Why Do Models Have to Be Skinny?

why do models have to be skinny

Modeling is a career for skinny men and women. You and I know that. For anyone who’s looked through a fashion magazine or watched a modeling show, the most common observation is how skinny the models are. The word “skinny” conjures to mind one of the most critical qualifications of being a model.

Fashion designers require their models to be skinny because the models can easily fit into a designer’s creation with few adjustments to the outfit. Being skinny simply brings out the features that look great on a photographer’s lens – high cheekbones, full lips, deep-set eyes, narrow face, a chiseled jawline, or a pointed chin.

For the designer, a slimmer figure means have to create fewer design patterns. This shortens the amount of time designers devote to the process of creating clothing design patterns for the models. Garments or fabrics used by the designer will flow beautifully and drape gracefully around a model’s slim figure as opposed to a fuller body type.

Designers also have a set of body measurements for their creations. They create their designs based on those numbers. It will be a challenge if the model who wears the designer’s creation has a body that cannot fit the clothing. Designers do not have the luxury of time to get a model’s body measurements and incorporate it into their clothing. With a specific body type, designers can create a line of clothing that fits that body type efficiently.

The facial features of fashion models also become more prominent when they are skinny. Most skinny models have visible cheekbones, a chiseled jawline, a balanced chin, hunter eyes, and fuller lips. These well-defined facial features will not escape the attention of fashion patrons. These features also project well on camera.

The Ideal Physical Attributes of Male and Female Models

Most designers are very particular with a model’s physical attributes. Male or female, designers know exactly what body measurements a model should have. In the designer’s mind, he knows precisely what a model would look like wearing the design. Often, before a designer chooses a model, the clothing has already been made. And the last piece to complete the designer’s fashion puzzle is a model that will not have any trouble fitting in his creation and requires minimal adjustments to the clothing.

When all models are skinny, the designer only has to account for height and not weight. It’s one less variable to have to consider.

Below is a table showing the ideal body measurements of male and female models in the high fashion industry.

Female Male
Minimum Height 5’9 5’ll
Maximum Height 6’0 6’2
Weight 110lbs – 130lbs 140lbs – 165lbs
Bust 34in n/a
Waist 23in n/a
Hips 33in n/a
Clothing Size 34 / 36 (EU) 44 (EU)
Foot Size 36 / 38 (EU) 42 /43 (EU)

In addition to being tall and skinny, for fashion and runway models, it is a bonus if the female model has long hair and if the male has a sporty, but not overly muscular, look. Facial symmetry is also highly prized and other features that make models distinctly noticeable such as hunter eyes, hollow cheeks, a perfectly-chiseled jawline, and luscious lips. Agencies also value models with unique features like teeth gaps or red hair.

Thick Models Then and Now

While many designers prefer having skinny models for their creations, there was a time when models were not lanky and slim. This was the time when Cindy Crawford and Brooke Shields made a successful career out of modeling. Known as the golden age of supermodels, both Crawford and Shields do not represent the typical skinny models generally seen on the catwalk.

Even before the 80s, if you looked at old print advertisements and paintings, you would rarely see men and women who were skinny or super slim posing for the photographer. In those days, a model with a skinny body type is someone who didn’t have access to a steady food supply. And those who have fuller bodies came from well-off families whose food supply wasn’t an issue.

In modern times, people quickly gain weight because food is always available and never scarce. With more Americans starting to look “heavy,” the “chubby look” had become overrated and unattractive. More women wanted to look skinnier. 

Why Models Do Not Smile

Designers want what is best for their fashion line. As stated before, they want the beauty and elegance of their clothing to become the focus in every fashion show or pictorial. This is why one of the main demands for the models that they hire, other than being tall and skinny, is that they put on a straight or sulky face.

Models show off the clothing they wear, as opposed to drawing any attention away from it. Rather than focusing on the gorgeous attributes of the radiant model that the designer has chosen, they would instead that their audience stay fixated on their clothing design. Models making facial expressions, even something as basic as a smile, exudes personality, which will only distract the viewers from the garment that they want to sell.

Unhealthy Effects of Staying Skinny      

There are numerous things a model does to become and stay skinny, and not all are entirely positive things. Some models try their best to not only eat healthily but also to find time in their hectic schedules to exercise and work out.

However, the sad reality is that many models starve themselves. They eat very little food. They do this to avoid increasing their weight. To get modeling assignments, they have to keep their skinny physique. They alter their healthy eating habits because they want to have modeling jobs. In the long run, they end up getting eating disorders. Many suffer from health conditions such as bulimia and anorexia.

Wade. (2018) noted that bulimia nervosa, simply known as bulimia, is an eating disorder in which someone eats a lot of food and decides to induce vomiting or take laxatives to dispense all the food or drinks that they have consumed.

Dharshana. (2020) explained that anorexia is the intense fear of gaining weight caused by a tremendous desire to be skinny. It is a common problem with men and women whose line of work dictates that they keep a slender figure.

Rodgers et al. (2017) showed that more than 62% of the models surveyed said that they had been asked to “lose weight” or “change their shape” by their modeling agency. Ziff added that those models already have a body mass index categorized as unhealthy by WHO standards. And still, their agents require them to shed even more pounds.

The results of said 2017 study conducted on 85 models during New York Fashion Week were tallied and are shown below:

  • 62% of the models said their agents asked them to lose weight.
  • 54% of the models claimed that they were informed that unless they lost weight, they would not be able to book modeling jobs.
  • 21% of the models said that their agents threatened them with contract termination if they did not lose weight.
  • A little over 9% of the models said that their agents advised them to undergo plastic surgery.

Ban on Excessively Skinny Models

In the past, a lot of fashion designers were criticized when they ignored the call to ban super-skinny models on the runway. Patrons and supporters of the fashion industry refused to let the abnormally thin models walk the runway. They withdrew their support and demanded that the fashion designers send their models for medical treatment. The fashion giants were backed into a corner and stopped getting super skinny models.

France, known for its high fashion sense, was one of the countries that started a movement to ban underweight models. French fashion companies like LVMH and Kering led the industry in changing the mindset of designers to abandon the old notion that supermodels must have super skinny figures.

Other fashion giants that heeded the call to drop overly thin models included:

  • Yves Saint Laurent
  • Marc Jacobs
  • Givenchy
  • Stella McCartney
  • Thomas Pink
  • Gucci
  • Alexander McQueen

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Body Standards and Self Esteem

While some fashion designers still hire skinny models, a more significant number of them have wholly embraced and welcomed their healthy-looking models. Society played a significant part in this change. By letting the modeling agencies know that it is not okay to have unhealthy models, more normal-sized women are now successful in their modeling careers.

These days, women who dream of having a modeling career are no longer afraid to pursue their career paths. They do not have to starve themselves to keep their bodies slim. They no longer think that only the skinny ones can be beautiful, as portrayed by the media. Their insecurities about their body size have vanished. And this is because they know that they are not held to an impossible body size standard anymore.

Research and studies have also shown that the skinny models displayed on television and magazines have caused a surge of low self-esteem in women. A professor of psychology at Kenyon College, Ohio, Sarah Murnen, who is also a body researcher, said that “The promotion of the thin, sexy ideal in our culture has created a situation where the majority of girls and women don’t like their bodies. And body dissatisfaction can lead girls to participate in very unhealthy behaviors to try to control weight.” 

As the fashion world continues to evolve and respond to the changing times, young and aspiring men and women who dream of becoming famous in their modeling career now have the option to be successful without sacrificing their health and well-being.

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