best embody a client’s request for a certain job. The casting director interprets the requests more or less freely and searches, through the modeling agencies, for the people who best match the indications received, taking into account the identity and characteristics of the brand he works for. The clients of a casting director can directly be the brands or the production houses that perform some services on behalf of the brands.

Model agencies can also assume the function of casting director and in that case take care of the entire search and selection process, inside and outside the group of models they represent. The agencies take care of it a priori scoutingi.e. the search for interesting models and models to be able to represent, and then the training, job search and issues related to image rights and the economic compensation of the models, which depend on various factors, including the use that will be made of the commercial product for which they will pose or parade.

The model selection criteria depend on the identity of the brand — which rarely changes over time and which therefore remains a fixed point of reference — and on current trends. The platform TagWalkwhich analyzes fashion trends each season, reported that so-called models curvy 77 percent fewer showed during Milan fashion week than those present at London fashion week. Despite being controversial talking about trends in reference to specific physical characteristics, in fashion, in fact, there are trends that in rotation celebrate and elevate some more than others.

Last October magazine The Cut she wondered if thinness was making a comeback and the English edition of Vogue he wondered about when will we stop treating female body types as fads?, referencing the recent physical changes of US influencer and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian and her sisters. For years, the women of the Kardashian family have been the most famous representatives of a model of beauty characterized by a lot of breasts, a slim waist, wide hips and above all a big, high and protruding butt, making the BBL (or “Brazilian Butt Lift”) popular , a delicate surgical operation aimed at increasing the volume of the buttocks).
At the 2022 Met Gala, however, Kim Kardashian had appeared extremely thin (she later said she did it on purpose to be able to wear
Marilyn Monroe’s famous 1962 dress), and in the following months also her sisters they had appeared much thinner and with bodies of a different and leaner shape than what the public had become accustomed to seeing.

Furthermore, in recent months, Ozempic, an antidiabetic drug which, among other things, causes considerable weight loss, has become very popular in the United States. The use of this drug is spreading widely even among non-diabetic people, despite the potential risks, and the topic is so well known and discussed that New York Magazine has chosen it for the cover of its first March issue.
Recently, other major industry publications have noted a return to thinness and a decline in interest in weight loss body positivity and for the inclusion of non-canonically thin male and female models: they wrote about it Vogue Italy, business of fashion but also theindependent and the Telegraphfor example.

The trend we are experiencing today is very close to that of the 90s and 00s, characterized by (often unhealthy) paradigms of thinness and homogeneity. The idea of ​​beauty that was promoted was the so-called “heroin chic” aesthetic: models that were thin and emaciated, with an almost sick appearance.
All this had produced, starting from the following decade, a profound reaction and an extensive debate.
In 2009 on the Guardian there was already talk of how problematic the representation of women in fashion and advertising was by following and analyzing a study by the University of Cambridge on consumer behavior. Again, in 2013 business of fashion he wrote “The fashion industry (still) has an image problem” quoting a rather significant fact: according to the National Eating Disorders Association around 1993, models weighed 8% less than the average female, while in 2013, models weighed 23% less.
In 2017 two of the major fashion industrial groups, Kering and LVMH, had even collaborated to produce a
Model Safety Charteror a set of rules designed to protect the well-being of male and female models, by agreeing limits on their thinness.

The consequences have been, in recent years, an approach to the body positivity and inclusiveness, and a reflection on the flattening of aesthetic canons and the consequences that these factors have on individuals. Fashion – as the main promoter of aesthetic canons, including unrealistic and unhealthy ones – had shown a certain openness to being the spokesperson for better principles. The belief had begun to spread that the assortment of models and “types of people” chosen to represent brands should include less thin bodies, promote less rigid aesthetic canons, and in general provide a more realistic representation of the human variety. In this sense, brands that are more attentive to the issue (or simply brands with a younger target audience, with more up-to-date awareness) have begun to select models with an increasingly varied appearance. Some brands, such as Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Collina Strada, Marco Rambaldi and Maryam Nassir Zadeh, have carried out real campaigns to spread out of the ordinary aesthetic canons.
business of fashion reports that between the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2022 the brands that chose and used for fashion shows and campaigns also male and female models plus size they grew by 347 percent. Also during the same period, she models such as Paloma Elsesser they increased their catwalk presence by 830%.

These are figures that no longer seem to apply to today’s trends: Vogue Italy writes that only two of the 232 “new faces” identified by TagWalk among the various fashion weeks have an appearance that deviates from traditional canons. Furthermore, among the 20 models who worked the most during last season’s fashion shows, none wears a size larger than 38.

Despite the desire to make the aesthetic canons promoted by the fashion industry less harmful and despite the fact that in recent years there has actually been an effort towards a more inclusive representation, today we are witnessing a step backwards. The fashion shows of the last few seasons have shown it, but the insiders also confirm it.

Enrico Cestaro and Alma Malara, founders of the Persona agency, explain that in recent months this process of normalization of diversity is coming to a halt for many brands; the direction is no longer that of enhancing the “different”.
With the return of the 2000s fashion styles, the physical references of that period also returned and the requests for “traditional” models and models increased.

According to Cestaro and Malara, this is also the moment in which the difference between the brands that have sincerely believed and invested in the idea of ​​greater inclusiveness is most evident and the brands that have approached it only for marketing reasons.
There are brands like Saint Laurent or Celine that have never strayed from their aesthetic paradigms and canons, even if they are often unhealthy, and there are brands that, through castings, implement a mechanism similar to that of “greenwashing”.
Giulia Smith, freelance casting director, explains that the work to make a fashion show truly inclusive must start from the planning of the collection, where the designer must draw a sample of looks for different bodies. Therefore, if the sample includes only standard sizes (usually size 40 for women’s collections), the casting director will only be able to select models with standard sizes. If, on the other hand, the sample is varied, the casting may include more bodies in a homogeneous way, of different sizes and shapes. However, when watching a fashion show, you notice that the casting is composed mainly of “canonical” models and only a couple of “non-canonical” models, the presence of “non-canonical” models is most likely a marketing move.
This means that the brand may also have asked the casting director for an inclusive selection of models, but that the sample of clothes it makes available is still made up of only standard sizes. In these cases the casting director works with the fashion show stylist to try to adapt some sample looks to different sizes from the original one, looking for inventive solutions or using garments that are not part of that collection to fit different bodies into the fashion show presentation.

This coexistence between inclusiveness, rigid aesthetic canons, valorization of differences and homogenization is a peculiar characteristic of fashion at the moment. There are two factors that contribute to explaining this situation: the fact that the people who work behind the scenes in fashion and participate in the creative and decision-making processes belong to different generations and have different visions, and the saturation of the fashion industry. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive and introduce novelties in such a saturated market, and this is the reason why quotationism is one of the most common solutions.

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