Sports Illustrated Sparks a Debate Over Obese Fashion Models

Bryan Michalek | August 3, 2017
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Earlier this summer, Sports Illustrated hosted a swimsuit catwalk show featuring several swimsuits for several different body types. Since the show, an Australian news publication has come out with a critical piece on the use of plus-sized models, spurning a debate in the issue of promoting this change in modeling. 

Soraiya Fuda authored the opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph calling the use of "curvier" women on the runway "irresponsible" amidst a growing obesity epidemic. Fuda clarifies her argument in the beginning of the article saying:

"Before you call me out for 'fat shaming', I am not at all suggesting that to be a model you can only be a size 6 to 8. The Sports Illustrated parade included some beautiful size 12 to 18 models demonstrating that every woman, regardless of shape, deserves lovely swimwear."

She then goes on to say that women "approaching the sizes 20-26 on the catwalk" are more representative of an unhealthy trend than a realistic depiction of the average woman. Fuda's piece criticizes the use of overweight as well as underweight models saying:

"If the fashion industry decides to stop using models who appear to have starved themselves to skin and bones - as they should - they shouldn't then choose to promote an equally unhealthy body shape."

The article sparked the latest flame in an ongoing debate over the consequences of promoting unhealthy body types. Dr. Brad Frankum, president of the Australian Medical Association in New South Wales, criticized the fact that overweight models don't garner the same concern as underweight models.

Frankum told BBC, "If someone was walking down the catwalk smoking a cigarette there would be an outcry because that would be a very unhealthy message," he said. "Similarly if we send overweight or obese people down the catwalk modeling clothes, what it is saying, in a way, is that we are celebrating obesity. I think that is dangerous because we know it is a dangerous health condition." 

Professor John Dixon, head of clinical obesity research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, disagreed, saying, "With it being normal to be overweight in our community and so many -- 28 percent of Australia being obese -- it is quite offensive to say that obese people should not be on a catwalk,"

That being said, it's important to note that Dixon doesn't really address the problem with obesity and seems to be complicit in just accepting it and letting the problem ride. A viewpoint from the modeling world itself could be summed up in model Stefania Ferrario's statement to the BBC. 

Ferrario said, "I am for all diversity in models of all different sizes and shapes, but I think it is irresponsible that there are not more models of healthy weight range on the catwalk." 

The debate continues. But either way it's spun, Americans, Australians, and the world over should be concerned about the obesity epidemic -- and more importantly, the forces that promote it. 

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