Skinny-Only Message To African Models

Reuters, April 23, 2007

Skinny African girls may get to strut on Western catwalks but the fat ones have to stay at home.

This is the message being delivered to the 500 or so Ghanaians who have registered with the country’s only international modeling agency, Exopa.

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As models on Western catwalks get thinner and thinner, their hungry look has sparked noisy debate about the pressure this places on girls and women to achieve perfection even if perfection means Size Zero, the smallest American dress size, the equivalent to a British size four.

In Africa, rolls of flesh are usually seen as a sign of wealth and status, not of ill health.

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But just as Africa’s youth find themselves choosing between Western music and clothes and those rooted in their own tradition, they are now faced with two opposing images of beautythe Western ideal of an ever thinner frame and the African one of a buxom and well-rounded figure.

Nowhere is this debate clearer than in the African fashion industry.

Those who want to make it as a fashion model in the West are well aware they need to conform to Western sizes.

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Curves still encouraged

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On the street and in African clubs and bars, it is still the bigger girls who are likely to get attention.

A big cheer goes up when a “nice, shapely African model” take to the stage in a fashion show, said Santa Anzo, director of Uganda’s Arapapa clothes and model agency which specializes in plus-size models.

Some international clothing brands are changing their sizes to match the realities of the African fashion market.

The South African wing of Levi Strauss & Co. launched a roomier pair of its famed red label jeans after African women told researchers they liked the brand but couldn’t fit into the skinny designs aimed at Westerners.

“Young African women are increasingly proud of their body shape and are celebrating it in fashion. There is a marked confidence in African identity compared to 5-10 years ago, and while young Africans are making use of international brands they want to maintain their sense of being African,” said Levi’s South Africa managing director Mike Joubert.

European deals more lucrative

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Ghanaian fashion models stumble out of bed for up to $200 a day. Those who make it to Europe get 1,000 euros ($1,360) per half day.

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Business of fashion

But still, there are few African models who would purposely lose weight and many relish their food, say model agencies across the continent.

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For those who do pursue perfection in the form of a smaller clothes size, the irony is that for many men, the superskinny are not objects of desire but simply mannequins who decorate the shop window of a multi-billion dollar fashion business.

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