With a big scarlet letter on the back as a sign of their shame
In the US, teen fashion chain ‘Forever 21′ has launched what has been labelled a “controversial” maternity line called Love 21 Maternity. The range can be found in Forever 21 stores in five states. Apparently, three of these states have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. Some are claiming that Forever 21 is deliberately endorsing or encouraging teen pregnancy. They’ve made quite a thing about it. See this and this and this.
It’s obvious really, isn’t it. The impressionable young woman sees a baggy dress or elasticised pants and says to herself: “I think I’ll get pregnant so I can get some of those!”. And let’s not even mention those cool maternity bras with the little hooks allowing release of the flaps for easy breast feeding.
I love this quote: “The maternity line has some cute, fresh and very young clothes, which only proves that they were targeting young soon-to-be moms”.
Only proves it? Oh that’s right, I almost forgot. Mums who are not in their teens are expected to look dowdy, unfresh and old.
I wonder what the critics prefer? That a pregnant teen not have something half decent to wear? Like she doesn’t already have enough problems to contend with. Is it better we send her off to the sackcloth and ashes shop where she can find something really ugly and punishing to wear, a point I make here:
I’m not making light of teen pregnancy. Yes it is a serious issue. It’s also has complex causes. Reducing this to a debate about whether a few items of clothing in a few stores in a few states in America encourage it, is trivialising the importance of the issue.
Not every young woman wants an abortion. They are overrepresented in research findings on negative mental health outcomes after abortion. Some shared their distress in my book Giving Sorrow Words: women’s stories of grief after abortion. But if a young woman has decided to go ahead with her pregnancy, surely she should be given every support. Including some clothes to wear that won’t make her feel worse.
And not insist on airbrushing disclosure for her own photo shoots?
Recently I have had cause to ask Sarah Murdoch a few questions. They were picked up in the media the past couple of days, by NineMSN and the SMH.
Sarah is co-host and executive producer of Australia’s Next Top Model. She also sits on the Government appointed National Body Image Advisory Committee, which recently made recommendations about how industry should address body image issues.
Sarah has just done an advertising shoot for Australia’s Next Top Model. But there is no disclosure of airbrushing – a recommendation of the advisory group she’s on. As Andrew Hornery in the SMH writes:
But there were no such disclosures on the ANTM promo shots, which PS confirmed had been ”enhanced”. The glossy shots showed Murdoch with a smooth-as-a-billiard-ball face and a waist to rival that of any of the show’s contestants.
This is just not consistent. The advertising in which Sarah Murdoch features wouldn’t get the body image tick of approval - which she and her colleagues recommended. So it’s OK to recommended it for everyone else but not do it yourself?
This latest example adds to a raft of other inconsistencies and mixed messages sent by those connected with the body image group (which I’ve written about here before).
Ashlea Monigatti, size 8 and ‘too big’
I asked Sarah what she thought of size 8 contestant Ashlea Monigatti, 16, being told she was too big for a fashion shoot catwalk on the first episode. “I feel like my body has failed me,” Ashlea said, as she cried before the camera.
How does this contribute to her positive body image?
Sarah responded here. But if it’s not about Ashlea and merely about the clothes, why not have clothes that actually fit her so she can compete on an even playing field? How does this promote body diversity as recommended in the body image code of conduct? And what does it say to viewers who aren’t size 8?
The photographer on the first episode said it’s “not necessarily a bad thing to be curvy” (oh, that’s a relief) but she must “learn to work the curves”. So size 8 is ‘curvy’ now? And only OK if you work them? (and what does that mean anyway? Work them sexually is what I think it is being suggested).
Alex Perry and Charlotte Dawson’s anti women behaviour
Sarah is described on the show as a “model mentor”. Mentor means ‘wise, trusted, counsellor, advisor and guide’. She has her work cut out for her guiding her charges through the toxic sludge that is Australia’s Next Top Model. Take the behaviour of her co-host Alex Perry who has described contestants as “Yeti”, “Wild Pig” and “Frankenstein”. Body image tick of approval anyone?
In a recent interview, Perry also said we can “jump up and down all we like” but he would only ever design for skinny. When the interviewer put to him that the promotion of an ultra-thin idea was causing serious body image problems in girls and women, he said he “couldn’t be burdened with these issues”.
