Skinny Male Models and Boy Scouts

Laurie and Debbie say:

We’ve recently had our attention called to two news articles. Ampersand at Alas! A Blog points to an extremely disturbing New York Times article on how skinny men have to be to be accepted as male models.

two super-slender male models

According to the Times, this is largely the work of designer Hedi Slimane.

George Brown, a booking agent at Red Model Management, said: “When I get that random phone call from a boy who says, ‘I’m 6-foot-1 and I’m calling from Kansas,’ I immediately ask, ‘What do you weigh?’ If they say 188 or 190, I know we can’t use him. Our guys are 155 pounds at that height.”

Their waists … measure 28 or 30 inches. They have, ideally, long necks, pencil thighs, narrow shoulders and chests no more than 35.5 inches in circumference, Mr. Brown said. “It’s client driven,” he added. “That’s just the size that blue-chip designers and high-end editorials want.”

When thin comes in (and remember, 155 pounds on a 6’1 man is really thin), muscles are considered undesirable. Not long ago, the muscular, buffed, gym-rat look was the male model look, but no more.

For models like Demián Tkach, a 26-year-old Argentine who was recently discovered by the photographer Bruce Weber, the tightening tape measure may cut off a career.

Mr. Tkach said that when he came here from Mexico, where he had been working: “My agency asked me to lose some muscle. I lost a little bit to help them, because I understand the designers are not looking for a male image anymore. They’re looking for some kind of androgyne.”

The fashion industry is always extreme; it’s about extremes. Ampersand has some choice comments on how this trend in male model looks relates to trends in female model looks:

… male models are still allowed to carry a lot more weight, proportionately, than female models. Which is probably why we haven’t yet had any young male models die of heart attacks (although if the thin trend continues, probably that will happen, alas).

Amp also points out that the weights men are being held to are at least “normal” by the absurd BMI standards we seem to be stuck with, at the same time that some countries (notably Spain) are still considering legislation requiring that models not be dangerously under normal BMI.

Nonetheless, this is a very disturbing trend. The fashion industry is effectively beginning to demand of men what it has long demanded of women: be either “normally” off-the-charts skinny or resort to anorexia and bulimia to get and keep these jobs. And, since the whole point of the modeling industry is that “regular” people try to look like models, the same message is going out to young men and boys everywhere, even while we are trying so hard to combat it in girls and young women everywhere.

Where might we turn for help in such a situation? Well, perhaps to the all-American Boy Scouts, that bastion of promoting health and good citizenship in boys (as long as they’re not gay or atheists, of course). But that won’t work:

According to new requirements set to take effect next January, Boy Scouts of America has decided that both children and adults must meet height and weight standards for outings in destinations where medical care is more than 30 minutes away. That means a six-foot tall scout or volunteer must weigh 239 pounds or less if he wants to visit the remote Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, for example.

The connection is completely obvious. The models, at 6′ or so, are expected to weigh 155-160. The Boy Scouts, at the same height, can’t weigh over 238 (a lot less if the volunteer parents are female, of course, because BMI is gendered). This is apparently based on some absurd theory that “overweight” people are more likely to need emergency medical attention, a theory borne out by no study that we are aware of.

The message is simple, and reinforced from the high-fashion runway to the old-fashioned camping trip: look right, or you can’t play.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for pointing out the Ampersand piece, and Alan Bostick for the Boy Scout piece.

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