When A Size Zero Simply Isn't Good Enough

Model Ali Michael, backstage at Anna Sui, via

Christina Binkley's style piece in today's Wall Street Journal arrived just in time to close National Eating Disorders Awareness Week -- and also to remind me of the fact that as much as I love fashion, shit is fucked up.

Ali Michael is 17-years-old. You may have recalled seeing her pose half-naked in this T: Style spread that offended a great many people. Or perhaps you just saw pictures of her stomping down the runways at countless major shows last year. Suffice to say she was hailed as a great new talent, or, as the Journal puts it, "last season's model du jour." Indeed, the spotlight never shines for long on one pretty girl.

This season, after gaining five pounds, Miss Michael was told by casting directors for the runway shows that her legs were too plump, according to her mother, Mary Ann Michael, who travels with her daughter to appointments and shows. And so, after doing a string of major supermodel shows in September, Miss Michael snared only the Yohji Yamamoto show in Paris this time around. After walking the runway, her eyes blackened with corpse-like makeup, she said she was sad to be leaving but grateful to Mr. Yamamoto. "This show is special," she added.

What is wrong with our culture?

While I tend agree with writer Aimee Liu (Solitaire, Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders) -- who I interviewed over here yesterday -- that the fashion industry shouldn't be held solely responsible for the pervasiveness of eating disorders among young women, I'm horrified by how hard it toils to shatter this notion. For one every one, tiny step forward, we're rebuked with an entire roadtrip's worth of steps back. It's shameful. It's embarrassing. And it's unforgivable. Bravo has done a lovely job of orchestrating a continued search for the next great American designer. What about the way current American designers look at the things they're creating and the stereotypes they're falling victim to?

But it isn't fair to just blame a few designers. In the U.S., France and Italy, casting directors, fashion designers, show overseers and fashion magazines move en masse, and no one is using models who look like models did 20 years ago. In her day, the aptly named Twiggy seemed wildly thin -- but she would look oversized on today's runways.

It's hard to imagine Miss Michael, a willowy, 5-foot-9-inch teenager, being told her legs are too fat. Last season, Miss Michael made herself sick keeping her weight down, said her mother. Miss Michael's reward was to be heralded as the next supermodel.

I make a point of never apologizing for the fact that I believe fashion is an art form. But when read things like that, or awful, depressing things like this, I ask myself how I plan on justifying my adoration for something so beautiful that seems to take such delight in perpetuating its own sickening image.


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