And what about the behaviour of Charlotte Dawson who has described a critic of Alex Perry as a “sad attention whore”, a “fame whore”, a “Westie scrag” a “suburban fattie” and a “sad ugly moll.” As executive producer, has Sarah tried to rein Charlotte in at all?
Alex stacked the critic’s Facebook with his friends and he and Charlotte have had such fun together attacking the young woman who set up the site. While the site does have a provocative name, it seems they couldn’t rise above it and just ignore it. They had to launch a FB version of a ballistic missile against its creator. Here’s some examples of their comments:
And, apparently, Charlotte gets paid to be bitchy to the girls. Is that true Charlotte? Sarah, what do you think of that?
Charlotte is described as ‘sharp tongued wrinkle free’ in the show. Wrinkle free – because she’s had botox and other procedures. That’s her business, but again, what is the impact on her young viewers, especially given that recent research shows reality TV programs are contributing to a rise in cosmetic surgery procedures for girls? Shows like this can never just be “light entertainment”.
For the most confusing interview ever given about cosmetic surgery, see Charlotte Dawson on Sunrise here.
Frockwriter blog has a very good analysis about the Perry/Dawson guide to bullying here. Here’s an extract from other FB comments by Perry and Dawson about last year’s contestant Cassie:
“YES ITS TRUE, SHE WONT SIGN ELITE CONTRACT… WE’RE TALKING ABOUT A GIRL WITH LOW INTELLIGENCE, GOING OUT WITH A MAN TEN YEARS OLDER OF A SIMILAR IQ…THE COMBINATION IS POWERFULLY STUPID … THE ICING ON THE IDIOT CAKE IS THAT SHE WANTS HIM TO BE HER MANAGER …EVERYTHING MUST BE PEACHY KEEN IN SUNBURY!!!”
… “SO THE BOGAN WONT SIGN A CONTRACT WITH ELITE NY, AND MOVES BACK TO SUNBURY WITH THE OUT OF WORK BRICKKIE… NOW THATS WHAT I CALL A CLEVER GIRL!!!!”
“Apparently Cassi has signed with Tania Power (?) modelling agency and is coming to Sydney to model for Portmans. Nuff said.”
“What’s a Fella Hamilton? Sounds fascinating. Almost as fascinating as a Greenborough Plaza winter fashion parade. Stupid Cassi – she’s really put her modelling career into a big suburban toilet.”
“too true. Enough about the bogan … she’s someone elses nightmare now.”
… I think Cassi’s only going to end up being the poster girl for Sunbury Centrelink.”
These people are Sarah Murdoch’s co-hosts. They engage in vilifying behaviour, are vengeful, personify meanness – and get paid for it. Yet they get upset and defensive when criticised by others (Dawson calls Frockwriter blogger “mad old Patti’).
Women as top dogs
If this isn’t enough, in TV ads for the show, contestants are depicted as greyhounds racing towards the bait (the lure being a modelling contract), so well described on the Collective Shout website.
How much more of this toxicity will we see in future episodes? And how much worse does it need to get before Sarah decides she’s made for better things?
And, no, this is not a cat fight
As so often happens when women disagree publicly, some love to call it a “cat fight”.
The heading “Claws out” appeared over the original NineMSN story on Saturday, quoting me. In my view, this heading made fun of and trivialised the seriousness of my critique. Cat fights are associated with hissing, spitting, tearing women’s hair out (and even nude wrestling and stripping, but let’s not go there). Why is it that when women disagree publicly, it is so often portrayed as cattiness? Where is the equivalent term for men? Do you ever hear disagreements between men described in such trivialising ways? Cock fight anyone?
This is not personal. I have nothing personally against Sarah Murdoch. I think she is well intentioned and her charity work is commendable. And no one expects her to solve all the world’s body image problems. But the inconsistencies need to be pointed out. And it’s not just me noticing them.
To its credit, after my complaint to the journalist, NineMSN changed the heading, swapping ‘claws’ for ‘controversy’ (though the original still appears in the URL). Media outlets don’t always agree to make corrections, so thanks for doing so.
