Off the menu: fashion’s love-hate relationship with food


There’s a moment in The September Issue (a feature-length documentary following the production of US Vogue’s September edition) that always makes me an odd mixture of happy and concerned. Whilst shooting couture against the backdrop of Versailles, one member of the team arrives on set with a box of luxury strawberry tarts; huge, colourful, professionally-created treats, presumably from the most expensive patisserie in Paris. The camera catches the model – a ‘sample-size’ (i.e. usually US size 2/UK size 6) woman encased in thousands of dollars’ worth of clothing, jewellery and make-up – taking a rather guilty-looking bite out of one of these. The sheer delight on her face at this moment always makes me smile, but then I bite my lip and wonder: how often does she allow herself something like this? And will she be skipping any meals later to make up for this?


The September Issue (2009)

Perhaps these are prejudiced assumptions, based on the scare-mongering articles which pop up from time to time, prompting designers and editors to swear that they don’t endorse size zero, eating cotton wool, or anything else which they’re accused of encouraging. In fairness, many magazine editors have now signed the Equity Models Committee Code, which takes steps towards ensuring models are treated well and provided with adequate food during shoots. The Vogue Health Initiative is also a positive move in that it both provides for the welfare of models as well as promising to promote a healthier body image. These are all brilliant milestones in the road to making the fashion industry a safer place to work, and they also recognise the responsibility which these purveyors of desirable lifestyles have to their audiences: to provide escapism but not to present an image which is unattainable and detrimental. But the measures must surely be a reaction to the horror stories which surround the industry, and there must be reason behind the rumours. Despite these efforts, we still have a long way to go until fashion’s relationship with food can be called healthy.

It’s no secret that fashion has an issue with body image. In an interview with, Sara Ziff, a former face of Tommy Hilfiger, talks about how young girls are used to model clothes intended for women. These girls are “valued for that sort of androgynous, tall, skinny look”, a body-type which, while natural to some, is incredibly hard to attain for the majority, especially anyone who has already made it out of the other end of puberty. Exercise won’t give you a body like that, so denying yourself food would seem to be the only option. Not only this, but it is perceived as normal in many high fashion circles; Emily’s ‘cube of cheese’ diet from The Devil Wears Prada is not quite as far-fetched as it may at first appear.


The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

In her book Confessions of a Fashionista, Angela Clarke describes a scene that occurred in her former workplace – a London fashion agency – in which a client brings round a celebratory cake. New to the world of fashion, Angela tucks into her slice, while the others look on in horror. Apparently, you’re not meant to actually eat cake, but instead just look at it, smell it, and bin it. Bear in mind this was just at an agency – imagine the kind of pressure there might be on models to stay thin. Ridiculous as it may seem, this event somewhat encapsulates the way the fashion industry tends to approach food; the more elaborate and aesthetically pleasing the better, but God forbid anyone should actually ingest any calories.

What we arrive at then is a kind of fetishisation of food. It’s used as a prop in photo-shoots where Karlie Kloss seductively pretends to eat a French fry in a kitschy American diner. It’s reproduced in pop-art form for T-shirts and turned into dangling earrings. It’s even in the name of colours: ‘ice-cream shades’, ‘mustard tones’, ‘sugary pastels’ etc. Always in sight but never something anyone striving for that ideal fashion body feels they can indulge in. A kind of shame is attached to food, especially for women, yet its constant idolisation contrasts with this and we end up with all sorts of mixed messages and negative impacts.


Karlie Kloss shot by Terry Richardson for Vogue UK November 2011

Now, eating disorders are not restricted to the fashion world, and equally not everyone working in fashion has an eating disorder. That said, there is certainly a rather unhealthy relationship with eating evident at the heart of this business. Weirdly, this general aversion to actually eating seems to be coupled with a new food trend every year or so: cupcakes, macaroons, the bizarrely-named ‘cronut’, if it’s aesthetically pleasing and packed with sugar it can create a craze amongst the fashionable elite. The irony of running an article raving about one of these next to a picture of a model who has been outfitted and airbrushed to be unfeasibly skinny has apparently escaped most of the fashion press.

As with anything though, there are exceptions, most commonly in the more alternative world of fashion and lifestyle blogging. Many bloggers, as well as photographing their outfits, offer recipes and document their culinary adventures both at home and at restaurants. Seeing healthy people enjoying style and food at the same time can only, I think, send out a positive message. Showing the fun you can have with both fashion and food is also something we’ve tried to achieve with this issue in the fashion section. That doesn’t necessarily mean having cake and ice cream for every meal, but it does mean being happy in your own body, eating well, and not beating yourself up for not being like the girls on the magazine covers.


Marie Claire China

How we, as a culture, think about food is flawed for all sorts of reasons. It therefore simply isn’t fair to just blame fashion, especially since there has been no conclusive scientific evidence confirming the role it plays. But it’s important to note that fashion, along with the dieting, beauty, and cosmetic surgery industries are all capitalist structures which profit from our insecurities about our bodies. I hope that, in time, eating won’t be seen as mutually exclusive from looking and feeling good in clothes. In the meantime, I trust you’ll enjoy the rest of this issue and that it will inspire you to have fun with fashion and food in equal measure.