The Ashmore State School Model Search for children as young as two will be held at a Family Fun Fair next month. Prizes include modelling courses worth hundreds of dollars.
In the latest school newsletter, deputy principal Amanda Fry assured parents the contest was not a beauty pageant. “There is no category for beauty,” she wrote. “There are trophies for best dressed, best catwalk and most photogenic.”
Greg Dickman, Education Queensland’s South East regional director, said the department had no issue with the model search. “This is a fundraiser model competition, not a beauty competition,” he said.
Whether the school calls it a “model search”, a “beauty competition”, a “pageant” or any other name is irrelevant. Whether or not participants are allowed to wear makeup or evening gowns is irrelevant. What is relevant, is pitting children against each other in order to be judged on their appearance.
“Direct participation and competition for a beauty prize where infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals can have significant mental health and developmental consequences that impact detrimentally on identity, self esteem, and body perception.”
It is not only the participants who are being put at risk by such an event. Those who witness it, and the girls who don’t enter, are also absorbing toxic messages about their appearance and self worth. The fact that the school and teachers that they trust are participating in sending these messages makes it all the more harmful.
This model search is an absolute abrogation of the responsibility of the school to the children in their care. You might like to contact Education Qld and the Minister for Education to ask them why Education Queensland is allowing this school to put the well-being of students at risk.
I think Dolly may be improving (if only it would drop the model search!)
Forty eight pages into Dolly’s April issue and I was beginning to wonder if there was anything worth commenting on. Yes there was a promotion of the Dolly model search, but I’d already gone to town on that in the last review, 20 pages straight on fashion and ads, behind the scenes at X-factor, music predictions, then something I could talk about ‘My body tells a story: Three beautiful girls, three different stories about dealing with major body changes.’
In something of a contrast to the opening model search promo, Taylor, 19, writes about the impact of two spinal operations to correct a curved spine which leaves her with an “enormous scar” down the entire length of her back. After struggling to accept the scar and the reminder it brings of significant pain, she now sees it as a sign of what she has overcome and the strength required to go through the two operations. “I just hope that by sharing my story I can somehow help girls love their bodies, scars and all, and celebrate their uniqueness and the strength they may not realise they have themselves,” she says. Aimee, 18, has had 100 surgeries after developing a flesh-eating skin disease which caused her to be put on life support due to organ failure. Her leg swelled to twice its size and needed to be cut open to reduce the pressure. She was in a coma for a week. It was thought the leg may need to be amputated. Then followed surgery every second day for six months to try to control the bacteria eating her body. After recovering enough to go home and back to school she is bullied because of the scars. But now she just feels fortunate her leg was saved. Erin 16, shares her story of losing her hair – which was once half way down her back – as a result of chemo required to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year. The chemo makes her feel very ill. But she is staying confident and surrounding herself with positive people. Inspiring stuff. Read more here.
WHEN fashion publishers feel they have to use photo-shop to ‘‘fatten up’’ models in a major fashion event before they can publish their images, you know there’s a problem.
Usually when fashion and beauty publications employ digital enhancement it’s for the opposite reason: to slim down the model or celebrity and hide ‘‘flaws’’.
But this week saw an uncommon use of re-touching, with some fashion writers so disturbed at the runway display of protruding bones at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney, they felt compelled to add the appearance of actual flesh.
Editor of fashion blog Style Melbourne, Sarah Willcocks, told The Australian Women’s Weekly she had to smooth out one model’s shoulder bones for fear of ‘‘glamourising’’ her skinny frame.
While normally opposed to airbrushing, Ms Willcocks said one image from the Maticevski show was too shocking to leave untouched. She didn’t want to promote the ‘‘unhealthy-looking’’ model.
‘‘I don’t want my readers thinking bones are glamorous or beautiful,’’ Ms Willcocks said.
An industry insider, who asked not to be named, was also concerned about the health of the models.
‘‘One in particular looked so weak I don’t know how she could even walk,’’ she told me. ‘‘It was inhumane that people could look at her and not see she was sick. I thought Australia might have better standards than Paris, and prefer girls who look naturally healthy. Some in the industry seem to care more about how the clothes look than if she still has a pulse.’’
Designer Alex Perry was singled out for his choice of models. He claimed he ran out of time to find healthier-sized girls.
Former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements says for most designers and casting agents, there’s no such thing as too thin. Fashion Week model Ruby Jean Wilson, for example, has a waist circumference of an average seven-year-old. Stylist Naomi Smith told Clements: ‘‘Someone will tell them very quickly if they put on weight. But often no one will mention if they’ve lost too much.’’
But the current editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia, Edwina McCann, almost seems to let them off the hook. ‘‘Anyone who has witnessed a stress-out, pre-occupied, angstridden designer in the days before they show their collection would understand why they may not be focused on the issue of body-image during that time,’’ she told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
Well, maybe they should give it a bit more thought, if they really care about the health of their models.
