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Sunday, March 28, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Moving Targets

Role Models -- How Thin Is Fashionable

IT'S THE SPRING FASHION ISSUE, and I've been asked to look into the alleged trend, "Thin is back."

First, I freely confess that this assignment makes me do several things to which I am unaccustomed: 1) buy fashion magazines, 2) look at advertisements and 3) visit a modeling agency. Heck, recently I was informed that even my basketball shoes are out of style.

But back to thin. As in Kate Moss. Kristen McMenamy. And, if neither of those names ring a bell, thin as in Twiggy.

Today they're called "the gamines" (ga-MEEN, n., a girl with a roguish, saucy charm). That might fit Moss, who is best known for flitting, topless, around rapper Marky Mark in Calvin Klein commercials. McMenamy also has raised a few eyebrows, partly because she plucked out all of her own.

Twiggy, as most everyone over 30 knows, started the ultra-thin look in the '60s. The "thin is back" hypothesis appeared recently in a Newsweek magazine article. It described the new look in fashion models: "reedy, boyish women with hollow curves and sinewy lines." The article recounted an obscure political theory that links the return to thin to Bill Clinton's election, citing some unclear connection between small breasts, a feeling of security and the Democratic Party. And it said that thin re-emerged as grunge fashion (your oxymoron for the day) made the leap from RKCNDY to New York.

All this has raised some concern: Will women, especially young women and girls, feel obliged to starve themselves in order to fit in? Again?

Maybe I'm naive, but I doubt it. Too much has happened since Twiggy's reign. We know that yo-yo dieting is hazardous to health. That meals high in grains and vegetables can be filling and not fattening. That ultra-low-calorie eating slows the metabolism and thwarts weight loss. That anorexia and bulimia can cause long-term health problems.

Besides, nowhere in those fashion magazines does it say, "You should make yourself look like this." The industry knows we might be tempted by what's new in clothes, shoes, jewelry, hairstyles, handbags. But they can't sell us genetics.

Still, subliminally, some pressure exists.

Courtney Kennebeck, 18, is a senior at Bellarmine High in Tacoma and a model with Eileen Seals International, a Seattle agency. In New York, she's represented by Elite, which also lists Cindy Crawford, Paulina Porizkova and Iman. Eileen Seals says Kennebeck is "the next Nikki Taylor."

You may already have seen Kennebeck, in an Alberto commercial for Special FX Mousse. In April and May, she'll be in magazine ads for the Alberto-Elite Look Model Contest, which she won in 1992. This summer, she plans to head to New York or Paris for a year of full-time modeling.

"To be really thin is coming back in," Kennebeck says. "That's the style they're looking for - nymphlike, fairylike. Which is kind of a bummer, because I'm really muscular."

Kennebeck, by the way, is 5-10 1/2. She wears a size 5 or 6. She's on Bellarmine's cross-country and track teams, and runs 10 to 15 miles a day. "I don't really watch what I eat," she says. "I do eat way too much. If I stopped running...

"I always feel the pressure. It's like, `Oh gosh, I'm bigger than all these people.' But it doesn't really bother me to the point of driving me insane." She is, however, trying to figure out the thinking behind the elaborate buffets at fashion shoots.

"It's funny that they want you to be so thin, then on the sets there's so much food," she says. "You're not supposed to eat it, I guess, but I do. I've had one agency say I was the first model they saw eat."

Kennebeck thinks the thin movement will be confined to the haute couture shows: New York, Paris, Milan. "I don't think it'll catch on in Seattle."

The Northwest aside, I don't think it'll catch on in most places. Most people doubt that one can "become" a gamine. Either you are, or you aren't.

In fact, I think Linda Hamilton's triceps in "Terminator 2" had more effect than Kate Moss' build will have. Shaping arms through weightlifting is within reach for most of us. Revealing the nymph within is not.

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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