The skinny on male models
Nearly every day another women’s fashion magazine or designer is under fire for its use of lanky and, in some cases, skeletal models. And when those models are not willowy enough, Photoshop can be used to help make normal women look like human lollipops: Think Filippa Hamilton, the poor Ralph Lauren model who was digitally altered to impossible and grotesque proportions, or Demi Moore, whose hip looks as if it’s been pared down for the cover of W.In Europe, governments are getting involved in the debate over what is a healthy weight for models. More recently, model-turned-designer Kate Moss offered these inspiring words: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’’
But while all eyes have been watching female models get smaller, something very interesting has been happening in men’s fashion. In fact, it’s the same thing. Male models are getting lighter, younger, and just as scraggy as their female counterparts. While the blogosphere erupts every time Miranda Kerr blames a bad camera angle for making her look like she’s been on a prison diet, impossibly skinny man-boys have quietly become the norm, strolling the runways in shorts that reveal knobby knees and waistlines of 13-year-olds. Funny, no one seems to notice or care when it comes to men.
But it’s something that I’ve noticed ever since I started writing about fashion. When I track down clothes for Globe fashion shoots, I often call design houses in New York to borrow samples. Sample sizes for women - pieces that designers create for the runway and fashion shoots - are generally size 2 or 4. I once had a model lie about her size (she was a robust 6 - gasp!), and I spent the day shoe-horning her into dresses. You can understand the pressure for women, but the same pressure exists for male models.
For men, the sample size is a narrow cut 38 or 40 suit. OK, gents, answer me honestly: How many of you out there are a 38? That’s what I thought.
Flip through any men’s fashion magazine, and you’ll see armies of these vaguely androgynous, pale men with hungry eyes and 28-inch waists who look like they’ve been denying themselves a good pastry for quite some time. The industry look for men is boyish, skinny, and rakish. Olympic fencer Jason Rogers recently told New York magazine’s fashion blog that he was flown to Paris to model for the Louis Vuitton men’s show. But when it came to the day show, he was nowhere to be seen on the runway.
“I guess their suits were particularly slim that season, so I couldn’t fit into anything in the show,’’ he said. He went on to tell the blog that he has about 5 percent body fat. Sigh. Looks like no pumpkin pie for me today.
Rogers’s muscular legs were the problem. He was unable to squeeze them into narrow pants. It’s the same problem that New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman faced a few weeks ago when I ran into him at the opening of the new Ted Baker store. He was decked out in Baker clothes, except for the pants, which did not fit him.
But Twellman’s athletic build is not what designers are interested in. There was a time in the 1990s when male fashion shows were parades for the gym-chiseled masculine ideal - all biceps and the kind of six-pack abs that could be used to scrub laundry clean. The most recent round of men’s fashion shows looked more like a casting call for “Oliver Twist,’’ as urchins with pomade-heavy coifs modeled sophisticated clothes that made them look as if they were playing dress up.
“It’s a look that complements the designs,’’ Duckie Brown designer Daniel Silver told me earlier this fall. “What we’re thinking about is the best way to show off the clothes.’’
There has been considerable concern about what thin female models are doing to women’s self-esteem, but virtually nothing said when it comes to men. Are we creating a generation of manorexics? Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan, speaking on National Public Radio, said: “I don’t think the average man looks at a male model who has the body type of a 12-year-old and thinks I need to stay at the gym and cut back on my meals to achieve that.’’
They may not be obsessing over the models, but they are trying to fit into the clothes. A friend who works in film in Los Angeles tells me that 20-something assistants are carefully watching what they eat in order to jam themselves into skinny jeans. (For emphasis, he adds that these are heterosexual film assistants.)
Clearly, it’s time for the conversation about models, fashion, and healthy weight to become an equal opportunity discussion.