Here at the MTR blog we’re not exactly what you’d call fans of the global corporation Unilever.
Unilever has been named and shamed here before for its sexist advertising through the Lynx/Axe brand as highlighted here and here, for its hypocrisy in promoting so-called “real beauty” through its Dove brand while presenting women in degrading and objectifying ways, for its Slimfast products promoting rapid weight loss (because real beauty only comes in size skinny) and for promoting skin whitening products to dark-skinned women (Unilever – to the rescue of dark not skinny women everywhere!).
Now Unilever has taken its white supremacist ways a step further, with a new Facebook application which enables Indian men to lighten their profiles, while at the same time promoting its Vaseline brand of skin lightening products. The company spruiks the product using a Bollywood star whose face is split in half, showing the (unsightly) dark side and the (magically transformed) light side.
Unilever appears to have no shame. One of its earlier skin bleaching products was called “White Beauty”. Playing on certain racial insecurities by telling dark skinned people that they can never really be beautiful – that’s what Unilever is doing. For some great Unilever dark skin despising action, check out this You Tube clip.
Of course, it’s not just Unilever. Garnier, Nivea and L’Oreal (‘because you’re worth white skin’. OK, I made that up) do the same.
These products promote ethnocentric stereotypes about the superiority of white people.
Sociology professor T. K. Oommen at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Agence France Presse:
Lighter skin is associated with the ruling social class, with wealth, with general betterment. Skin lightening creams for women have been a cosmetics staple in India for decades, so when a men’s cream debuted a few years ago, its success was almost ensured.
“I see patients with hypo-pigmentation (loss of pigment) resulting in white patches and hyper-pigmentation leading to darker areas – both are caused by skin bleaching agents. People buy these creams that offer false hopes, but the fact is, there is no safe way to whiten your skin. There needs to be more stringent moderating of these products, as it is a very serious problem.”
Spot on commentary here which illustrates the hypocrisy involved by placing the Dove onslaught ad about airbrushing beside that for Unilever’s ‘Fair & Lovely’ whitening cream.
This is a perfect quote illustrating the hypocrisy, also from The Guardian:
…in an era of increasing transparency, parent companies like Unilever can’t hide behind a barrage of sub-brands anymore. They can’t promote skin-lightening in India and self-esteem in England and expect to retain any credibility when it comes to their corporate brand.
According to Dines’s research the prevalence of porn means that men are becoming desensitised to it, and are therefore seeking out ever harsher, more violent and degrading images…”I have found that the earlier men use porn,” says Dines, “the more likely they are to have trouble developing close, intimate relationships with real women. Some of these men prefer porn to sex with an actual human being. They are bewildered, even angry, when real women don’t want or enjoy porn sex”…
Porn culture doesn’t only affect men. It also changes “the way women and girls think about their bodies, their sexuality and their relationships,” says Dines. “Every group that has fought for liberation understands that media images are part and parcel of the systematic dehumanisation of an oppressed group…The more porn images filter into mainstream culture, the more girls and women are stripped of full human status and reduced to sex objects…
In this piece, also in the Guardian, Julie Bindel highlights the success of Sweden’s approach to prostitution: penalising the buyer of sexual services. An extract:
Today, Förbud mot köp av sexuell tjänst: en utvärdering 1999-2008 (Prohibition of the Purchase of a Sexual Service: an Evaluation 1999-2008), a report on the evaluation of the 11-year-old Swedish law that criminalises those who pay for or attempt to pay for sex, is released, and its conclusion is that the legislation has been overwhelmingly positive for all (except the pimps, traffickers and punters, of course). I hope it will put paid to the scores of assertions bandied about during the past decade that the law has been detrimental to those in prostitution as well as to wider society…
…today’s report, a comprehensive evaluation of the Swedish law, conducted by an independent commission appointed by the government, and led by the chancellor of justice (the highest legal officer in Sweden) shows that legislation criminalising demand has been a resounding success. The evaluation concludes that, since the law came in to force in 1999, the number of women involved in street prostitution has halved, whereas neighbouring countries such as Denmark and Norway have seen a sharp rise; that there is no evidence of an increase in off-street prostitution; and that, despite a significant increase in prostitution in the neighbouring countries during the past 10 years, there is no evidence of a similar increase in Sweden.
