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.