12 January 2010

Size Matters

Irish Times
The decision by a top German magazine to banish skinny models in favour of ‘real’ people has earned it cheers from its readers and hisses from the fashion industry, writes DEREK SCALLY

EVERYTHING looks normal in the new year edition of Brigitte , Germany’s leading women’s magazine. There are tips for better hands and hair, a story about hermaphrodite babies and, as always in the post-Christmas issue, the Brigitte diet to help shed those unwanted festive pounds.

But a closer look reveals something startling: does that woman in the red chiffon dress on page 57 have . . . a wee belly? And does that woman on page 49 have . . . a tattoo? They are tiny details that should be barely noticeable, yet on the glossy pages they stand out like a juicy hamburger in a vegetarian magazine.

“Compared to the touched-up photos that are all-present these days, a ‘natural’ person appears almost pornographic,” remarks Brigitte in its first ever “no models” issue.

It’s a radical departure for the 56-year-old magazine and one that has earned cheers from its three million German readers and hisses from the fashion industry.

Brigitte editors announced the step last October, after complaints from readers that they couldn’t associate with the models. Adding to pressure for change were the magazine’s picture editors who had what they called the “disturbing and perverse” task each month of using photo-editing software to digitally add weight to models’ breasts and thighs.

“It’s not just about weight, but producing an authentic magazine with which women can identify better,” says Brigitte spokeswoman Eva Kersting, something she says is increasingly difficult with models who show up much thinner than their agency cards suggest.

“One showed up for a shoot looking nothing like her photo, telling us proudly how she’d lost another 3kg,” says Kersting. “That was the end for us.”

The magazine’s “no models” announcement in October caused a sensation, but was dismissed by many in the German media world as a PR stunt. After all, Brigitte is more a general women’s magazine combining fashion with recipes than a high-fashion glossy with stick-thin models on every page.

Competitor magazines, annoyed by Brigitte’s coup, complained that they had been doing “street fashion” shoots with regular women for years. Countless designers weighed in to defend the “size zero” trend, saying their clothes simply looked better on thinner women – but that they were happy to produce versions in all sizes.

The war of words climaxed with a barb from German designer Karl Lagerfeld. “No one wants to see curvy women,” he told Focus magazine. “What you’ve got here is fat mothers with their bags of crisps sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”

Brigitte editors stand by their decision, encouraged by a reader survey in which just over a quarter of women aged 19-29 rated being thin as important.

Since announcing the move, editors say they have been flooded with thousands of congratulatory letters from relieved readers. “I find it great that other women won’t just see themselves as mothers, friends, housewives but also as women who are pretty, even if they aren’t models,” said one reader.

Browsing the first “no models” issue is an interesting experience, in particular to see women who seem to be enjoying posing rather than pages of dead-eyed models whose last full meal was back in the last century. Of course shifting to “lay” models has created extra work for the production team: getting the right shot from normal women requires more coaching and patience. Then there is the problem of getting clothes for fashion shoots from companies still sending out “size zero” samples.

The German magazine’s move is another small step in the revolt against the “size zero” trend that began last June when British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman complained about “jutting bones and no breasts or hips” on the models booked for shoots.

In a letter to designers she laid the blame at their door for supplying sample clothes “many of [which] don’t comfortably fit the established star models”.

But the backlash from the fashion industry has been quick, with some rebelling against Brigitte ’s initiative.

“Too many things are being thrown into the one pot here,” said Berlin designer Michael Michalsky to the magazine. “Naturally I find it great when I see a girl at a casting with the right measurements to look good in my clothes. But one thing is clear: when the ribs and spine poke out front and back, then I know the girl has a problem and can’t appear at my show.”

Model figures

    * Thirty years ago a model weighed on average 8 per cent less than the average woman; today the difference is 23 per cent.

    * A survey of model eating behaviour found that half had a body mass index under 17.5 – the “anorexic” zone – with one-third of the total “acutely disturbed”.

    * A decade ago, models’ careers began at the age of 15-18, today the industry favours 13-14 year olds.

Courtesy of Brigitte

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