For most of our generation, the word "model" has been synonymous with an image of stick thin young girls with seemingly unrealistic bodily proportions that could never be achieved by the "normal woman."
The perception of models didn't start out that way. Up until the 1980s the typical female on the cover of a magazine was healthy and beautiful and had just enough body mass in all of the right places to seem accessible, yet drop dead gorgeous.
When the allure of the fashion industry hit an all time high in the late 1980s, European designers redefined the past model persona by populating the catwalks of Paris and Milan with underage girls with rail thin bodies.
This trend crossed over to the United States in the early '90s when models such as Kate Moss glamorized the heroine chic aesthetic and implemented the trend in the American fashion industry. The fame garnered by the likes of Moss resulted in a cultural fascination with an unachievable personage and caused designers to flood their runways and advertising campaigns with skeletal models.
Typically, the more high end the designer or brand, the thinner the model.
This reinvention of the "super model" aesthetic may have been a result of designers' desires to present their works in a sleek way, or it could have been a product of the public enticement inherent in a perception of the unachievable. Many of these fashion lines were already a source of unrealistic desire for the everyday woman who could not afford such apparel.
But did designers choose to model their garbs on these ultra skinny girls in order to perpetuate the idea of exclusivity and glamour inherent in the inaccessible? In other words, we all want what we can't have.
Regardless of the cause, the stick thin model became a staple in the fashion industry and such an appearance was funneled into the mainstream and in the consumer public's consciousness. From France to the U.S. girls were bombarded with images of super skinny models and starlets, from fashion ad campaigns to commercials and even movies. The trend rendered the ideal female body type to be that of a size zero.
Girls of all ages and sizes felt the pressures of cultural acceptance and aspired to appear like the sought after models and celebrities that they so admired. Both stars and everyday women alike felt the need to take drastic measure in order to achieve the desired ultra slim look.
We are always hearing about ways to slim down and trim the fat but most people would never do the dangerous things that many fashion models are doing to be skinny. Kirstie Clements, who was fired as editor of Australian Vogue magazine in May of 2012, has authored a very revealing book about the fashion industry called "The Vogue Factor."
In the book, Clements makes the claim that some models starve themselves for days on end, eat tissue paper to feel full, and then often end up in the hospital because they become so weak with hunger. Clements also talks about the terms "thin" and "Paris thin."
"Paris thin" is a term used in the fashion industry that describes the tiny size of a model who has starved her already frail body down by two dress sizes in order get the big overseas fashion show jobs.
With models and major public figures exercising such unhealthy behavior to perpetuate a certain physical appearance, it is no surprise that the average girl began to act in a similarly unsound manner. This pursuit of the idealized body led to an increase in eating disorders and extreme methods of weight management.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that within the last decade, 47 percent of American girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures and 69 percent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. They also confirmed that up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S. as a result of media influence.
Not only can such eating disorders cause mental illness such as depression and clinical anxiety, the mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15 to 24 years old. Such statistics explicitly identify a pathology with the way in which media reflects onto its audience. There is no denying the fact that the industry, particularly the fashion industry, must make a change, not only to repair its reputation, but to exert a positive influence on its consumer.
Luckily our generation is heading in a more health conscious direction, with fitness and healthy eating at the forefront of its attention. As a result, the media has followed suit and is starting to portray a more realistic and attainable perception of the ideal body image. Although the rail thin aesthetic is still ingrained in the fashion world, there have been recent changes in the industry in hopes of reverting to the real world image of beauty.
Countries such as France, Israel, Italy, and Spain have passed laws that ban the hiring of unhealthily thin models. These new laws will condemn employers who hire super skinny models under a certain size, and could face jail time and hefty fines.
Another thing lawmakers set in stone is new guidelines for publishers who purposefully promote excessive thinness online: the people behind extreme weight-loss websites can face up to a year in prison and up to $109,985 in fines. It may seem crazy, but not nearly as crazy as literally dying to be thin.
During last month's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Australia, the brand "We Are Handsome" debuted their first Active Swim line and featured real life, fitness and social media stars in place of professional models. These fit beauties exemplified a new perception of idealized beauty in the form of fit and healthy body types.
Although they may not look like the everyday woman, they promote an attainable form of beauty that can be achieved through a healthy lifestyle.