Top Designer Pushes For Not-So-Thin Models

Models, thin CBS/The Early Show

Top designer Bradley Bayou is pressing for change in an industry gripped with controversy over the use of super-skinny models.

As national correspondent Tracy Smith reported on The Early Show, Bayou was designing outfits for women of all sizes -- he was once called "the man for all sizes" -- when his daughter was overcome by the binging and purging of the eating disorder known as bulimia. It began when she was seeking to fit into some of his clothes.

Marilyn Monroe, Smith reflected, was a 1950s sex symbol — and a size 12, close to average.

But now, the standard of beauty in the fashion industry has shrunk to a size zero, as designers demand thinner and thinner models.

Bayou, a Beverly Hills designer for the stars, is bucking that, telling Smith, "Fashion and beauty are not just about the skinny girls."

Bayou rose to the top by mastering the art of concealing a woman's flaws and revealing her beauty.

But even the man for all sizes knew that skinny sells. Thin was in.

Bayou's oldest daughter, Alexis Bayoud, noticed.

"I never fit into any of his sample sizes," she says. "As a teenager and as a young adult, I thought I should be able to fit into his certain size (the tiny sample sizes) … because I was his daughter. And I just — didn't."

Bayou observes that the message the fashion industry "is sending to everybody is, 'If you're not thin, you're not going to be happy.' "

"I wanted to be thin," Alexis recalled. "I wanted to fit in. You know — I wanted to be beautiful. … I've always been so proud of him, and I always ... I always kind of wanted to fit into his world."

When Alexis started college, she started taking diet pills — binging and purging.

To Bayou, she looked great: "All of a sudden, like, she was like she could wear my clothes. She was like model thin."

"I was like, 'You know I'm working out,' " Alexis says. "I'm eating right. And really — no — that was a lie."

The truth came out when Alexis had a breakdown, and had to tell her father she was bulimic.

"She was literally collapsed on the floor, and was hysterical, like, out of control, and saying things like, 'I want to die,' " Bayou remembers.

"It was that serious," Alexis says. "And I think, if it had kept progressing, it would have been really bad."

Alexis, Smith points out, is like millions of other women striving for the unattainable image of beauty created by skinny models.

"Potentially, tens of thousands of girls may develop an eating disorder because of the fact that they're trying to live up to this," observes Sean Patterson, president of the famous Wilhelmina Models in New York, the setting of the reality show called "The Agency."

Patterson says the show's scenes of models being pressured to be thin are "pretty real. … If we don't find the models that fit into the clothes … we go out of business. We can't exist. … And the talent that a designer's looking for is going to be a size zero or a size two, at the most."

Like Bayou, Patterson says he misses the models of the early '90s. Those size sixes and eights looked healthy.

"As a reaction to the supermodel era," says Patterson, "there was a certain group of stylists and designers who said, 'You know what? It's not about these girls anymore. We want to make it about us and the clothes.' "

Bayou and Patterson assert that recommendations the Council of Fashion Designers of America (www.cfda.com) issued this year, calling for healthy snacks and for designers to look for signs of eating disorders in their models, won't fix the problem.

Says Patterson, "I don't believe, necessarily, that having a guideline that says, 'Have healthy snacks' backstage at the show is gonna change the fact that the girls have to get on to that runway and squeeze into size zero dresses."

Adds Bayou, "I think we have to do more, because it's not gonna change with those guidelines."

Bayou has written "The Science of Sexy" and now he's telling aspiring designers it's up to them to take the initiative and use larger models.

"Just because a small, elite group has told us that thin — skinny, forget thin — emaciated is in doesn't mean it's in," he declares

Alexis, says Bayou, "is one of many, many, many people out there — millions — who have this problem … where they don't feel like they fit in … and that can be changed."

Can skinny models be made passé, Smith asked.

"I think they're gonna go out," Bayou responded. " … More than half the women in this country have got to speak out, you know, 'We're not hideous.' "

Alexis fought for six years before asking for help, and she's doing great now, Smith adds.

Bayou, a member of the CFDA, has a fashion show later this year in London, and his samples will be in sizes four through 10.

He says he'd like to see models pass a physical to prove that they're eating properly. That's what they started doing in Italy, but doctors in the United States say eating disorders are so complex, with so many physical and mental elements, there's no simple, reliable way to diagnose them, at least for now.

Bayou also points out that, if the average woman is around a size 12, there's a huge market out there that is underserved, with lots of money to be made designing clothes in larger sizes.

For more information on the issue of eating disorders, visit NationalEatingDisorders.org and www.bradleybayou.com.
  • Brian Dakss

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