tackling body image.

size 16 (uk) model crystal renn takes on traditional catwalk model jacquelyn joblanski in this side by side photoshoot for v magazine. read more in this article.
photo from dailymail.co.uk

body image is a touchy subject, so let me start by stating my position to discourage misunderstandings:

i am 100% for the inclusion of more shapes, sizes, looks and ages within fashion's image.  dressing up 15 year olds to look like 30 year olds is creepy and unnecessary because maturity in features is beautiful.  the use of underweight models is socially irresponsible because it's unhealthy as is obesity and neither should be glamorized.  the banning of underweight models from the runways of milan and madrid back in 2006 was a wonderful step forward. now we're starting to see more women of a variety of sizes gracing the pages of magazines. crystal renn walked in chanel's 2011 resort show (though was promptly criticized afterwards for having lost weight, which is baffling. but that's a topic for another post). these developments are a good start, but definitely not where we need to be at. and sometimes i fear this is just a fad that will die out once everyone finds the next bandwagon to jump on. which is why...

... the reasons usually given for wanting a more diverse image of beauty are not ones i can agree with or stand behind. they are usually some verbose form of this statement: thin models make "real" women feel bad about themselves.

i hope i'm not alone in thinking that's an awful reason. the female form should be celebrated in all it's diversity because it's BEAUTIFUL.  period. end of story. these other points are moot because looking at a picture of a model should not negatively affect you. if it does, then you may have self-esteem issues and should seek to work out why. it's likely they've more to do with you than anything going on in a magazine. this hating on other women for their size, beauty, brains, braun, their anything needs to stop. if you can't handle seeing a thin woman in an ad, then what happens when you see one on the street? do you fall to pieces? does your mentality spiral out of control? because from one female whose been through these issues to another, i promise you, it doesn't have to be that way. in my experience, the same women who complain society pressures them to be "skinny" have very real people in their lives telling them they're beautiful. which is definitely not an example of being pressured into an unachievable ideal. but it doesn't matter how many times you tell a woman she's beautiful if she doesn't believe it herself. and therein lies the problem.

the argument that "real women don't look anything like the women in ads" is just flat out UNTRUE. actually, yes, many do.  i see them every day. walking on streets, sweating at gyms, eating in restaurants.  some of them are models and, GASP, they actually eat! they work out! they're not all anorexic / bulimic airheads like so many women want to believe. quite the opposite. after being blessed with some fantastic genes, most models take excellent care of themselves. and most importantly, they know how to take a good photo. some models look better in pictures than in real life, it's true. why? because they're photogenic.  it's not deception, it's a skill.  and it's their job.

if you've experienced a professional photoshoot you'll be able to attest to what i'm about to say.  A LOT goes into them. alot of time, money, man power, creativity, collaboration, expertise, planning, and expectation. from the initial concept of a single dress to the end result of the printed advertisement, it passes through hundreds of people whose jobs share one purpose - to create the best possible photograph.
now, i assume you're familiar with the term "dressing for your body type"?
the reason that term exists is precisely because not everything looks good on everyone. people come in different shapes and so do garments. choosing clothes that fit well is an important aspect to dressing yourself properly.  it's not an insult, it's a fact - slender models give the greatest amount of flexibility in the clothing shapes they can wear. and in this world with so much style and design diversity, some models get hired specifically because they can wear pretty much anything.  and many real women still prefer the slender figure when it comes to high fashion.

it doesn't mean everyone must have the body of a model to be beautiful. but ample flexibility means more creativity. it's part of the reason fashion designers can do conceptual avant-garde pieces that aren't meant to be worn in real-world scenarios. it's because designers are free to explore the limits of design and create without being bound to the rules of what looks good on the average person that fashion can transcend the real world and be something mythical, magical, contextual, philosophical, fantastical or just downright weird. it's why some clothing is considered art and why fashion employs so many forward-thinking, creative types. without that freedom, you no longer have fashion designers, you have tailors and dressmakers who will make you something to your measurements but don't do anything for the furthering of design. because they're not designers.

