Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fat load of good: The Telegraph's yo-yo reporting on model weight

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.

screen grab/

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

CS Lorente/the sunday telegraph


Anonymous said...

Gemma's still fabulous in my books.

Michelle said...

If any model's earned a little time off, or a little lenience, it's Gemma Ward. She's worked incredibly hard and been incredibly professional from a very young age.

Paul said...

No one ever managed to make walking uphill on sand look good except in a James Bond film.

The whole story is creepy: the long-lens snaps, the accusatory tone, unnamed friends and "onlookers" as sources, the sheer desperation of it. Then again, the Terror's other "big" story of the day was some spurious link between Listerine and mouth cancer. Glad to see their readers came down on them hard. Very poor editorial judgement.

Oh - and I wish my BMI was anywhere in the neighbourhood of Gemma Ward's.

Patty Huntington said...

apart from apparently occasionally disabling the comments function, blogger frequently fails to pick up links. fashiononologie just picked this post up and even used the word "malicious" to describe the telegraph's take:

fashion herald said...

I hope she doesn't diet down to skinny-skinny, I like her with a little weight on. It must be tough when these girls get older and suddenly their bodies change. Lots of pressure, so it's great she took some time off.

Anna Wintour said...

In a way that is non-offensive to Gemma, these pictures have the exact same feel as furtive shots of Big Foot. That same dodgy, long lens quality, the positions that she was snapped in. It's like they're hunting some kind of rare and terrible animal, rather than a poor girl who was just enjoying her day at the beach. Also, there is something highly contradictory about the way DT were describing her as "fat and grieving" as if she's allowed to be fat, but not so allowed that she gets to be private about it.
Finally, she may not be the size she was at 15 (who is?) but she's still slimmer than most "afters" in weight loss advertisements.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but what awards has Gemmw Ward won for Black Balloon??

Piccolo said...

It's particularly the fact that they put it down to her 'grief' that really bothered me because it just seems so sleazy to keep bringing that up over and over...

I can't sum up my feelings better than Paul - it's just plain creepy.

Anonymous said...

I think these pics are really low... Gemma is not someone who is attention seeking or story -selling so doesn't warrant this obvious long lens stalking...imagine if this was your young friend or daughter...the worst photo ever taken of you front page of the newspaper ..its the stuff of nightmares and guaranteed to make you a little reclusive...

ps patty... i love your blog... I do a 10 min blog scan in the morns.. the cut, fashionologie, the imagist etc and yours is now the first I turn to in the morns... so thanks for the interesting and thought provoking fashion industry coverage...

Patty Huntington said...

second-last anon - it's the black balloon that has won awards, not ward herself (although she was nominated for best actress at the IF awards). i refer in the post to ward's "multi award-winning" debut feature. and provide a link to an earlier post, which talked about the recent AFI awards etc.

last anon - hey thanks for the feedback. that's definitely the way to keep on top of news, ie a quick blog scan. and i am surprised by the number of fashion professionals who can't seem to find even 10 minutes to dedicate to same every morning. i'm honoured that frockwriter is among your must-reads.

Anonymous said...

Scales of justice simply don't apply
Georgina Safe | January 21, 2009,25197,24939288-37275,00.html


Blog Archive