For models who gain weight, whether it’s five pounds or 15, finding a fit in the fashion industry is generally an uphill battle, and often suddenly sinks a career. Take the case of Gemma Ward, the Vogue cover record breaker who seemed poised to conquer the runways when she hit the scene at only 14 years old. Quickly becoming a top-earning model, Ward’s super skinny limbs and protruding bones captured the essence of undernourished beauty that designers and critics loved. Around the same time, fellow youth model Coco Rocha remembered being advised, “The look this year is anorexic. We don’t want you to be anorexic, we just want you to look it.”Not having an eating disorder and appearing like you have one can, of course, push hopeful models to unhealthy measures, and yet, Gemma’s weight was likely an unavoidable consequence of being prepubescent. So when she started growing up and filling out, those employing and watching her became uncomfortable with her image—even with a modest five-pound gain, she was suddenly thought of as “bloated” and even dubbed “curvy.” Unfortunately for Ward, a continued weight gain also put her out of work, an occurrence that isn’t specific to her, but is becoming more and more common for models who begin working at very young ages. Many of these girls, had they been discovered as women in their matured bodies, would not have been recruited, which only points to the slanted tendency of agencies and designers to treat models as disposable products with a shelf life.
Despite the industry’s efforts to make changes so this doesn’t happen—having supposedly constructive dialogues about the problem of size associated with age, and keeping an eye on models who appear to be using drugs or starving themselves—there hasn’t been a lot of leeway for continuing a career, even if the model sheds some weight and makes it back into a sample size.
There’s little compassion to be had for catwalkers who have to “work at it.” An anonymous magazine source told Page Six Magazine that, “Once these pictures are out of her being big, her brand is diminished, at least as far as her agency and the mainstream fashion world goes … Gemma’s torn. … She’s rebelling by putting on 30 or 40 pounds, so now going back isn’t a straightforward option.” True, Gemma, and models in similar situations can’t just expect to slim down again without facing controversy over how they did it.
As for breaking into the plus-sized world of fashion? That remains a dubious option for Gemma as well, because she can hardly be called “plus-sized” and time would have to pass before alternative sources consider her to project a stable image. After all, Ward is just 22 years old now, and having taken leave of the fashion world, she’s joined the ranks of so-called “normal” women, meaning she’s also prone to experience the ups and downs of weight 20-somethings go through. The question that Ward provokes is whether size can ever win. It would seem that no matter how much the industry claims to embrace “health” and assures that it’s moving towards a curvier trend, the fact remains that they want skinny, and that’s the way it’s going to be. [New York Post]