The incredible shrinking models

June 11, 1996|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- The photo looks like a biogenetic experiment. You can imagine scientists playing with DNA. Let's see what happens if we take the head of a 25-year-old woman and attach it to the body of a 12-year-old boy.

Eureka! A fashion model.

This time, the model is Trish Goff. The outfit is a pair of swimming trunks and a strategically placed towel. The publication is not some medical annal, but the British edition of Vogue.

In the anatomical world of supermodels, Trish Goff has arrived to make Linda Evangelista look pudgy. She is the latest model to hone the female image down past the ''waif look'' to the ''skeletal look.'' The land that brought us Twiggy is deep into the '90s controversy over anorexic chic.

It was 1993 when Kate Moss waif-ed into the limelight at 100 pounds spread over her 5-foot-7-inch frame. Mothers who saw her in Calvin Klein ads wanted to cover the eyes of their adolescent daughters. In 1994, Kristen McMenamy showed up in ads looking as if her only nutrition was the Diet Sprite she was promoting. ''As a teen-ager,'' boasted the ad copy, ''she was so gawky she was nicknamed Skeleton.''

By last summer, vigilantes were scrawling graffiti over skinny billboard bodies. ''I'm So Hungry,'' said one. ''Please Give Me a Cheeseburger,'' begged another.

This month for one sane moment, the Swiss watch company Omega pulled its ad from Vogue on the moral grounds that the incredible, shrinking models were encouraging eating disorders among young women readers.

Within days, Omega caved in. The company chairman recanted, saying, ''It is not in anybody's interest to influence the editorial position of any given media.'' The publisher recounted his revenues, saying, ''It's good news in terms of editorial independence.''

First Amendment model

Editorial position? Editorial independence? The defense of Trish the Biogenetic Wondergirl was cast, without a single tongue in cheek, as a serious matter of free speech. Any day now I expect to see a symposium on the First Amendment vs. Anorexia.

Every woman who's ever leafed through pages of this fat-free zone knows what the editor and advertiser finally confessed: Fashion takes an editorial stand on the proper body size as if it were their domestic policy platform. This month alone, the same British Vogue offers a piece called ''Don't Hate Me Because I Am Thin.'' Its American cousin has a photo spread of Kate Moss, the international role model without a single roll, in -- believe it or not -- Vietnam.

Mademoiselle has a piece on whether friends make you fat and Self has an article on ''Weight Loss That Lasts.'' Harper's Bazaar has a swimsuit feature cutely titled ''Swim at Your Own Risk.'' The models barely add up to a shark snack.

Fat and Fashion is an old tale except that the definition of thin has now crossed into a new ''editorial'' territory. A generation ago, the average model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Now she weighs 23 percent less.

The parameters of weight gain are narrower and the price higher. When 19-year-old actress Alicia Silverstone arrived at the Academy Awards carrying a few extra pounds, the tabloids dubbed her ''more 'Babe' than babe.'' Is it any wonder that half the 9-year-old girls in this country diet?

I know that it's not p.c. anymore to describe women as victims, even fashion victims. Our daughters are supposed to emerge from adolescence inoculated against the feel-bad culture. In fact, the best and brightest are raised by the culture to worry about getting into law school and getting into a size 2. Walk into a college dining room and try to find a young woman who has a natural, easy attitude to eating.

In the mix of athletic and anorexic messages, there is a double whammy. Our daughters are now able to feel bad about their bodies and feel bad about feeling bad about them.

The editorial position of the fashion world? Read it in another generation of girls growing up in painfully hostile relationship to their own bodies. Trish Goff is just another skeleton in the closet.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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