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Why Fashion Loves Skinny

The surprising fallout from a focus on an 'impossible ideal.

Pick a runway, any runway, and 9 times out of 10 you will be faced with models taller, more beautiful and thinner than thought possible.

These creatures on the catwalk are beyond belief—the stuff of fantasy—and lend an air of exclusivity to any designer's presentation.

Catch these same women off the runway, on the street, getting a coffee and you'll see they're much slimmer than the average person, in some cases painfully thin. That's the way fashion likes them.

"It goes back to fashion illustration," and "Project Runway" cast member and former head of the fashion design department at Parsons The New School for Design. "The way in which we illustrate is seven heads high, which isn't normal. We're always striving to have the same look of the illustration on the runway, and it's impossible." You have a few, forgive me, freaky people who can approximate that size and shape, but this look is not part of the real world.

The problem is that the "real world" consumers who read about fashion and shop from catalogs are not always as wild for the emaciated look as designers are.

American retailer is definitely conscious of the size of its models, its fashion director. "Any retailer has to consider their customer and who they're trying to appeal to,". "There are models of all shapes and sizes, and the people who do the advertising and marketing really have to be conscious that they're portraying healthy, beautiful women of many ages and many colors from many backgrounds. At Neiman Marcus, we have many customers from many walks of life."

Designers' striving for an impossible ideal have created a controversy of its own when it comes to too-skinny models. In 2006, after the death of a 21-year-old Brazilian model, the industry started debating what was too skinny, and whether models should be required to meet weight limits. Spain is the only country that has enacted a minimum body mass index (BMI) requirement, but the conversation is still a hot topic worldwide.  

In the end, designers like to design clothes and have them look a certain way. They're starting to come around to realize there are many different body types. I'm beginning to see much more diversity within our own models and they're getting booked for shows. The key word for 2008 and beyond is diversity.

And diversity is possible when designers do their job. It's all a matter of silhouette, proportion and fit, and those principles apply to any size and shape. If you get that right, you can be any size and shape and be fabulous. That's really the issue. 

While fashion's love affair with thin continued during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York (which ran through September 12), the opposite side also chimed in.

After the Tracy Reese show, attendees were met by reps from Miss NYC Plus, an annual beauty pageant for larger women, who were out en masse, trying to get the fashion industry's attention.

"Two, four, six, eight, big girls you'll appreciate," the large ladies chanted. "There's nothing negative about being a plus," read their hot-pink tank tops. The group's organizer, told Women's Wear Daily they were just trying to establish a presence during Fashion Week for their pageant, which is for women sizes 12 to 22.

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