I hope those who are being pressured by vested sex industry interests to extend legalisation in Australia will read this report. Anyone interested in the issue should also read Making Sex Work: a failed experiment with legalised prostitution by Mary Lucille Sullivan, which documents how all the positive claims made about the benefits of legalisation failed to be realised in Victoria.
NYU refuses daughter’s request to destroy Larry River’s film of explicit images of them
Two pieces today which pose the questions: why do famous filmmakers get away with things which would be considered deplorable if done by lesser beings? Do we have to accept that ‘a little bit of child molestation isn’t a problem when great art is at stake?’ Should an explicit film made by a filmmaker using his adolescent daughters be protected because Rivers is ‘a great man’?
Johann Hari: So that’s OK then. It’s fine to abuse young girls, as long as you’re a great film director
So now we know. If you are a 44-year-old man, you can drug and anally rape a terrified 13-year-old girl as she sobs, says “No, no, no,” and pleads for her asthma medication – all according to the victim’s sworn testimony – and face no punishment at all. You just have to meet two criteria – (a) you have to run away and stay away for a few decades; and (b) you need to direct some good films. If you do, not only will you walk free, there will be a huge campaign to protect you from the “witch-hunt” and you will be lauded as a hero.
Roman Polanski admitted his crime before he ran away and, for years afterwards, he boasted from exile that every man wanted to do what he did….
The French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi, who led the campaign, said a little bit of child molestation isn’t his problem when Great Art is at stake. He wrote: “Am I repulsed by what he got up to? His behaviour is not my business. I’m concerned about his movies. I like The Pianist and Rosemary’s Baby.”
Larry Rivers’ film…the issue is cultural restitution
I just finished reading an article in the New York Times about a film by the late artist Larry Rivers. The film had been part of an archive of his work belonging to the Larry Rivers Foundation, which was just sold to New York University.
The problem is that the film is child pornography. Well, no. Actually, the problem is that New York University seems unable to recognize that it’s child pornography, because it was made by a famous man using his two daughters as subjects. The problem is that New York University is denying the daughters’ request that the film be destroyed. NYU has agreed to restrict access to the film for the lifetime of the women, but that’s it… because, after all, this is the work of a great man.
Wait a minute… Isn’t it illegal to buy child pornography? To own it? This is a film where the father’s voice is heard telling his reluctant daughters to take off their clothes. The camera zooms in on the breasts or the genitalia, while the father asks prurient questions about their boyfriends and comments on the changes in their bodies. The filming began when one of the girls was 11 and covered a period of five years or more. The girls, visibly self-conscious, are naked or topless. One of them barely speaks. What part of “child pornography” doesn’t NYU understand?
But there’s another way to look at this. Who owns the work?
I’m going to make a radical proposition here: I’m going to propose that childhood be recognized as a sovereign state, and that children be treated as the indigenous populations of a world colonized by adults.
Most folks don’t want to think of children that way, because most of us don’t want to consider how many children are living as captives, how socializing the child is really about colonizing her. And it’s easy for us not to think about them this way, because they do not have a voice, a movement, a lobby, a dime—and they never will. Children do not have a language specific to their experience with which to frame a paradigm of their sovereignty. And that lack of language is one of the most priceless aspects of their culture. It is a culture of astounding plasticity, adaptability. It is a culture of magic, of naiveté, of gullibility, of heartbreaking innocence and spontaneity.
“Cultural restitution” is a term that refers to returning stolen works of art and artifacts and bones of indigenous cultures. When the Nazis raided the museums of Europe to enhance their own prestige, they were operating according to the laws of their own corrupt regime. These seizures are not recognized as legitimate by a world restored to sanity, and, after a slow start, the stolen works of art are being identified and returned. It is immaterial that they may have been sold to third and fourth parties unaware of their original status as Nazi contraband. The rights of the victims have been affirmed.
“Cultural restitution” also refers to art and artifacts taken from indigenous cultures to be housed in museums or historical collections. Skeletons and burial artifacts are being returned to the tribes from whom they were taken by archeologists. There is an acknowledgement that a sovereign people have a right to their history and their culture, and that it is a violation of the sovereignty for another people, even a conquering one, to appropriate the artifacts of that history or culture.