let me sidetrack for a moment to tell you about charles worth, the father of haute couture. fashion in it's current form is largely thanks to him. beforehand, clients would go to dressmakers and have something tailored for them and that was it. he was the first to make a series of designs that reflected his own creativity, then show those pieces in a type of runway show from which clients could choose pieces for purchase. it was a revolutionary concept and from it came haute couture and the chambre syndicale de la haute couture which still exists and operates today. he took fashion to the next level by not being bound to the normal rules, but by giving himself the freedom to create according to his own aesthetic. and it's relevant to this discussion because: trying to force brands to represent the average woman at all times, is asking they be chained to reality again. it's like telling a painter he can't do abstract or a writer he can't do fantasy. and i know what some people will say - but clothing is meant to be worn in the real world. of course it is! but that doesn't mean we can't have some other-worldy conceptual avant-garde designs that are put in museums, inspire wearable garments and broaden our idea of fashion.

many women seem to be under the impression that models used in ads aren't something the average woman can relate to because "she doesn't look like me."  so i'd like to take a moment and point out that there are many different body shapes.  there isn't one type that will appease an entire population. in fact, in the united states right now, over 30% of the population is obese. which is the staggering number of roughly 69 million people. does that mean ads should start glamorizing obesity so that 69 million people don't feel bad about themselves? in a short article on newser.com, the writer says that even plus-size models (a ridiculous thing to call a normal sized woman btw) still make overweight women feel bad about themselves. my point being that, there's no way to represent every single body shape in one ad. designers choose a body type or person that inspires them and fits the clothing they've created. advertisements, runway shows, designer lookbooks - they're meant to express a feeling, a concept. if you like fashion, then focus on the meaning a brand is trying to convey, and not the size of the model.  if a brand is glamorizing an unhealthy ideal and you want to say something, then of course! do so! but...

i've been to many different forums and blogs lately, reading posts and comments on this topic and i was APPALLED by some of the things i read.  the very people acting as champions for the acceptance of all body types criticize slender models in the most heinous ways.  "she's probably bulimic," "ugh she looks disgusting," "ew look at her thighs."  woah, ok, so... average women shouldn't be exposed to models in ads because it might make them feel bad, but if the woman in question is a slender model it's alright to be as mean or unfairly critical as you want? a word used to describe someone who says one thing but does another; what is hypocrite.

do you know what i see when i read comments like those? insecure, jealous women putting others down in order to make themselves feel better. why does our gender have such a difficult time seeing a gorgeous woman and just appreciating her beauty without some snide remark or comparison?  the inability to see, acknowledge and accept the beauty of someone because she doesn't look like you is an example of the very thing these people are saying they fight against - a narrow perspective of beauty.  now tell me, how are you going to help broaden the range of what is considered beautiful when no one takes you seriously because you sound like a petty hypocrite?

we all struggle with insecurities and low confidence at times. and that's normal. but we should be more resilient overall, don't you think? throughout history people with extraordinary bodies have been admired. the ancient greeks carved statues of them. how many guys do you know who look like hercules? but i don't see AS MANY men complaining endlessly about their bodies, even though men in advertisements are very fit and muscular. we women want the world to treat us as equals, but in the mean time we fall short of acting like equals ourselves.  i'm going to be brutally honest with you right here - when a girl starts bitching about her weight and how she hates all these "skinny models" she loses credibility in my eyes. she comes off as not being smart enough to understand how damaging her words truly are, and that looks aren't everything. i wouldn't hire a girl who spoke that way for a job and if i was a guy i wouldn't date a girl like that unless i was planning on promptly discarding her. which brings me to the argument some women give - "men are conditioned to think only model types are beautiful and don't want to date average girls." wow! in all fairness, yes - i've met both men and women who exhibit this personality trait. they won't date someone who isn't tall, thin or pretty enough. to an extent this is personal preference, things we as individuals are attracted to. but to the extreme, it's called SHALLOWNESS and is exhibited by both genders equally. for most people, personality IS more important than looks. and plenty has been written on the topic.

if you want diversity within fashion's image, please want it for the right reasons. want it because beauty is not as narrow as a 23-inch waist. it's broad and different and therefore more interesting and should be reflected in the media. all these other reasons are crap that do nothing but strengthen a harmful, negative mentality. in order to help young girls create a healthy body image while growing up in a world where they will be subjected to gorgeous photographs of long, lean models with shiny hair and glassy eyes, the rest of us need to have a strong, healthy perspective so we can explain the reality of the situation and not instill in them our own skewed insecurities. we must give young girls a positive mantra, one that won't make them feel defeated but instead empower them, so they can enter society as confident, proactive women. because alternately, telling them "these images are society saying you're not beautiful unless you look like these women" is irresponsible, untrue and far more damaging than any advertisement could ever be.


