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A Painted Veil


It is no secret that the fashion industry is obsessed with appearance. After all, it is a multi-million dollar business that revolves around putting rags on our bodies to make us feel beautiful. Clothes are a way to express ourselves without having to speak. People have dedicated their lives to the cause, many extremely passionate about their craft. Fashion is a lively and colourful art form that we see and judge constantly, often without even realising what we are doing.

Like many others I know, The Devil in Prada is one of my all-time favourite films. Think of the scene in Meryl Streep’s office when she tells Anne Hathaway that, despite her thinking she’s exempt from the fashion industry by wearing only cast-offs, she can never not play a part. This applies to us all. Plenty of people I know would be shocked to think they ever supported an industry in which they do not believe. But by wearing anything on our bodies we represent a trend and are making a statement, even if it is one far short of involving a catwalk appearance.

Taking that into account, we can’t tar the whole population of Earth with the same brush, and say that everyone is superficial, because that simply isn’t true. So who has made the fashion industry into such an exclusive, intimidating zone that people distance themselves by deeming it a simply trivial matter?

The models play a huge part in the stigma. My generation is drip-fed, via social media, an unattainable idea of female perfection. Kendall, Cara and Gigi are household names within my peer group, and the role models of many I know. They are far too often characterised as dumb, only known for their looks and relatively funny personalities, which can help them soar to success.

In some ways this can be thought of as our fault. We are the ones who are used to gleaning information with a few taps of a button. We want to know about these seemingly inhuman creatures, and become obsessed. Very few of their millions of Instagram and Twitter followers know such models personally. Instead we see their names associated with world-famous brands, and see our peers starving in emulation. I cannot see how this is healthy for teenagers and have to agree that this is one of the downsides of fashion.

A fatal drawback of this industry is the number of young people who suffer from eating disorders. In the UK alone, 725,000 people are affected by an eating disorder of some kind. This includes anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating. Anorexia alone kills 20% of its sufferers. I believe, and I’m sure many others agree, that the constant social media pressure, which stems from the fashion industry, is a massive cause of these illnesses. However, it is unfair to condemn an industry because some people take the images it creates as a pattern to follow, any more than one would condemn Formula One because someone drives down the High Street like Lewis Hamilton.

In a worthy attempt to reverse some of the damage, France, Spain, Italy and Israel have all passed laws that only allow models over a certain weight to work. Especially in the case of France, a nation obsessed with appearance, this is a big step forward. Models such as Gigi Hadid are also known for promoting a healthier body image, by being able to have successful modelling careers without being stick-thin.

And the fashion industry is rightly condemned because of sweatshop labour. I’m sure many can recall the scandal for Primark when, in 2008, the BBC’s Panorama showed 11-year-olds in India being paid 60p a day to make t-shirts in an unsafe working environment. How another human life, let alone one of a child, can be put at risk to produce our clothes I don’t understand. Those children should have been receiving an education, not stuck in a dangerous warehouse with a ridiculously small wage. This is an example of the garment industry exploiting foreign poverty and gaps in foreign laws, just to fulfil the price expectations of customers. And this aspect of the industry deserves the scandal it has provoked.

It is not enough to call the fashion industry superficial. It is an art form that affects the lives of every person on the planet, so much so that great sorrows blight its many joys. Eating disorders arise because girls take it too seriously and sweatshops thrive because there is a market for looking good amongst those who cannot afford catwalk prices. Fashion may be concerned only with appearances, but beneath the surface lurk many dangers.

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