Designer Blames Fashion Industry for Eating DisordersWhy Some Designers Don’t Think Beauty Comes in All Sizes

More women in the U.S. wear a size 16 than a size 6, and the fashion world doesn’t seem to care. There has always been a big difference between the average woman and haute couture, but today, when the gap seems wider than ever, very few designers will even entertain the idea of producing a line of plus size fashions. As Tim Gunn, designer and host of TV’s Project Runway, points out, there’s a lot of money of to be made if the clothing industry offers real clothes for real women. So why, he asks, must so many young women continue to starve themselves to maintain its unrealistic standards?

During New York City’s Fashion Week, as the world’s top fashion designers unveil their latest collections to the public with much fanfare, once again, the average-sized women of America will be largely be ignored. Yes, there may be a few token big models, and plus-size model Ashley Graham will debut a line of lingerie for larger women, but these are the exceptions, not the new standards.

Why do designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women? It’s a disgrace, says Gunn. In a recent article in the Washington Post, Gunn writes, “When I was chief creative officer for Liz Claiborne Inc., I spent a good amount of time on the road hosting fashion shows highlighting our brands. Our team made a point of retaining models of various sizes, shapes and ages, because one of the missions of the shows was to educate audiences about how they could look their best. At a Q&A after one event in Nashville in 2010, a woman stood up, took off her jacket and said, with touching candor: ‘Tim, look at me. I’m a box on top, a big, square box. How can I dress this shape and not look like a fullback?’ It was a question I’d heard over and over during the tour: Women who were larger than a size 12 always wanted to know, How can I look good, and why do designers ignore me?”

This Prejudice Against Larger Women Comes at a High Cost

Many of the world’s most successful supermodels, celebrities, and female movie stars have come forward lately to reveal their struggles with Anorexia, Bulimia, binge eating, and other food-related behavior disorders. Research proves that the thin celebrities our mainstream media often promotes as standards of female beauty can have a very negative and powerful impact on the teenagers of today.

Teens are bombarded with images from television, movies, magazines, and the Internet that show them what their bodies ‘should’ look like. But the problem is that these ideals are not very realistic. Many of these photographs or videos feature air-brushed models that weigh 23% less than the average woman. Unfortunately, millions of teens believe the lies. They develop eating disorders to try to attain an impossible goal.

“This problem is difficult to change,” Gunn writes. “The industry, from the runway to magazines to advertising, likes subscribing to the mythology it has created of glamour and thinness. Look at Vogue’s ‘shape issue,’ which is ostensibly a celebration of different body types but does no more than nod to anyone above a size 12. For decades, designers have trotted models with bodies completely unattainable for most women down the runway. First it was women so thin that they surely had eating disorders. After an outcry, the industry responded by putting young teens on the runway, girls who had yet to exit puberty. More outrage.”

The Fashion Industry is Paying for this Obsession with Thinness, Too

Gunn cites one store’s survey as proof: “Seventy-four percent of plus-size women described shopping in stores as “frustrating”; 65 percent said they were “excluded.” (Interestingly, 65 percent of women of all sizes agreed that plus-size women were ignored by the fashion industry.) But the plus-size women surveyed also indicated that they wanted to shop more. More than 80 percent said they’d spend more on clothing if they had more choices in their size, and nearly 90 percent said they would buy more if they had trendier options.”

France may fine these designers. The French government passed a new law that intends to keep excessively thin models from working in their country. According to Women’s Wear Daily, under the new law, models working in France will need a doctor’s certificate that demonstrates their overall health and shows that their body mass index is “appropriate for the job.” Breaches of the law by models, their agencies, or the clients who hire them can result in six months in prison and a fine of up to 75,000 euros. When a campaign for Saint Laurent featured Kiki Willem, a painfully thin Dutch model, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority banned the ads. The British agency said dramatic lighting emphasized the model’s visible rib cage, and the thinness of her legs. “Her thighs and knees appeared a similar width,” it said.

Gunn hopes that greed will motivate the business to change. “I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013).”

Is the LGBTQ community associated with the major fashion houses part of the problem? Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, admitted in an interview with the New York Times, “Of course there are many more gay male designers. I think we are more objective. We don’t come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies.” Gunn seems to disagree. Referring to popularity of transgender model Andrej Pejic, Gunn writes, “The designers love him because he doesn’t have any hips. And women aren’t going to look like that.”

Meanwhile, Progress Has Been Very Slow

Ordinary women may be in for a long wait to see women that resemble them at fashion shows. Or on TV. Two years ago, Gunn told the Hollywood Reporter that he wanted to do a season of Project Runway that would require every model to be larger than a size 12. It wasn’t until this season, however, that Ashley Nell Tipton won the contest with the show’s first plus-size collection. As Gunn says, “This is not real world.

At Center for Discovery, Health Comes in All Sizes

Our multi-faceted approach to eating disorders and behavior modification helps clients and their families develop coping skills to combat unrealistic beauty standards. Our teams of highly trained experts employ a wide variety of therapies and activities to help clients build a sound connection between the body and the mind.

Help is Just a Phone Call Away

The health risks for Bulimia, binge eating, Anorexia, and other behavioral disorders can be very serious. If someone you love is in danger, please call Center for Discovery immediately at 800.760.3934. Call now and you can speak with one of Center for Discovery’s experienced admission specialists today. Or you can fill out this form for a FREE assessment. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential.


Washington Post. Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women, by Tim Gunn. Retrieved Sept 9, 2016.

Cosmopolitan Magazine: France Bans Ultra-Skinny Models, by Charles Manning. Retrieved Sept 9, 2016.

Hollywood Reporter. Reality Roundtable. Retrieved Sept 9 , 2016.

Time Magazine: The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes, by Laura Stampler. Retrieved Sept 9, 2016.

New York Times: In Fashion, Who Really Gets Ahead? by Eric Wilson. Retrieved Sept 9, 2016.