This obscene film by Larry Rivers is an artifact of the corpse of his daughters’ raided and stolen childhood. It was never his to bequeath, and it had no place in the archive passed on to the Larry Rivers Foundation, and New York University has no right to purchase it. It belongs to the daughters. It is the documentation of their violation. It is the reliquary of their lost innocence.
Children have a right to their lives, to their experience. And when a colonizing, predatory adult invades this world, exploiting their vulnerability and raiding their innocence in the name of “art,” children should have the right of an indigenous people to claim the artifact that bears witness to their invasion and colonization.
Was it collaborative? Was this a joint cultural effort between the sovereign state of childhood and the empire of adulthood? This is what one of the daughters, Emma Tamburlini, has to say about her experience: She tells us that it caused her to become anorexic at sixteen, that she has spent years in therapy trying to deal with her father’s behavior. She says that, if she objected to taking off her clothes and being filmed, her father would say she was “uptight,” a “bad daughter.” When she tried to confront him as a teenager, he told her that her intellectual development had been arrested. Seems he was a verbal abuser, as well…
Ms. Tamburlini sums up: “It wrecked a lot of my life, actually.” That sounds about right, actually.
The other sister, the one who is so quiet in the film, declined to comment.
It’s very clear that the daughters’ participation was not voluntary. This was not a situation between equals. It was between a child and an adult—a dependent and her caregiver. Children in a situation like Rivers’ daughters have no more power to resist than the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, who were ordered to strip and participate in sexually humiliating scenarios.
If there is ever a more clear-cut issue of ownership in this world, it is the right of child to the privacy and integrity of her body. What could be more intimately one’s property than one’s organs, one’s skin? What can be more clear than the dependence of a child? There is no ambiguity here. There is no debate about “what is art.” The film is pedophilic and pornographic, a record of incestuous abuse.
This is not a scientific film documenting the developmental stages of mammary glands. This is not an erotic film, celebrating the sensual beauty of adult women. This is a film about humiliation. The subject of the film is the sexual subordination of two girls and their mother to the prurient and pedophilic obsession of a predatory father.
And what about this mother? She participated in the film, certainly enabling the abuse of her daughters. On the other hand, in 1981, she managed to prevent her perpetrator of a husband from showing the film at an exhibition. According to her, “What Larry said was that it would belong to [the girls], as a record that when they got older they could look back at… It wasn’t a huge thing. It’s become huge, because they can’t get back what was given to them.”
Begging to differ, it was a huge thing. Although it’s understandable why a daughter in a situation like this might feel safer sharing her feelings with a reporter from a national newspaper.
Here is my fantasy: The daughters will sue. Hundreds of child psychologists and pediatricians, as well as experts in international law will show up for the trial to give testimony. A new precedent will be set. The rights of children will be recognized as those of a sovereign nation, an indigenous people. Damages will be awarded, and, under laws pertaining to cultural restitution, the film will be returned to the two women whose childhood was invaded and violated.
And in my fantasy, Emma Tamburlini will testify, using the same words cited in the Times article. She will say: “I don’t want the film out there in the world.” And then she will repeat a statement she made, a statement straight from the heart of her childhood nightmare, spoken in the elusive and elliptical language of children. And maybe there will be an official interpreter who can translate it into the pedestrian regionalism of adulthood, in words that even a librarian at NYU can understand.
The daughter’s statement is this: “It just makes it worse.”
Because plus-size models are still seen as deviating from the norm they are viewed as exotic, as a curiosity, as aberrant
Today a special guest post from Ethel Tungohan, on so-called ‘plus-size’ models. Ethel is a PhD Candidate in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. She has a masters degree in Gender and Development from the London School of Economics and a bachelors degree in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies from the University of British Columbia.
‘Plus-size’ models are the new fashion ‘it’ girls, according to numerous pundits, trend-setters, and fashionistas. The seeming ubiquity of plus-size models make it appear as though beauty standards have been modified to fit more realistic standards, whereby the diversity of female body types are celebrated.
Alas, further scrutiny shows that the rise of plus-size models may not be a sign of progress. The pervasiveness of ‘love your body’ magazine issues and the growing prominence of plus-size models are likely to be little more than tokenistic attempts for magazines to appear more inclusive. In reality, little has changed in the fashion industry.
