On March 22, HBS was visited by an uncommon group of VIPs – those from the fashion world.ÿAnna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Michael Kors, American fashion designer and judge on Lifetime’s Project Runway, and Natalia Vodianova, Russian model and philanthropist, came for a private reception and to speak at a public forum regarding the impact of eating disorders in the fashion industry.
The forum, “Health Matters: Weight and Wellness in the World of Fashion”, was hosted by the Harris Center, a Massachusetts General Hospital affiliate focused on the education and advocacy of eating disorders. Each year, the Harris Center hosts a public forum to raise awareness for the disease and funding for patient care. Eating disorders are a major issue: anorexia nervosa, a major form of eating disorder, bears the highest mortality rate of any psychological disease. Many believe that significant progress can be achieved in reducing the incidence of eating disorders through education, programs related to self-esteem re-enforcement, and the reduction in emphasis on what many societal influences deem to be the “ideal” body image. This is where fashion comes in.
In the world of fashion, where appearances are paramount, models (along with the clothing they wear) play an important role in showcasing a designer’s artistic vision and aesthetic.ÿThat vision, argues Michael Kors, is not about projecting fragility and increasingly tiny frames, but about projecting health and “creating an aspirational image.” In February, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) hosted a panel in New York City called “Beauty of Health: Resizing the Sample Size” to address the issue of the shrinking sample size. Kors believes that the fashion community is taking strides towards projecting a healthier, more realistic vision of beauty. “The fashion industry is starting to address real women again,” he said, and commensurately imposing restrictions on the sizes and working conditions of runway models, including minimum age requirements; limitations on hours worked; and a ban on alcohol and tobacco backstage.ÿ
Three years ago, the CFDA launched a health initiative to support these requirements and to promote generally healthier practices within the fashion community.ÿ On the editorial side, Wintour discussed the need for sample sizes to shift to more realistic sizes in order to feature healthier-looking models in magazine photo shoots. With respect to the “Health Matters” event, Wintour noted “Every time we hold one of these forums, I feel that the voice of models’ health advances just a little bit more. [.] A model’s weight or her waist size, or her attitude toward food, these were all taboo subjects whispered about in corridors or behind closed doors.”
The HBS Retail & Apparel Club is donating net proceeds from its Spring Fashion Show to the Harris Center and its associated eating disorder initiatives. The show will be April 13 at 9 p.m. at Mantra, and tickets are available at www.thehbsfashionshow.com.
Alex is an EC student from Section B.ÿ Currently the Fashion Show has taken over her life – if only she could find a job that was this fun!