By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and Co-Founder of the Blog Café Thawrahoney_do

Karl Lagerfeld doesn’t like seeing curvy women on catwalks. Yes ladies, the over-bronzed, starved designer whose eyes have never been seen in living memory gives dieting advice to women. And apparently, we’re supposed to listen.

Soon after the English designer Mark Fast’s show during London Fashion Week featuring size 12+ women, the self proclaimed king of fashion declared that “fashion was a fantasy, a dream” and that “these fat women eating crisps in front of their TV, thinking slender models are ugly” were basically jealous.

Without even brooding on the impossibly condescending tone and cringing misogyny of this statement, I’d like to put a harsh stop on the whole “fashion is a dream, let it be, people do want to see under nourished 15 year old girls dressed as 35 year old women” rhetoric. Yes, fashion should be a dream, celebrating crazy colours and shapes, shaking society like the Dior-length skirt or the mini skirt did, but it becomes a nightmare the moment it is established as the norm, the moment snooty salespeople look at you with contempt for sporting healthy full bodies. Karl’s supporters would have us think that designers are not saying we should look like the models, but merely that we should only wear the clothes on the models.

How helpful, we hadn’t figured this one out for ourselves.

But when brands stops their collection at size 4, then we have the right to ask ourselves what’s the secret message behind it.

Even though this question has been abundantly treated, it seems to me that we are not witnessing any significant changes when it comes to the public representation of the female body. Pictures in magazines are more photoshoped than ever, models are still alarmingly thin, and God helps the woman who tries to point to these issues, for she’d be instantly catalogued as jealous or frustrated by a small group of the Fashion Crew.

First of all, I think it is important to set some facts straight. Women perfectly know that models in magazines are not like that in reality.

Thank you, we are not stupid, we do use our brains from times to times.

This being said, I still think it is important to analyse the impact of these images on the body image of women and girls.

As members of the “Western” society, we are constantly surrounded by ads and images of unattainable standards of beauty, standards that, as research has shown, are only achievable by less than 5% of the female population (Remember the Body Shop campaign, “”There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do” ? Well, for once, a slogan can be true). This constant exposure to a stereotyped type of beauty makes it look attainable, normal, in the sociological sense of the word.

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Even if women perfectly know that the images have been modified, our brains simply pick up what they see all day every day, following the very often-unconscious logic of “if I see it everyday, everywhere, then it’s probably the norm” and right there and then comes the question of “Am I in the norm”? And, ladies, this is how we start questioning our body, and with the questions, come the doubts, and eventually, the negative body image. The overwhelming number of articles in women’s magazines about how-to-become-thin-in-2-seconds-while-eating-nothing-for-2-decades, or about plastic surgery have women believe that they could be like the girl in the magazines, if only they had more will/money/courage and that their key to blissful happiness is to lose the weight they grew to resent. So basically, guilt makes its appearance on top of the questions and doubts about one’s body, which of course works wonders for the overall self esteem.

So what do we have? A global trend of a weight gaining population in the Western hemisphere and global media featuring almost only extra thin models. Dichotomy, anyone?

Governments should incorporate in school curricula serious programmes on what to eat to have a complete, healthy diet, but also to educate teenagers on the various diseases related to body images, while bearing in mind that processed, canned or ready-made food, that contain more sugar than fresh products, are also much more cheaper than said fresh products. Hence the need to offer affordable healthy food to the population, but let us not digress.

Truth is, beloved ladies, your body knows the weight it is comfortable at. Short of any health problems, your body WILL go back to this weight, no matter what you do, no matter how many diets. So stay healthy, and just embrace your body the way it is, for there is no point in torturing yourself. Life’s too short.

As for Mr Karl and his whole “Fashion is a dream, an illusion” thing, let me tell you something. Give me a Marylin Monroe, in a curvy figure, laughing and running on a beach in her Pucci blouse, and I’ll dream. Give me a Jackie O. in a Givenchy coat, and I’ll dream. Give me any in love, passionate about what she believes in, woman, and I’ll dream, for this is beauty.

Show me one of your models, and I’ll make her lunch.

Also read the article “Body as Battleground” by theologian Tommy Ross.