The rise of plus-size models and love-your-body magazine issues could be construed as positive developments. They may be interpreted as showing that beauty ideals are shifting. Previously, plus-size models only graced the pages of plus-size clothing catalogues and were deemed to fulfill the very specific demands wrought by the niche, plus-size market. Because they were ‘large,’ they were automatically seen as anti-fashion. So their inclusion in the fashion industry was purely functional – because plus-size brands need plus-size models, a limited number of women were grudgingly given entry into the fashion world.
Today, plus-size models are arguably achieving mainstream legitimacy. For instance, American plus-size model Crystal Renn can be seen posing in high fashion magazines like Vogue and modeling clothes for couture houses like Jean-Paul Gaultier, highlighting the way conceptions of beauty are expanding.
Further, the demand for ‘plus’ size models has allowed plus-size modeling agencies like BGM Models in Australia to transform itself from an agency catering to a niche market to one that is on par with other mainstream agencies. Magazines have also clamoured to feature ‘love your body’ spreads, from V magazine – which celebrated plus-size bodies in its most recent issue – to Glamour magazine’s “naked” plus size shoot in its November issue.
Though these attempts have not led to a dramatic overhaul of the fashion industry, with thin models still dominating the runways and photo shoots, some say that these changes can be seen as a step in the right direction. At the very least, the fashion powers-that-be now seem to recognize that catering to diverse body types is in their interest: even if their motivations may be more financial than feminist, the effects speak for themselves. After all, even tokenistic inclusion of plus-size models in their campaigns is a positive development.
Whereas plus-size models were never featured before, now there are at least a few, which invariably encourages appreciation of body diversity; different parties, from designers to magazine editors to readers to fashion connoisseurs, are shown that models not fitting into the ‘skinny’ model archetype are also beautiful, which may in turn encourage them to make plus-size models a mainstay in their campaigns. It is difficult to alter the fashion industry’s perceptions immediately. Change – however small and incremental – is good.
Nevertheless, it is too soon to be optimistic? The fashion industry is hardly the bastion for progress. The way plus-size models have been depicted shows that the industry is only making cursory attempts at inclusion.
A quick look at plus-size fashion shoots show that plus-size models are usually shown as naked. Though fashion editors can easily justify the nudity of plus-size models by asserting that women’s bodies should be shown in all their glory, it is bizarre that a large number of plus-size fashion spreads hardly seem to have any fashion content, preferring instead to depict plus-size models in one of two ways: either they are overly sexualized or they are revered for being ‘real’.
The former is best exemplified in V Magazine’s Spring 2010 issue. Helmed by fashion power house Karl Lagerfeld, the shoot featured Miss Dirty Martini, a New York City burlesque performer, practicing her ‘come hither’ look while wearing adhesive patches over her breasts, black underwear, and leather. Though Miss Dirty Martini looks beautiful in these pictures, it is striking that the shoot is explicit in its disavowal of fashion. Instead, the entire shoot focuses on Miss Dirty Martini in a variety of ‘cheesecake’ shots, blatantly pandering to stereotypes of ‘large’ women as being sexually voracious and wanton.
In contrast, the models shown in ‘love your body’ shoots are celebrated for being ‘different.’ Alongside pictures of naked models are headlines extolling the virtues of diverse body types; though ‘flaws’ like stretch marks, birth marks and cellulite were air-brushed, models’ body sizes remained untouched.
Taken within the larger context of the fashion industry, it soon becomes obvious that these are the only ways in which plus-size models are shown. Because plus-size models are still seen as deviating from the norm, they are viewed as exotic, as a curiosity, as aberrant. Every magazine lay-out and runway show that includes plus-size models are heralded with as much subtlety as an MP trying to get your vote during election day; magazine editors, fashion designers, and stylists involved with the shoot pat themselves on the back for a job well done and, as soon as the campaign is over, immediately forget all of the empowering ‘love-your-body’ messages they ostensibly advocate. Business resumes as usual the next day, with nary a plus-size model (or any model that deviates from the norm, such as models-of-colour, etc.) seen on the pages of ‘regular’ shoots. The need to include plus-size models into runways, magazine shoots, and advertising campaigns is conveniently forgotten, until the next year’s ‘plus-size’ issue.
