The preoccupation with weight has recently experienced a surge, thanks to countless celebrities plagued by eating disorders, a Brazilian model's anorexia related death and Milan's plan to ban waifs from its runways. Scarcely a day goes by without the proponents of the slim aesthetic ideal issuing statements defending the dangerously skinny. In stark disagreement with the assertion that beautiful clothes look good solely on hanger models, we believe fashion is a universal ideal that cannot be defined along strict lines of demarcation. Even while our understanding of physical beauty has shifted tremendously over the ages, our love of fineries as a means of self-expression has endured.

It seems that in the midst of the heated debate as to who should be wearing the clothes, many miss the point. At the end of the day, models, runways and fashion shows are mere means to an end — the art of fabric and form. Quentin Bell writes in On Human Finery that painters and dress makers are all philosophers at heart:

"Aristotle said that drama was more philosophical than history for history tells us only what did happen whereas drama tells us what ought to have happened. In this sense the dressmaker and the painter are philosophers. The painter seeks to create the body in a state of perfection; the dressmaker seeks to arrange drapery so beautifully that the actual body becomes a mere starting point."

Thus it appears rather ludicrous - and if I may say so, ignorant - for anyone to say or think that couture finds true meaning when hanging from the emaciated body of a woman in desperate need of nourishment. To the contrary, an artistic ideal is relevant only in the context of those that understand and appreciate it.

There is also the nonsense about 'thin' being the unchanging ideal of beauty exalted by all cultures in different eras. A cursory review of world history and cultures yields widely diverse standards of attractiveness. For Aristotle, beauty resided in "order and symmetry and definiteness." For Cicero, it was "a certain symmetrical shape of the limbs combined with a certain charm of coloring." Italian renaissance maestros thought beauty was the embodiment of a rosy cheeked, voluptuous, pale femme sporting a tummy bulge. In Fiji exquisiteness translated into having some serious meat on the bones. The variations and divergences are endless across continents and centuries.

Famed painter Albrecht Durer wrote, "There lives on earth no one beautiful person who could not be more beautiful." None of the women gracing the glossy pages of magazines naturally looks as picture-perfect and flawless as they appear. Model Veronica Webb said when asked how long it took to compose her 'natural' beauty, "Two hours and two hundred dollars...I could never make myself look the way I do in a magazine." Thus, anyone defending the gorgeous, lean, perfect model as the archetype to which we should aspire is in fact defending a farce.

At puberty the female body sheds the rectangular torso and remerges with new shapes, curves, and angles. It also acquires the extra fat it will need to support reproduction, and stores it in hips and breasts. There is no doubt about it; teenage girls are preternaturally beautiful. Supermodel Christy Turlington was discovered at age thirteen, Kate Moss when she was fourteen. But to apply the prepubescent beauty ideal to mature women is ludicrous. Yet many do. As a result more women than men diet and women outnumber men in eating disorders nine to one.

According to Harvard Medical School professor Nancy Etcoff our bodies are a product of environmental adaptation. For instance people living in hot dry environments such as the Dinkas in the Sudan are slim, with narrow torsos and very long limbs. Their shapes give them a high ratio of surface (skin) to body mass, allowing their bodies to dissipate heat effectively. Supermodel Alek Wek who was born into the Dinka tribe is a typically narrow-torsoed Sudanese girl who stands five feet eleven inches tall with mile-high legs. She definitely fits today's tall, slender beauty ideal, but her look are a result of the centuries' long struggle to survive the elements.

Until recently body standards varied drastically. Most extreme manifestations of thinness came from the world of high fashion, trickling down from this world of glitz and glamour to the masses over the course of the century. Twiggy in the 1960s and Kate Moss in the 1990s, one five feet six and the other five feet seven and each skimming under 100 pounds, became the thin ideal's poster children and shaped the fate of the weight controversy that still rages.

Thin has not been the ideal for as long as we can remember. If it were, then why was the Columbia Pictures logo, the torch bearing woman, slimmed as late as 1992? Furthermore, according to Etcoff, "there is no evolutionary precedent for the slim ideal. Matter of fact, selection should work against such a preference. It has been known for some time that women with eating disorders suffer disruptions in fertility and reproduction... Starved animals don't reproduce, they don't even mate." Thin is in only because we have made it so. Indeed, please put aside the notion that there is any logic, substance or method to the insanity surrounding society's obsession with skinny women. The thin beauty ideal exists in the mind, not the flesh.

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