I am not a particularly fashionable person. I shop at Target and Kohl’s on the clearance rack and hardly ever chose my clothing or accessories based off the latest fad. I try to be comfortable and professional but my choice in clothing tends to leave my more fashion-forward friends frustrated. Even so, I do know that New York Fashion week is underway and I am catching glimpses of the new hot trends in clothing on TV and in magazines. Even the most fashion-challenged of us who are still wearing socks with our Birkenstocks understand that many teenage girls we work with are looking to the fashion world to get direction on how they should look. This can be a cause of concern because as any teen or adult seeing anything from Fashion Week will notice fashion models are exceedingly thin.

The discussion about the influence of emaciated models on women is not a new one, but recently there is an increased push to address the health and size of models in the world of high class fashion. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) hosted a panel discussion called “The Beauty of Health: Resizing the Sample Size,” before the New York Fashion Week as part of an ongoing health initiative started three years ago after the death of a model from an eating disorder. Around the time of the inception of this panel in America, Spain and Italy adopted mandatory weight guidelines in order for models to walk the runways in those countries. The CFDA has not made any measures mandatory, but they have been able to focus on providing nutritional and emotional counseling to models, even going so far as to red flag unhealthy models until they get the assistance they need.

The meeting of the panel focused their discussion on whether changing the standard sample size from 0 to 4 would promote healthier models. For those of you who are fashion-challenged like myself, let me fill you in on the influence of sample sizes. Designers initially create all their clothes in a single size called the sample size. The pieces they create in the sample size are the only version of that piece of clothing that will be seen and photographed until the clothing hits the stores. So if a fashion magazine wants to feature this piece of clothing or if it walks the runway at Fashion Week, they need a model small enough to fit into the sample size. In short, the size of the sample dictates the size of the model. The current standard sample size is currently a size 0, a size only extraordinarily thin women can fit in.

The CFDA is considering a change in the sample size from a 0 to a 4, and while that sounds simple enough, there is a twist. As the size of the models has gone down, so has the age of the models. Casting agent James Scully, a member of the CFDA panel, explained that during his last few days of casting he saw about 170 models and about 70 percent were 16 years old or younger. It is much easier to find a 13 or 14 year old girl with a small bust and hips to fit into a size 0 than it is to find older models that fit this particular body type. It is a huge concern that young girls will go to desperate means to maintain their thin body as they mature, not to mention the stress of such an intense profession on these young girls. One of the recommendations given to the CFDA was to eliminate models younger than 16 and to limit the time models between 16 and 18 could work. In the end David Bonnouvrier, head of DNA Models said, “You can’t address the sample size 0 without addressing age.”

Still, there are signs that designers are choosing to go with noticeably healthier models. Just as one or two key designers can set a trend in clothes, just one or two “hot” models can cause a trend in choosing models. New York’s Fashion Week has featured an increased number of curvier, size 4 models than in previous fashion weeks. As the world of fashion is pushing for healthier models so is the American public who buys the clothing. The average American woman is a size 16 and without getting into the issue of obesity in America, the closer to average the runway models are, the easier it is for customers to identify with the designs.

This issue is by no means a new one, but it is a good reminder that the body issues of teenage girls are not getting any easier. While there are positive steps being taken to make sure that teenage girls are being exposed to more and more healthy body types in the media, there is still a long way to go. Just because we’ve talked about it before doesn’t mean that girls, especially in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade, have heard what God has to say about their bodies.

Our youth ministries should be a place where we promote healthy body image and recognize that our Father God created us all. Spend some time helping teenage girls process the images they see in fashion in a way that helps them to love and take care of their own God-given bodies. The church is a key place for women of all ages to hear how much more God values our hearts and minds than he does our outward appearance. Are any of you doing some deliberate work in this area? I’d love to see if we can share some helpful resources!