The Darker Side Of Being En Vogue
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Almost every single week I write about how fashion can empower us. Whether it be fashion with an ethical dimension that benefits the greater good (like my latest Alex and Ani purchase, which helps families coping with cystic fibrosis—and it’s cute, too!), or just how that Zara blazer instantly transforms my demeanor and my day. I love fashion— I am obsessed with it. I read about it, I participate in it, I work at a boutique back home, I shop, I window shop, I online shop, I read countless magazines, and I write this column every week. It is a part of who I am. But in these columns, I tend to focus on the positive side of the industry, the beauty and the benefits of the craft. However, there is a darker side, one I am not naive about.
Fashion often holds up this beauty ideal: a painfully thin, perfectly plucked, long-legged, clear-skinned, flawlessly coiffed, smudge-free, manicured doll decked in this season’s latest styles. And sometimes, the pressure is too much. And it is not just the consumers of fashion, but the major players, as well, who feel the ever-increasing pressure. My mind immediately flashes to Rachel Zoe. For anyone unfamiliar with Zoe, she is currently having a moment, and has been having one for years. But the buzz isn’t always positive.
Zoe’s show, The Rachel Zoe Project, since cancelled, had a cult following, and let many people feel like they knew the super popular celeb stylist. Her catchphrases, “I die” and “bananas,” are fashion’s inside joke. Zoe does it all. She is a designer, stylist, an editor whose “picks” are featured on piperlime.com, she has come on board for the re-launch of the fashion website whowhatwear.com, and has her own daily email newsletter. This is only the tip of the iceberg for Zoe. She is a fixture in popular fashion today. Where she is, who she is seen with, and what she is wearing is an obsession for fashion lovers. Her name is splattered all over Women’s Wear Daily.
I personally have always loved Zoe. I love her penchant for fur vests and floppy hats. I loved when she was nine months pregnant and tottering around in six-inch leopard print heels. I love how she calls her husband “Rodge”; I love that she is smart; I love that she has so much experience; and I love how much she loves her work. But as she teeters on her impossibly tall heels, it’s hard to avert your eyes from her painfully frail frame.
I know I am not the only one who sees this. Countless news sources have hounded her and pointed out each of her protruding bones to the public for years. And even now, post-baby (son Skylar seems to have her fashion sense), it seems Zoe has shrunken back to inhabit her former emaciated frame. She isn’t the first thin woman in fashion by any stretch of the imagination—in fact, it seems that every model on the runway is on the verge of collapse these days. Twiggy was an icon whose status was drawn from her thin, boyish frame. Why do we accept this?
In what moment does fashion stop empowering, and start oppressing its followers? Have we reached that place yet? At some point, Zoe’s health concerns will, if they haven’t already, overshadow her fashion celebrity status. At some point, this is all she will become. The harmful potential of the fashion industry cannot be ignored, but it can be addressed in a way that sheds light on the issues with today’s industry, as well as spells out ways to change it.
All hope is not lost for fashion, or for Zoe. For the very reason fashion can hurt us, it can redeem us too. Fashion can make us not just feel badly about ourselves, but it can make us feel good too. Fashion’s power lies in transformation. If the industry stresses empowerment of the men and women involved, a powerful change can be made. Yes, things must change, and no, fashion is not always a perfect industry. But what is, really? There are extremes everywhere in life, and it is about finding balance.
The industry needs to embrace that magical feeling when fashion transforms your day. Whether it’s the prettiest vegan shoes you have ever found, that dress that makes you feel feminine, religiously reading everything written about fashion week, when that coveted piece goes on sale (in your size too!), or when you are just lying in your dorm room watching Project Runway, seeing designers’ dreams come true. We cannot ignore the issues with the industry, but we can strive to make a change, and find a way for fashion to empower each of us.