Battered women the new black in fashion spreads
It’s been an interesting few weeks for women (read: depressing). Lingerie Football League, yet another hyper-sexualised plus-sized model fashion spread, and a Bollywood star who hasn’t lost her pregnancy weight being called a fat elephant (she even got a YouTube clip dedicated to the weight gain, with elephant sound effects accompanying her image). Oh, and let’s not forget Cambridge University’s “Rear of the Year” competition, where women posted pictures of their behinds online to be rated, and hopefully win the title (what an honour!).
But this one really takes the cake. Bulgarian magazine 12 has released a beauty editorial spread depicting women as victims of physical abuse. The pictorial features glamorous and heavily made up women with an array of gory injuries, including a slit throat, ripped out piercings, acid burns and a woman’s mouth cut into a wide smile.
Titled “Victims of Beauty,” the so-called beauty spread is a visual slap in the face for women who have encountered this kind of sickening abuse. But what is most disheartening is that it isn’t the first time the fashion industry has displayed complete apathy towards violence against women. And it is very unlikely that it will be the last.
Former model, Jenna Sauers, wrote for Jezebel:
These kinds of images are nothing new. Seeing women shown as the victims of implied male violence — or victims of any violence, frankly — in what is an overwhelmingly female industry, in magazines that are overwhelmingly run, written, and edited by women, has always troubled me. It troubled me back when I was a model, and was asked to take part in shoots that had themes of violence and death. It troubles me now that I merely see these images in the fashion media, which are largely the women’s media.
It’s a given that fashion magazines — like other forms of mass media — often aim to shock. Because they like the attention. Because they like the ad dollars. Because they like the rebellious reputation that shocking us squares confers. But it’s still worthwhile to examine the means by which they achieve that shock value. The high-fashion world in general loves to think of itself as contrarian, élite, and boldly at odds with the tastes and mores of the wider public. It likes to think that it, in fact, leads those tastes. But much of the imagery the fashion industry uses to communicate its messages at best echoes and at worst reinforces some of the wider culture’s most negative ideas about women and girls.
12 magazine caught wind of the public’s disgust and responded to Jezebel, saying:
We believe that images such as ours can be seen from various angles…Where some see a brutal wound, others see a skilful work of an artist, or an exquisite face of a beautiful girl. That being said, we do understand why some accuse us of promoting, in a way, violence, but we do not agree with that, and we think that it is very narrow-minded way of looking at the photographs.
And after all, isn’t it true that we see brutally wounded people all the time, in real life – on television, in the news, in movies, videogames, magazines and websites, and they are all very different, but alike in one thing: some are real, some are not. And fashion photography is an imitation of real life, sometimes realistic, sometimes delicate, other times grotesque, or shocking.
They go on to call critics sexist (because if it were men we may not have the same outraged response) and question what our reaction would be if the images were part of a campaign against domestic violence. But here’s the thing: these images of battered women were not created to spread awareness of physical abuse. They were not created to invite you to do something about the very real and heartbreaking issue of violence against women. They were designed for the sake of shock value, and shock value only. By publishing it in the beauty section of a magazine – a section that exists to give the reader an aesthetic ideal to aspire to – what kind of message are they sending?
In the last few years we’ve seen advertisements and magazine editorials glorifying images of women being strangled, as corpses, dead in car boots, with nooses around their necks and in gang rape situations. This usually followed by claims of it being “art” or to “make a statement.” Whatever you try to disguise it as, the constant bombardment of violent imagery with women as its main focus is an appalling credit to the fashion and beauty industry; especially as it is an industry that is for the most part, still dominated by women.
But soon they will have exhausted every means possible to shock us and grab our attention, and then what will they be left with? Nothing but an empty jar of eyeshadow and the bad taste of moral redundancy in their mouths.
Jane, 23, is nearing the end of her Media degree at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, and describes herself as “passionate about communicating with teenagers and young women about the importance of self-respect and a healthy body image”.
See also: ‘Violence against women is endemic to our sick culture’, Melinda Tankard Reist