Aussie Designer Admits Fashion Industry Needs Healthier Model Standards

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Mercedes Benz Australian Fashion Week in Sydney just came and went but it wasn’t without a bit of controversy. No, we’re not talking about models falling on the runway, we’re talking about yet another body image debate about models.

Australian designer Alex Perry who already caused quite a stir for getting Victoria’s Secret Angel Alessandra Ambrosio to walk in his show, was also part of a heated debate for another, quite skinny, model who walked for him.

The model’s name is Cassie Van Den Dungen, she a former contestant on ‘Australia’s Next Top Model’, mother of a two year-old son, has a very busy modeling career internationally, but is also very very skinny. The whole debate is centered around whether the industry needs mandatory healthier model standards. We say yes!

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After the show, Marie Claire Australian editor Jackie Frank, who happened to be in the audience for Perry’s show, made a bit of noise about how appalled she was at the display of thinness on the catwalk.

She told a journalist, “When I saw those legs I nearly died. I rang the model agent and said ‘why is that girl walking down the runway when she’s clearly not healthy?”

Cassie is 21 and regularly works in Paris, where being ‘Paris thin’ is a whole other standard to the rest of the fashion world apparently. Perhaps the French capital hasn’t get got the memo that ‘heroine chic’ died out when people started speaking up about how wrong it is.

Jackie Frank told Australian women’s blogsite Mamamia when she spoke to Cassie’s agent, she was told that the model is in fact healthy, eats regularly, but the editor wasn’t happy that she was chosen to walk in the show on full display for the country to see her bone thin frame. The fact that she was admittedly ‘Paris thin’ already means there is a disconnect with certain standards, and it should not just be glossed over by an agent.

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“It was not normal to see – we don’t need to do that here in Australia. Nobody wants to look at that, women don’t want to see that. There are enough girls here to choose from. We have some incredible models with healthy looking bodies. The skinny model conversation is always there in the media but I thought we’d moved past it. I don’t want to see that image on the front page of the paper representing the industry. And I’ve told my girls, we won’t be showing that kind of body in Marie Claire.”

“I just didn’t expect to see it [a model who was so thin] here in Australia,” she told me. “We’ve got this outdoor living which produces beautiful, athletic bodies like Elle Macpherson and Megan Gale. Obviously, models are thinner now but this crossed the line for me. I got a fright yesterday and I felt protective.”

While some girls are naturally thin, it is the responsibility of all facets of the industry to take care when it comes to representing women on the catwalk. In 2013 H&M CEO Karl Johan-Persson made a public statement saying he is committing to only using healthy models (whether thin or plus size) in all of their campaigns, and this is the type of standard everyone needs to live up to in fashion.

The designer in question, Alex Perry, could not ignore the media flurry and decided to go on the Today Show Australia to give his thoughts. In in an interview he admitted it was a wrong move. To showcase someone so thin to young girls, and that it sends a bad message.

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To his credit he acknowledged that everyone from designers, to model agents, to booking agents need to work together to portray a healthy ideal in the industry, and not make excuses.

(You can see his full interview in the video below.)

Harpers Bazaar Australia editor Kellie Hush went on twitter to say how disappointed she was that the media was talking about body image yet again, instead of focusing on the amazing clothes that Australian designers produce.

While she may have a good point, talking about body image can never be a negative thing if it means a group of industry experts are willing to work together to produce better standards for their consumers. Right?!

In fact Aussie fashion industry experts and media representatives collaborated on a very important project which became the ‘Code of Conduct’ for the industry. They worked in conjunction with the Butterfly Foundation which is a support organization for Australians with eating disorders.

It covered basic body image guidelines for model agencies, designers, fashion labels and the media. All the sectors Alex identified as being part of the problem.

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The only problem with this code is that it is voluntary, but perhaps the industry as well as advocate groups need to come back together and revisit the possibility of making this mandatory.

Fashion has a responsibility to represent its consumers and their bodies accurately. How many women are going to buy a dress paraded on the body of a size zero woman, as opposed to a size 10 average body? C’mon, there are no excuses!

Bravo to Alex Perry for recognizing there has to be a change, and here’s hoping more magazine editors will speak up like Jackie Frank to acknowledge the responsibility they have toward their readers.

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