  1. Terrific post! I'm so glad to see that someone shares the same perspective as me on this issue. I particularly like the part about the injustice we as women do to one another. Some women believe that criticizing and downgrading other women will make them feel better about themselves. In reality it's these "rating systems" that end up hurting our own self-image because most women are just as hard on themselves as they are on others. I don't think any women can be happy and content with herself until she truly appreciates and admires the beauty of other women in all shapes and forms.

  2. I have nothing to add to this amazing position but 'HEAR, HEAR'.

    I truly agree with every point you made.

  3. Great post! The picture up above is amazing! It is interesting what people can do with photoshop.

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  6. This is a fabulous post! You are absolutely right about everything, imo. I will admit that I look at magazines sometimes and think to myself "there is no way i could pull that off with these hips, and double DDs" but it doesn't affect my self esteem. I just know what I can and can't wear for my body type. If I really like a particular style, then I'll find a way to make it work for me.

    I do enjoy seeing "full-figured" models simply because it demonstrates beauty in all shapes and sizes, but I don't think its fair to persecute thin models. They represent a large group of women in the world who are also thin.

    Now for the face off, well I prefer Renn's photos, primarily because her voluptuousness adds an element of sexy-ness to the photos, quite naturally.

  7. great article, kristy. i think it's important for people to acknowledge that body size doesn't dictate beauty. it's a misconception that negatively impacts so many young (and old!) women. but one thing that really bothers me is that some magazines DO in fact photoshop their cover models to eliminate all fat and imperfections. and being as there are no "perfect" women, it's a false advertisement, in my opinion. there were plenty of times where i'd jealously look at gorgeous models posing in glossy mags, but then i realized there was no point to that! aside from a heidi montag-type transformation, we are who we are and we need to live with and embrace our individual assets. but i hope one day ALL magazines present women as they actually are, not as dolls that can be tweaked and modified to their liking.

  8. body image is a much discussed topic between us girls, and while its true that we should embrace our body and be proud of who and what we are, some women still feel oppressed from seeing stick thin models grazing the covers of magazines. I have a friend who loves online browsing. In Asia, the big hype right now is shopping through facebook, and my friend is one of them.yes, i said online browsing because all the models are super thin *imagine really skinny Asian women* and all the facebook shops only sells 1 size. pity, I know -__-

  9. Crystal Renn is NOT an American size 16. She is probably a 10 or maybe a 12. UK sizes are bigger than American sizes. I believe a UK 10 is an American 6. And for the record, she looks like an American 8 in that pic. HARDLY plus sized.

  10. Wow, Kristy. You are such a great writer. How could anyone not stop and think about these issues when you present them so passionately!

  11. Excellent post !!

    "many women seem to be under the impression that models used in ads aren't something the average woman can relate to because "she doesn't look like me.""---> this is SO infuriating indeed!! It is like people are losing the ability to think for themselves, it is ridiculous. They have to have everything served up on a plate, ready to consume - fashion included. Instead of rattling their brains to find what would suit THEM, they expect everyone else to conform to their own microworld.

    Oh the woman is different than me, she must be on drugs/sick/photoshopped. GROW UP! Learn to dress for your size, personality, style ^^

    This annoys me loads lol but fab fab post as always!


  12. just saw this and thought it was perfect for your post!


  13. wow guys! thanks for all the wonderful links and comments. will definitely be checking them all out over the next few days.

    @adele, where in italy are you moving to?? you must be so excited.

    @alyson, definitely meant uk size 16. i got the measurement from the site that had the picture, and that was a uk site. will fix up above so as to avoid future confusion. =)

  14. Great post. I, too, cannot understand why people hate on models so much. It's their job to look like that, not mine!

  15. What a perfectly written post on body image. We all struggle with is, don't we? I know I do. WOnderful, thank you.

  16. Wonderful post Kristy! Women need to stop hating and start loving themselves as well as others :)

    That said, it's a little ridiculous that people photoshop things like knees and elbows off of models in magazines. Real women have knees!!!

