Sunday, April 4, 2010

Health Matters: Weight and Wellness in the World of Fashion

"People often say that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves."

~ Salma Hayek

On Monday, March 22nd, I attended the forum entitled "Health Matters: Weight and Wellness in the World of Fashion" by the Harris Center at Harvard University.  I was excited to go given that it would give me the chance to say that I was in the same room with American Fashion Designer Michael Kors, Vogue Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour and Russian Model Natalia Vodianova.  Not a bad way to start the week in my book.

The forum started with an introduction by David B. Herzog, M.D., founder and director of the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He gave an overview of what the panel would be discussing as well as a recap of a recent health initiative event by the Council of Fashion Designers, where he also served as moderator.  After a reference to the movie, "The Devil Wears Prada", he introduced the first speaker, Anna Wintour.

Dressed in a champagne-colored capelet jacket with black-heeled boots and a necklace that seemed to catch every light in the room, Ms. Wintour gave us insight into the world of fashion and how the usual standards of hiring models that are extremely thin, has changed given that their health is now at risk.  She stated that Vogue is now making more of an effort to ensure that all models are of a healthy weight and mind before allowing them to be photographed and placed in the magazine.  Ms. Wintour said that part of the problem in the past has been that designers, in an effort to keep the same aesthetic from the runway to the magazines, have sent them sample sizes that have been as low as a size 0.  If you are a model that is not naturally a size 0, you can imagine the pressure they face in order to get to that size with the hopes of being in Vogue.  Vogue has made a commitment to be the leader in ensuring that going forward, that designers are more flexible in terms of what sizes they send.

After a brief video that was sponsored by Michael Kors, he then took the stage and gave us his perspective on the current state of fashion and the eating disorders that have so long plagued some models.  He gave a heartfelt speech which included him stating that "real women are back".  One of the most memorable moments of the night involved him recalling an encounter with a young model who barely spoke English.  She was young, beautiful and the perfect designer size.  While she wore the outfit he chose for her perfectly, he could tell that something was wrong.  He said that he took her aside and in broken English, stood listening to this young girl who summoned up the courage to say that while she was happy to be in the show, she was uncomfortable being an outfit in which her nipples would be showing.  He gave her a more age appropriate outfit and said that the smile she gave when she walked out that door is still burned in his memory.  He still uses her in his current shows and always remembers that day where he as a designer had to make sure the model felt good, not just looked good.  With the end of that story, he also pledged that he no longer books models under the age of 16 given that they are still developing their sense of self and need more time to know who they are before being put in the spotlight and expected to perform.

Next up was model Natalia Vodianova, who was also featured in the video.  She gave a heartfelt perspective of how the pressures of being a model at a young age had caused her to have a an eating disorder.  She echoed the same sentiment as Michael Kors in that no model under the age of 16 should be booked.  She also stated that when a designer notes that a model appears to be unhealthy and ultimately decides not to use her for the show, that they should also follow-up with the model's agency and alert them as to why so that they can get the model the proper help that she needs.  With the help of therapy, Natalia was able to reconcile within herself the issues that caused her to have an eating disorder.  She is now making it her mission to ensure that other models are given the help that they need and that models of all sizes are given a chance to participate in runway shows.  While well spoken, there were moments within her speech, where you couldn't help but feel that you were watching an innocent child forced to grow up before her time. 

Once the panelists had given their speeches, there was a brief Q&A, where we as participants were given the opportunity to submit questions in advance that hopefully will be asked during the session.  One couldn't help but notice that all questions seemed to have come from high school students.  One such question was for Natalia and referred to her other women perceive her given that she is tall, beautiful and despite having children, model thin.  I loved Natalia's response where she stated that while she may be all of those things, she still has her own issues in which she struggles to deal with on a regular basis and that young girls and women need to find happiness within themselves.  I couldn't agree more.

As I start to enter the world of modeling, I am often reminded of my own struggle with my weight.  As a young girl, I was barely over 100 lbs despite eating anything and everything in site.  I was often asked if I was anorexic, which I thought odd that even complete strangers felt the need to know.  It got to the point that I wanted to carry a certified Dr's note stating that the only thing I suffered from, was having a high metabolism.  After having two children, I found myself at weight that was more acceptable to those around me, but left me feeling uncomfortable.  I began the process of finding a healthy balance of a weight that was both physically appealing to me and healthy.  I now find myself in the position of hearing close friends and family saying that I shouldn't lose anymore weight since I don't want to look like I did before.  The only problem I have with that is that I never had an issue with my previous weight.  I think as a society, we are so quick to put our own fears and insecurities on someone else and expect them to carry that burden.  We need to instead help those that are struggling and embrace those who have embraced themselves.


(Conquering the world, one stylish step at a time)