It is clear that the inclusion of plus-size models hardly signifies an overhaul of the fashion industry. Nevertheless, the fact that these (problematic) attempts at inclusion have led to a backlash shows that the fashion industry remains opposed to body diversity. Fashion industry ‘experts’, ranging from American Vogue magazine’s Anna Wintour to Australia’s Next Top Model’s Charlotte Dawson, have criticised plus-size models on the grounds that they encourage poor health and are therefore too ‘big,’ too ‘unhealthy’, and too ‘unsightly’ to be in fashion.
In making these statements, these purported experts betray their ignorance. To reify the fat/thin unhealthy/healthy dichotomy is to ignore how health professionals have long refuted the body mass index as an accurate measure of health. More crucially, encouraging the belief that being thin is not only ‘beautiful’ but also ‘healthy’ may ironically lead to a rise in unhealthy behaviour among those who see fashion power-players as role models. These ideas are not only antiquated; they are also misleading and dangerous.
Plus-size issues that ‘celebrate’ plus-size models in an insincere manner is arguably just as offensive and as disempowering as fashion spreads that condemn their presence. I cannot help but wonder whether a better indication of a genuine appreciate for body diversity occurs when plus-size models and models who are ‘different’ are integrated into the fashion industry without the same amount of fanfare.
Though it is true that part of the fashion industry’s mandate is to market different products, it is absurd and short-sighted to assume that the only way this can be done is by heightening women’s insecurities through depictions of inaccessible, glamorous, and thin models. If anything, the favourable response garnered by ad campaigns featuring different types of women proves that promoting body diversity is an untapped marketing resource. Fashion industry experts who say otherwise are merely being complacent, uncreative, and lazy.
If fashion experts are truly concerned about the lack of body diversity, then they would put models from sizes 6 to 22 into their campaigns and shows. If women can be beautiful because of their diverse body types, then plus-size models can legitimately be given equal treatment along with other models against the likes of Gemma Ward and Kate Moss, and not only have to be satisfied with ‘sexy’ cheesecake or ‘celebrate’ your body shots. If designers are truly invested in proving that they have the skills to design for all types of women, then clothing will be made for all types of bodies.
Plus-size models – and, by extension, all women who do not fall into the fashion industry’s thin ideal – should not have to settle for anything less.
Eating disorder specialist Lydia Turner from BodyMatters Australasia, who has become something of a regular here on the MTR blog, has a piece worth reading in The Drum Unleashed on the Government’s new voluntary body image code (no, we’re not done with the critique of that yet, see this and this and this).
Looking Good by Doing Very Little
Last week Youth and Sport Minister Kate Ellis revealed a new code of conduct for the fashion and advertising industries, backed by the Federal government, in what is claimed to be a world first attempt to regulate the industries contributing to increased rates of body shame and eating disorders.
The voluntary code, outlining a list of proposed changes that reward magazines, fashion labels, and modelling agencies who comply with its criteria with a ‘tick of approval’, has met with mixed response. Responses have ranged from the dismissal of the need for any regulation, to claims that the promotion of anything other than a thin ideal will inflate obesity rates. Others who acknowledged the need for industry regulation expressed scepticism that the code would work, given its voluntary nature.
A few days ago I posted on the Brut ads which feature a group of boys ogling a woman, as part of the ‘Brut code’ to ‘spot and share’.
I also commented on ‘lads ads’ on the Channel 7 Morning Show Friday, saying that Brut was brutally sexist and was reclaiming sexism as something that should be considered cool. The ads contributed to socialising boys to see girls and young women in sexually objectifying ways – as catering for their sexual fantasies. I argued the Brut ads helped undermine the global movement for women’s equality.
Well now the ad has been banned by the Advertising Standards Board.
Which we should be celebrating right?
That would be the case, had the Board ruled that the ads were objectifying and demeaning to women. But it didn’t. In its ruling, the Board:
“…expressed concern about the man seen sitting on the rear shelf of the vehicle and the man in the boot of the car. The Board considered that as the vehicle is depicted in motion the depiction of the person in the boot and the person sitting on the car rather than in a seat is a depiction of material that does breach community standards on safety in vehicles and safe driving.”
