Ten years ago today, fashion model Luisel Ramos dropped dead from heart failure brought on by anorexia just minutes after stepping off the catwalk during Fashion Week in Montevideo, Uruguay. She was 22 years old. A few months later, another model Ana Carolina Reston died from starvation-related complications at the age of 21.
These two deaths spurred the thin model controversy of 2006 that has continued to rage through today.
Several of the major fashion capitals considered instituting preventative measures after these sudden deaths. For example, Spain took action by first banning ultra-thin models from fashion week and then banning skinny sizes on mannequins. Britain tried to ban size zero models from London Fashion Week, but that was quickly abandoned after other fashion capitals failed to follow suit. In 2012, the Council of Fashion Designers of America urged designers to ensure that their runway models were not younger than age 16. Most recently, France adopted a bill aimed at banning the use of fashion models deemed to be “excessively thin.”
Around the same time of these prominent fashion deaths, Velvet D’Amour made a splash in Paris with her appearances on the runway for both Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano. At 39 years of age and nearly 300 pounds, Velvet was beyond what is technically considered plus size, let alone high fashion, but she sauntered down those catwalks with confidence and poise. She was a standout with her fierce presence but the critics were shocked and appalled. This juxtaposition of fat and thin was too much.
A media storm ignited. Velvet received hundreds of emails from women inspired by her work, as well as from those who demonstrated a strong aversion to her fat:
I’ve had people ask me “Do you think you are promoting obesity by you being on the runway?” I think it’s laughable. If what’s on the runway had anything to do with obesity then we would all be emaciated.
Either way, she experienced difficulty in further advancing her modeling career because of her size:
You know, I have gone down the runway twice for two great people, but the reality is there is not a massive amount of work for three hundred pound women. . . I try to create opportunity for other people because I know that that opportunity is very limited, not only for bigger women but older women . . . I think that the reason people admire me is because I give them that sense of possibility. I was able to do it. I was able to break through that barrier.
Given Velvet’s iconic runway walk and mixed media reception, “larger” plus-size models faced hurdles in establishing themselves as legitimate models.
Velvet’s presence in the fashion industry was a statement and not the norm. It was not until recently with Tess Holliday that we have seen another “beyond a size 16” plus-size model make a splash in fashion.
In the past decade, has much really changed in the fashion industry?