Either define "real woman"... or define "fashion"

"Why don't they look like us?" Thousands of magazine-reading women have cried out, and here's the editorial answer.

The latest from The Independent...

Professional models barred from German magazine
by Tony Paterson

The 29-year-old blonde teacher was among a cast of more than six "normal women" selected by the mass circulation middle-market Brigitte to pose for its January fashion feature following an editorial pledge by the magazine to keep controversial size-zero models off its pages.

Andreas Lebert, editor of the 700,000-circulation magazine, announced the ban last October after receiving letters from hundreds of women readers who complained that they had no connection with the models shown in the magazine and that they no longer wanted to see "protruding bones". He claimed that the models Brigitte used for years on its fashion pages were so skinny that editors had to "fatten them up" using Photoshop. "This is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real readers ?" he asked.

Brigitte launched its "normal women as models" campaign late last year and claims that some 20,000 of the magazine's readers have since put themselves forward as potential candidates. The magazine says that it pays its amateurs professional rates

The magazine's campaign has already provoked controversy. Karl Lagerfeld, the veteran German fashion guru, has described those who criticise so-called skinny models as "fat, chip-eating mummies" and claims that much of the objection to them is sheer jealousy. "Nobody wants to see a round woman," the 71-year-old designer insisted.

Full article here

I think we all need to step back and take a good look at the issue. It's something I've been thinking about for a while now.

On one hand, it makes sense. Anything in print is all about relating to the readers. I should think that most readers of Brigitte will be thrilled. I wouldn't be surprised if it provoked a trend in the magazine industry!

On the other hand, what are we trying to say about fashion? Magazines like Marie Claire and ELLE might be trying to promote lifestyle fashion, but ones like Vogue and iD are definitely more about fantasy, conceptual fashion. It's about fashion as an art form. Why else do designers try so hard to get into these top glossies? In any case, those high-fashion editorials should pull us away from reality, instead of trying to integrate more mundane aesthetics. If it's about inspiration, then the experience should be heightened and idealized.

As beautiful as ordinary women are, there's a Reason a tiny percentage of us are paid to model. It's not about models being idealized women, it's about them being idealized clothes hangers. You wouldn't decorate the museum gallery like a suburban living room to make it more "accessible." Unless that was the point.

Just like movies have professional actors and reality tv shows feature "real people," we have to be discerning here and not lump it all into the "fat vs. skinny" debate.

Please jump in here with your two cents!



Flora said...

models are models because it's there job. they are trained to do certain things. just because women are upset with themselves doesnt mean that models should lose their jobs for "real" women. those real women must then be trained, in which case they are no longer real women. they are now the clothes hangers. if these were one-time people who were picked up off the streets for a one-time kind of thing, then that would make more sense for the concept of "real" women. = that's 1 cent.

perhaps we should just blur out every model's face so that the world could concentrate on the point, which is the fashion they are promoting. and perhaps it is the SELLER'S fault for real women and their low self-esteem. just because you present a size zero article of clothing, doesnt mean that you shouldn't carry size 13 of the same thing in your store. = and that's 2 cents.

...so yeah lol i agree with you. =P

Vanessa said...

I definitely see your point here, and I'm glad you brought it up. Models really are used as human clothes hangers. One of the reasons they are so thin is to emphasize the clothing rather than the girl in them. However, I still see the value of using "real" people to show clothing. After all, most of us aren't a size 0. And honestly, it goes far beyond the issues of art or fitting into a Versace dress. The issue is more what being bombarded with images of VERY thin women does to the psyches of "real" women. The fact is, most women do not look the models (and actresses) they see in the media as far as size goes. Models and actresses are presented as the ideal because THEY are the women who are shown in the media. When you see bigger women, they're generally a "before" picture, or specifically categorized as plus size, or the fat, funny best friend of the hot girl. It's important to see real women being celebrated as beautiful, as just as ideal as anyone else, because 7-year-olds are dieting for goodness sakes! Yes, fatness is an "epidemic" nowadays, but so is low self esteem and destructive attitudes about weight and eating.

Of course, art is art. Models serve a purpose. But most women and girls don't see models as clothes hangers. They see them as the standard they're supposed to live up to, which is usually unattainable and supremely unhealthy.

Tee said...

Flora- Exactly, the point should be the fashion and not the model, but unfortunately it's become the other way around. It's just human nature, I guess. I think many magazines actually have done those "one-time" editorials with real women before, under different guises, but the success is dubious...

Vanessa- You bring up some good points! Maybe what we should do is separate the "celebrating beauty in real life" magazines from the "conceptual fashion" ones. It seems like they're sending mixed messages right now...which I think undermines both purposes!

Thanks for the thought-provoking comments!

Airam said...

I understand the argument about models being human clothes hangers, and in many cases the clothes look better on skinny people. That being said, I think some cuts and shapes, such as a 50's style dress, look better on someone with curves, with a defined waist and full hips and breasts. So the whole idea about a very thin woman being the only one able to make clothing look good is a little weak, in my opinion.

I think the main problem is that "thin" has become the (only) equivalent to "beautiful" in the fashion industry, and it is this many women nowadays rebel against. But the whole "let's-use-normal-women-instead-of-models" is a bit weird, as this wouldn't work at all with other professions (let's just grab someone from the street and let them do a heart transplant or build a house, shall we?). Women working as models should know their profession, which is why so many of those "normal women-editorials" usually look crap. And in addition to the wannabe models not being up to the task (most of the time, at least), the budget for photographer, sets, makeup and hair often seems rather low compared to "normal" editorials, making everything seem a bit amateurish.

I think what we need is simply a bit more balance. Only seeing very thin models does do something to your self-esteem in the long run, and it would be nice to see more variety in the selection of models being used - as long as they are still models, that is.

Tee said...

Airam- Good point about the professional angle.
Different body shapes are definitely suited to various garments, and while there Is in fact discrepancy within the modeling industry already (most people miss it, because they're so focused on the tall and skinny part, but some models have hourglass figures/larger hips/etc), I think there could be more variety for sure. That being said, most designers these days are using the thin willowy figure when they design. This is mainly because of a contemporary shift away from the hourglass figure, and originally stemmed from the desire to emphasize the clothes instead of the body.

As you say, it's probably time for more of a balance! Fashion is unfortunately an industry that is slow to evolve in itself.

Ryan said...

In terms of proportions, I find models about as fascinating as I find midgets. We're all different.

Models are undoubtably glorified human beings that young women aspire to become. Those attractive, pucker-faced, in-bathroom self portraits where young girls mimic a model's bone structure to seem more appealing come to mind. However, these girls (and most other people) do not make the distinction between fashion models as art and as idealized human beings.

I believe anyone with an artistic background could argue these skinny women are designers' visions of their creations brought to life, and the artists should have that freedom. I agree. However, I believe the ramifications of widely publicizing these women in print and on screen include girls and women having a severely skewed vision of beauty.

The models are seen as modern goddesses. Not art.

Tee said...

Ryan- Re: modern goddesses

You're right, of course. Somehow, through the implementation of various modes of cultural communication, the tall and skinny figure has been totally idealized for far more than fashion.

After I read your comment, I've been thinking about this a great deal. Because it's another one of those status quo things. Something that's been around longer than people like us have been making art. However, it will continue to affect those of us who make art, unless change happens.

I actually spent a good twenty minutes today documenting the pros and cons of keeping the current model figure. If anyone wants to discuss this further, I'll be glad to.