Following the death of Eileen Ford this past week at the age of 92 after a fall at her New York apartment, we look back at the legacy that she left not only on the fashion industry itself, but also on the psyche and dreams of two generations of youth.
Hailed as the pioneer of the model industry, she was the founder of Ford Models in 1946, transforming something which had hitherto remained amateur, into a full blown professional industry, and Ford has maintained these values and standards to the present day. Undoubtedly paving the way for standards in beauty, she forged the careers of international stars like Veruscka, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Elle Macpherson to name but a few. She has been credited with raising the working standards of models, pushing for the stabilisation of labour, and the increase in wages, moving from time based payments, to payments based on “usage,” leading to the development of extremely well paid campaigns, which have led to global fame for certain iconic faces.
Yet despite the pioneering changes that she made to the industry, I question whether they were all made for the good, and whether her influence in fact riddled our modern society with much damage. She is credited with founding the idea of the all-American beauty, channelling our perceptions of beauty into tight cast parameters which defined the industry for many decades. Whilst indeed this look metamorphosised into the waif look of the 90ss she was the first to set industry standards and norms, placing beauty in tight boundaries and measurements.
It is these tight definitions of beauty which leads to models and non-models alike taking extreme measures to try and ascertain this supposed image of beauty. There is very little scope for variety and individuality in this notion of beauty; shiny model agencies and glamorous model competitions present this industry to be an exclusive shut off world reserved for the elite few, with hundreds of girls clamouring to be a part of it. With this narrow representation of beauty in public imagery, it is no wonder why there is widespread insecurity in our modern society, as beauty is not presented in a wide and varied light. On the runway, over 90% of models are still white, with white models not only dominating European and American markets, but also Asian markets as well! When white European models are taking over an Asian market, it is without a doubt the reason behind crazy cosmetic phenomenons such as skin whitening and eye widening. With the representation of Asian and Black models still being shockingly low, we begin to understand the damaging effects the modelling industry is having on society at large, and the homogenisation and indeed westernisation of beauty that we have experienced over the past few decades.
It is perhaps only now that the industry is starting to evolve, with the introduction of so called “plus sized models” and the creation of “anti-agencies,” celebrating alternative beauty, which are increasingly in demand for high profile campaigns. Yet when these so called “plus sized” models are still skinnier than the average person, we begin to question how far they have really gone! So whilst Eileen Ford may have indeed revolutionised and perhaps even founded the industry of modelling itself, increasing working standards and wages for the models involved, I simply question whether her impact was really for the better. An industry which homogenises beauty and denies individuality, and above all a world that thousands of teenagers aspire to be a part of, its presence is slightly worrying to say the least, and in the words of Cara Delevigne herself “you can do better!”