I read the above-linked charming little mess in yesterday’s WWD and for hours afterwards wasn’t quite able to place what it was about it that grated my nerves so much. My internet was all riled up about it too — my Google reader and Twitter all collectively eyerolled/facepalmed/groaned, but overall, it’s really just another mildly irritating but easily ignored sensationalist piece on “oh shit models are skinny.” So why is it still bothering me?
Foley’s basic argument — “IT’S NOT MY FAULT SO I DON’T NEED TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT! STOP ASKING ME TO!” — is one we see over and over and over again in response to any social issue, and to have to see that on the front page of a widely circulated influential industry publication again is beyond frustrating. It’s like saying that fashion’s doin’ fine in terms of diversity because Crystal Renn’s monstrous 38 inch hips have graced a few covers and Lea T like used to be a man or something. It’s like saying that you don’t care about racism in the US because you never owned slaves, or saying that sexism isn’t a problem because you treat the women you work with just fine, or saying that rape isn’t a problem because she wore a short skirt and flirted with him a little so it’s not like it was the man’s fault, or saying that you’re exempt from homophobia because you have this gay friend you go shoe shopping with and you don’t see why it’s an issue. It’s like saying you don’t care what’s going on in Egypt because your internet is still working (this is just about the internet right? Is TimeWarner’s service that bad over there too?!?) It’s an embarrassingly un-self-aware way to throw in the towel on a problem. And it smacks suspiciously of “boys will be boys” — and I don’t think we need to get into what’s wrong with that statement by now. Translating that attitude to other issues doesn’t make it any less contemptible.
I’ve argued enough that fashion is neither the root of all evil nor the root of body image issues — something which Foley also points out, that it’s patently stupid, uneducated, and annoying to “blame eating disorders on fashion.” But a large part of my constant ranting there is based on the fact that blaming something amorphous, distant, and easily reviled (“fashion!”) is a great way to rid yourself of any responsibility and feel self-satisfied that you were so effectively able to process and pass on the terror of having to deal with that mess. Saying “it’s their fault” and “it’s not my fault” are basically the same thing: “I don’t care, and I don’t need to. Phew!”
Foley’s other arguments — that we’re too busy to give a crap, basically — are sound, to some extent: dude, this industry is hard and unforgiving and fast-paced, and getting a runway show together and a line in production and the right samples to the right press and the 9,381 logistical complex things that you, oh person who does not work in fashion, have probably never thought about as a six-month-long-process of how your clothes went from a pencil sketch to your closet, is complicated and stressful and requires a lot of time, patience, intelligence, and work. I’ll give her that. To some extent, it’s not entirely impossible to see how the threat of getting slapped on the wrist if you forget to check that the foreign girl that your intern cast is above 16, reasonably well-fed, and not being raped on set could come to seem like an obnoxious formality in an already stressful day.
But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to eyeroll at every possible problem and say that you’re too busy to play mom to a pack of perverts, racists, and anorexics. Requiring a level of awareness and a drive for social responsibility — something which is, in fact, largely perpetuated by, you know, the media? which Foley and I are both part of, albeit on totally different ends of the spectrum? — is not all that extreme of a request. The appropriate response to finding yourself up shit creek without a paddle with a few million other people is not “well, I didn’t start it, someone else figure it out,” but “okay, what can we all do, together?” And while the CFDA’s eternally ridiculous attempts at standards (make sure there are “healthy snacks” backstage! make sure they’re 16! don’t let them on if they don’t weigh enough!) are questionably effective and probably unenforceable, at least there is some effort and discussion going on. Comparing caring about problems in an industry in which you work to unnecessarily hypervigilant and controlling parenting is, pardon my french, bullshit. The flip side of my usual argument that fashion is interesting/worthwhile/maybe-even-empowering-if-we-frame-it-right because it is powered so centrally by the work and money of women is the resulting fact that women are often the ones suffering most of its damages — and we’re not going to be able to deal with that by calling for a more laissez-faire attitude towards social responsibility in fashion.
So yes, Bridget Foley and WWD, it is very much your problem. Nobody said it was all your fault — but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still care.