CS Lorente/the sunday telegraph
Apparently it’s not only the modelling business that has draconian expectations of women. Israel may be on the brink of escalating its military campaign in the Gaza Strip, but Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper today provides a front page story, accompanied by the irrefutably Walkley-worthy “Shocking pics” of Gemma Ward in a swimsuit at Byron Bay. Frockwriter is only too aware that we may have contributed to News Limited's interest in the story. The company's domain name is on this blog day in, day out and on January 1st we drew some attention to a hitherto under-the-radar December 27 Perth newspaper story (and ironically, a News Ltd paper), which revealed Ward would be holidaying in Byron Bay with Nicole Trunfio. The same story reported Ward is planning to return to modelling "in 2009", although not "in February" as claimed by today's Sunday Telegraph - with no supplied source.
Ward is not a working model at the moment.
Apart from promotional work for her multi award-winning debut feature The Black Balloon, Ward took her own "Gap" year in 2008, doing road trips in Australia and the US and trekking in Nepal.
And why shouldn't she take a well-deserved break?
Since turning 15, Ward has worked hard, reached the top of her profession, earned millions and made an effortless, and highly successful, crossover to film.
In the past 12 months moreover, she has been coming to terms with a personal tragedy.
But Ward's weight battle predated Heath Ledger’s January 2008 death.
The last time Ward copped flack after appearing in public in a swimming costume was in late 2007, while working for Chanel.
Following industry whispers in September 2006 that European casting sources had concerns about Ward's weight, by October 2007 her fuller, more mature figure was very much in evidence at Chanel’s SS08 show in Paris – prompting some unkind commentary across the blogosphere.
Ward has remained silent on the weight subject, however both American model Ali Michael and Canadian, Coco Rocha, went on the record in 2008 about their own struggles trying to maintain the hyper thin industry ideal.
Yes the modelling world has unrealistic expectations of its female workforce and the fashion business has much to answer for in this regard.
Precisely how many models are easily able to maintain “ideal” runway weight in the big fashion cities, for instance, without resorting to excessive dieting or an arsenal of fat burners, diuretics and other drugs, is a very moot point.
Tabloid newspapers such as The Sunday Telegraph and its Monday-Friday incarnation, The Daily Telegraph, get more than their fair share of mileage out of the skinny model story.
A case in point, the removal of another Australian model, Stephanie Carta, from Australian Fashion Week in April last year, following her agency’s concerns about her dramatic weight loss in Paris. Carta was reinstated the following morning.
The story made front page news on the next day’s Telegraph.
At the previous AFW, The Telegraph also made a big splash with the Alice Burdeu story.
At that stage still merely a contestant on Australia’s Next Top Model, Burdeu had been booked for several AFW shows.
In an April 27, 2007 story entitled “Dangerously good-looking” The Telegraph’s Sydney Confidential column noted:
“Carrying just 58kg on her willowy 185cm frame, Burdeu has a BMI of 15.3....The World Health Organisation considers 18 to be healthy, and models in Madrid who fall under this number are now banned from participating in fashion shows....The international call for action - particularly in relation to BMI scrutiny - has come following the death of three malnourished overseas models this year, but Australia is still seen to be taking a softer stand than most countries”.
Three months later, in a story entitled "Gorgeous Gemma Ward's new curves" The Telegraph had this to say about Ward:
“Gemma Ward rose to the top of international modelling with her china doll looks. But now at 19, it is the catwalk star's womanly curves that are gaining her a whole new profile”.
In spite of two years of debate on the subject of model weight and various token efforts on behalf of fashion week organisers, hyper thin remains the norm at the elite end of the international runway business.
By direct comparison to this international “norm”, many women working in the Australian and New Zealand market appear almost “plus sized”.
Three of Australia’s most successful new international modelling exports - Abbey Lee Kershaw, Catherine McNeil and Stephanie Carta – all worked locally, but dropped considerable weight before heading overseas.
Carta at one point told friends that she momentarily left the business in Australia, after gaining too much weight.
It would be handy if the tabloid media could make up its mind about body image because presumably it is not only the models who may be confused here.
Are elite runway models providing unhealthily thin body ideals?
And if that is so, then why is a former elite runway model such as Ward deemed worthy of a snarky headline such as “Roll model” because she gained a few pounds? Surely the hyper thin international runway norm is a ludicrously low base to be coming from.
Similarly, how does The Sunday Telegraph think the tag “Shocking pictures” makes Ward, and in fact anyone who is not “dangerously thin” - which quite possibly embraces a high percentage of the paper's readers - feel about themselves?
Not terribly happy - judging by the avalanche of negative reader comments already posted on NEWS.com.au.
CS Lorente/the sunday telegraph