In the last week a few people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds have posted about encouraging the fashion and advertising industries not to use underweight models. They think that normal looking women should be employed instead to promote positive body image.
This is nothing new of course, people have been criticising the fashion industry for years. But the aims of these campaigns have always seemed confusing to me. What exactly are we aiming to achieve by persuading the fashion industry to use larger models?
Is it to create a healthier working environment for the models so that they don’t feel the need to starve and purge themselves? So that no more tragically young girls die of anorexia nervosa as a result of modelling?
That would be a worthwhile goal, but then why has no one ever posted anything urging me to support similar standards for gymnasts, dancers and horse racing jockeys? They face the same issues, why are they somehow more important in modelling? How does health and safety at a fashion show merit any more of my concern than the health and safety of a construction works, the scene of fifty fatalities in the UK last year?
Or do we really think that we’ll eradicate anorexia in the general population if we can just vanquish it in the fashion industry? Have we really just reduced the cause of a complex psychiatric injury, experienced predominantly by people who have suffered sexual abuse or some other loss of control over their lives, to an exaggerated sense of vanity?
Is it to make sure that advertising conveys a more realistic picture of what a garment is going to look like on us if we buy it?
I’ve got a couple of problems with that one.
First of all, if Georgia Jagger isn’t allowed to flog me jeans anymore, who are we going to get to replace her, and what’s she going to look like? If she doesn’t look anymore like me than Georgia, how is the new advertising going to be any more helpful to me? And if she does look like me, what will have changed for the majority of other women who don’t?
Secondly, I’ve never particularly wanted realism in my advertising. I like having pretty Natalie Portman selling me pretty Dior fragrances, and the vicarious cool that comes from having Daisy Lowe sell me anything. I love fashion, and especially fashion photography, as an art form, and art is supposed to be beautiful.
Next question. How is it ‘positive’ to validate your own self-image by denigrating some other women for not looking ‘real’? Is this really any better than deriding women you perceive to be ugly, and feeling better about yourself because you think you’re superior to them? Would there not be more positivity in teaching that self-esteem isn’t derived through bitching about other women, period?
Also, why is the pursuit of beauty and sex appeal through physical appearance accepted as such a universally valid preoccupation? Why is it okay for young girls to aspire to be Cheryl Cole, the nation’s favourite talentless thug?
Has no one else read the body image report and felt at all insulted by the suggestion that, as an entire gender, we’re being victimised by what are essentially just pretty pictures, of pretty girls, in pretty dresses? That’s not exactly an empowering message now is it? Stop and have a look at those pictures up there again. Now do you feel victimised? No? Didn’t think so.
As I say, I love fashion photography. I have a few hundred of these as my screen saver. I honestly don’t find that appreciating them makes me like myself any less.
Would it not be helpful to us to take back some power from those pixels and accept some responsibility for our own media savvy? Couldn’t we try thinking about the media we consume? What it is that we’re actually looking at, and what is the likelihood of it having been manipulated?
And then couldn’t we find a better agenda? Germany and France have Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde working on sorting out the Eurozone. The US are sending Hilary Clinton to deal with Syria. Facebook just got its first female board member. Aung San Suu Kyi paid us a visit last week. And the presidents of Brasil, Argentina, and even Liberia, are female. Can we really not find any bigger ambition to teach our girls here than to be on reality TV?
What happened to the mantras beauty is only skin deep, and someone who would judge you only on your appearance is not someone worth knowing? Don’t most people take that on board most of the time?
Can’t we teach out girls to be kind, and strong, and funny, and clever? And tell them to go out and take over the world rather than just adorn it? So that they don’t think to worry about how attractive they look because they already know how attractive they are? Is that really too much to ask for? Really?