So, vehicle safety is more important than how women are treated.
The decision is reminiscent of a recent UK decision about Diesel “Be Stupid” ads, which I mentioned here. The ad watchdog there ruled against them – not because they were sexist, but because they might encourage copy-cat behavior.
Read Mumbrella’s account of the ASB’s decision on Brut here. Note the comment: “Isn’t it time we all went back to basics and concentrated on making great ads that sell products!?!?!” Because that’s what’s really important, not all this carry-on about the right of women to be seen as more than their sexual allure.
“I had never hated my body before that show”: Kai Hubbard exposes the unhealthy weight loss practices that made her sick
Kai Hubbard was a season 3 finalist on the US version of The Biggest Loser. Recently she told Body Love Wellness blogger, Golda Poretsky, about the realities of being on the show. These included severe food restriction, dehydration, being forced to work out while severely injured and trainers overriding doctor’s instructions. Her hair fell out, her period stopped and she developed an eating disorder she has yet to completely recovered from.
Sort of shatters The Biggest Loser fantasy doesn’t it?
Kai’s brave revelations provide further evidence that the show is a danger to good health, as argued here in the past including in this piece by eating disorder specialist Lydia Turner of BodyMattersAustralasia . Despite a raft of waivers and contracts, Kai decided to speak out because so many people were using her as an example of what they could achieve if they tried hard enough. She wanted them to know the true nature of the show and how it made her hate her body in a way she never had before.
Here’s some extracts from Kai’s interview with Golda (used with permission):
…We were working out anywhere between 2 and 5 hours a day, and we were working out severely injured. There’s absolutely no reason to work a 270 pound girl out so hard that she pukes the first time you bring in a gym. That was entirely for good tv.
…So I got to a point where I was only eating about 1,000 calories a day and I was working out between 5 and 8 hours a day…And my hair started to fall out. I was covered in bruises. I had dark circles under my eyes…my period stopped altogether and I was only sleeping 3 hours a night. I tried to tell the T.V. show about it and I was told, ‘save it for the camera.’
..my major food groups were water, black coffee and splenda. I got to the point that when I was nervous or upset I was literally vomiting my food up…
[The show] gave me a really fun eating disorder that I battle every day, and it also messed up my mental body image because the lighter I got during that T.V. show, the more I hated my body. And I tell you what, at 144 and at 262 and at 280, I had never hated my body before that show.
Good piece in The National Times today on ‘Lad’s Ads’, pointing out the raw sexism of the new Brut deodorant advertising campaign – a perfect case study in sexist advertising. Brut appears to be following in the footsteps of Unilever’s Lynx, which has turned objectification into an art form (all the while promoting Dove ‘real beauty’). Thanks Brut and Lynx for entrenching the notion that women are mindless objects for male sexual fantasies. Oh, and men? Perhaps find something else to spray yourselves with. These ads demean you too.
Here’s a spray of my own: this stuff really is on the nose
‘Lads’ ads’ are ironic, we are told. They are also brutally offensive.
PLEASE, don’t adjust your sets – it really is still 2010. But watching TV lately, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you had slipped into a time warp.
For those fortunate enough not to have seen the latest commercial for Brut deodorant, let me paint you the picture.
A woman in a hardly-there, leopard-print bikini is walking down a beach footpath. A guy clocks the oncoming girl and, rather than selfishly ogle her on his own, he gives his mates a nudge so that they can leer at her as a pack. Their approval is clearly evident as they loudly let rip a couple of ”phwoars” while the camera pans to a shot of her bouncing breasts.
As you know, last week I appeared on the Gruen Sessions on the subject of women in advertising. I also published here yesterday an extract from a piece which unpacked the inconsistencies of the ad execs supposed positions (sexism isn’t good!) while at the same time justifying what they do (but it sells products!). Today Sheryl has made some further observations on her blog about last night’s Gruen Sessions – which also featured the Lynx and Brut ads, justified as ‘teen boys fantasies’, which makes it OK of course.
I’ll be talking about this on Channel 7’s Morning Show tomorrow.
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