  17. we may all have knees and elbows... but knees and elbows don't photograph particularly well. they get retouched most of the time, even in photos where it isn't obvious. primarily because they'd be really distracting otherwise. people would focus on said knee or elbow instead of on the clothing. =P

  18. Wow, you said it girl, beautifully, honest and clear. All women are gorgeous, we need to stop hating on each other, like you said, stop comparing, and just face reality. Thank you! :)

  19. Great post! I've enjoyed reading it.

  20. "it's because designers are free to explore the limits of design and create without being bound to the rules of what looks good on the average person that fashion can transcend the real world and be something mythical, magical, contextual, philosophical, fantastical or just downright weird. it's why some clothing is considered art"

    I couldn't agree more. Great post :)

  21. i appreciate your take on this primarily because it's a well written, well thought out statement. thank you for sharing. it's a very tough discussion but this is wonderful. glad to see someone take a solid stance on it.

  22. Fashion Butter said...
    Great post. I, too, cannot understand why people hate on models so much. It's their job to look like that, not mine!

    6/09/2010 02:10:00 AM

    I couldn't agree more.

    Second, it's not just weight, thigh circumference, or color of your skin. Women, IN GENERAL, hate on anyone that isn't exactly like them.... why? maybe because they don't have the same freedom, same determination, same mindset and ANYONE who isn't exactly like them is a threat. I am including this because it happens in everday life. I am fully tattooed, sleeves, legs, back etc.... and I get the double looks and stares all the time. Conservative moms won't let their kids play with mine and I really don't get invited to the PTA often. The only difference between you and I, is that you put your art on the wall and I carry mine with me daily. I have a job like you, a family like you, responsibilities like you. These models alike, have a family, responsiblities and emotions just like you and I. It'd be nice to let go and just accept people how they actually are as human beings, and not just how they look.

    Sorry I threw a personal note in, but I felt the post affected me as well. I appreciate it!

  23. i don't think it's the existence of thin models that makes women feel bad--i think it's their vast overrepresentation. if runway shows had to be statistically representative in the body types of their models, there wouldn't even be one "traditional catwalk model" in every group of a hundred models.

  24. but that's exactly my point... models shouldn't be a statistical representation of body type. i mention that and support it with a variety of reasons.

  25. reread. i can only conclude that i see fashion as less economically and politically neutral than you do.

  26. i don't think i see it as economically and politically neutral. i feel that the fashion industry should understand it's social impacts and strive towards bettering them. i feel that more body types should be represented on account of that fact that it's beautiful and diversity should be celebrated.

    however, the general population has a highly detrimental mentality that is unrealistic and unfair. my post was to expose some of the common misconceptions and hopefully through providing that understanding, help some people stop feeling that insecurity that is sometimes associated with slender models in magazines and on runways.

    it isn't that i don't think the fashion industry perpetuates the problem at times. you might be interested in reading one of my more recent posts entitled "a letter to the editor" where i discuss something written by the editor in chief of vogue italia that is entirely detrimental to body image. but i think the average, non-industry person perpetuates the problem as well. as idealistic as this may sound, i think this entire problem can be solved if these two polar opinions meet somewhere in the middle. if fashion continues to broaden it's narrow perception of beauty, and if popular opinion understands the use of slender models and why it shouldn't have such a negative impact, the issue of body image can stop being such an issue.

    thank you for your comments and for your willingness to reread the post. i hope this comment has better illustrated my perspective on the matter. and i really would love to hear your reaction to the other post i mentioned, a letter to the editor.

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    BITE ME! Toronto Int'l Body Image Film & Arts Festival
    Toronto, ON CANADA
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  28. it would be great if we lived in a world where beauty is not determined by fashion and beauty magazines and the rest of the media. truth is, it is a major factor. therefore, whether or not you are represented is a huge deal. if a dark skinned model is never seen on television, magazines ect, the message is clearly saying my dark skin is not considered pretty enough by society causing the aforementioned self esteem problem. i think that the closer one is to the "deemed beautiful" aesthetic, the more difficult it becomes for one to fairly judge the matter. a lot of time, $$$, and effort goes into creating this one specific look at a shoot. perhaps all of that creativity can be put to better use, creating a more inclusive, high fashion world. based on the shoot w/ c. renn, it works. that said, it is just as devisive and unfair to call thin women names or imply anything about their health that you don't know for a fact. just like assuming showing a fuller figured woman would be promoting or glamorizing obesity.
    xoxo jenna pearle

  29. LOVED this post! I loved when you were talking about how ridiculous it is for women to feel pressure to be skinny just because that is what they see in ads. I do however feel that the overpresence of the ultra skinny models can be damaging to younger girls who haven't yet had the chance to build up their self esteem. IT's them I feel sorry for, because they don't understand that so many celebrities and models are airbrushed to perfection.