Where’s the outrage?

Fashion week in New York! The latest and greatest: runways! Really important now looks, garments that make irrefutable forward statements! Gossip – designers up and designers down, business bad, ars longa, deals brevis! And models! Beautiful, lithe young women, ideals for starry-eyed teens, radiating confidence, health and … wait a minute.

I thought they fixed that a couple of years ago, but no, it was just a bunch of cynical PR bullsh*t. The clothes are draped on cadaverous, sick, sunken-eyed creatures whose elbows and knees are the widest part of their limbs. I don’t mean fashionably thin, I mean pathologically skinny, sick girls; they don’t just have no body fat, they have no muscles and their bones are sticking out. Parading these creatures around on display is a freak show, not an art form, and even worse than what circuses used to have in the sideshow tent because no-one chooses to have a genetic abnormality, but these models have willingly sold their health and their self-respect (granted they’re young enough to have fairly undeveloped executive function and often poor and uneducated enough to have few choices), and the promoters and designers are pimping the spectacle out with complete and abject cynicism. At least the victims aren’t smiling.

The presenters’ motivations are clear: there’s money and reputation in an exploitative morality-free professional zone to at stake. But what kind of people, especially women (customers and journalists), will sit in an audience for this? How can you sit beside a runway watching an unbroken parade of malnutrition and illness and write about the clothes? I haven’t made a deep study of the press coverage, but I haven’t seen a story or an opinion piece pointing the finger much less raging against the spectacular, shameless misogyny of this trafficking, and the blatant backsliding; when they went all apologetic and confessional a couple of years ago, they didn’t mean a word of it.

If you wear so much as a scarf from these wretched people, you have a piece missing, undernourished someplace a lot more important than your hips; (even if you’re a moral cripple, why would you want to wear something designed by someone who evidently wants you to look like an invalid or a self-destructive psychotic?). If you drive a Mercedes in public, you deserve to get it egged at every stoplight. And if you’re a fashion ‘journalist’, you’re a phenomenon simply beyond my comprehension.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.