In 2010, David Jones model Jessica Gomes said it was common for models to engage in ‘‘. . . endless nights of cocaine, smoking, drinking coffee, doing a juice cleanse . . . how dare they tell young girls they have to lose weight and go on a thousand calorie a day diet? It’s just ridiculous’’.
A University of WisconsinMadison study of 15,000 people found ‘‘exposure to media depicting ultra-thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours’’.
In Australia, eating disorders have doubled in the past five years, with one in three girls now engaging in risky behaviour, such as starving themselves, vomiting or abusing medication. The lack of diversity in women’s bodies in Fashion Week can contribute to this.
Every year noises are made about reforming the industry, but apart from the occasional token gesture, thin continues to be in.
‘‘If ever we needed evidence of the fashion industry’s blatant contempt towards young women, this would be it,’’ says BodyMatters Australasia’s Lydia Turner. ‘‘For fashion designers to demand girls be skeletal and treat their health — and in some cases, their lives — as irrelevant, is dangerous. What message does it send when the way the dress hangs matters more than the lives of girls?’
It’s time models were seen as more than human coat hangers.
12 y.o ‘Reader of the month’, 13 y.o model finalists…
Girl Mag Watch October 2012
Reading the October issue (yes, I know, just scraping this review in in time) of Girlfriend, I found myself checking the front cover to make sure I’d picked up Girlfriend and not Dolly.
I’m wondering if perhaps Girlfriend is moving in on Dolly’s readership. And, if so, could this see Dolly pitching openly to 9 and 10-year-olds?
The ‘Reader of the Month’ is a 12-year-old: Kayleigh from Queensland. Buying Girlfriend is “my favourite part of the month” she tells us. Girlfriend is “like the teenage-girl handbook” (even for girls who aren’t yet, apparently).
We meet Girlfriend’s Model Search Finalists. While Dolly came in for criticism for reviving its model search, (its winner was 13), Girlfriend’s competition has been ongoing. But Girlfriend’s finalists are in a similar age range to Dolly’s. Under the heading ‘I wanna be a supermodel’ is Georgana, 13, Sharnee, 13, Jade, 15, Jessica, 14, Elizabeth, 14, Molly Grace, 15, and the comparatively older Stephanie, 17.
Dolly’s Model Search has torpedoed a government attempt to set up industry self-regulation on body image.
We give talks at schools about body image and there are always girls in tears. They come up to us afterwards and confide that they compete to see who can eat the least number of calories at lunch. Even those who present as confident reveal they can feel ”like a pig” for eating an apple when their peers are on a severe calorie restriction diet.
Many report eating almost nothing during the day, then finding themselves uncontrollably overeating in the afternoon in private.
Some are distressed when they see pop-up diet ads on the internet while trying to do homework. Others report going on a media ban for a month to try to break the anxiety about not being perfect. Into this troubled environment enters Dolly magazine and its resurrected Model Search, pitting girls against each other in a contest which should have remained banned. The 13-year-old winner, Kirsty Thatcher, was announced this week in Sydney.
Kirsty and state finalists appear bright, beaming, lithe and without obvious body fat. They fit the stereotype. (An indigenous girl is the only divergence.) They will now be presented to teen and tween girls as “role models” and “inspirational”. But what are they modelling?
A meta-analysis of 77 studies involving 15,000 participants, undertaken by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showed that ”exposure to media depicting ultra-thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours, such as excessive dieting”.
Jess Hart – Dolly’s 1998 model search winner – posed with Jennifer Hawkins on a 2010 Grazia cover headed: “Jen & Jess: how to get their $5M bodies!” Hart told Grazia she gets “super strict about her diet” before a photoshoot.
Despite all the body image initiatives and education, the bombardment of images ultimately has more effect.
“We didn’t want to betray our readers and teenage girls,” says editor Tiffany Dunk. So why only choose girls who fit an idealised norm?
Dunk says they didn’t ask girls their weight or their size. But this was hardly necessary. Readers were asked to ”rank” a photo of 14-year-old Geelong entrant Elodie Russell. What for – personality?
If Dolly wants to justify the contest by saying peers should model to peers, then they should model a diverse range of shapes and sizes to reflect what the readers look like.
It is troubling to thrust any girl into an industry where they are taught what matters most is to fit some cookie-cutter mould of what women should look like.
And what of the girls who don’t make it? How many are damaged by the message that their value lies in how others view and judge their bodies?
One ex-Dolly model entrant has written: “I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because … it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry.”
And now Dolly has won a prize of its own, in the federal government’s inaugural positive body image awards, the centrepiece of the Australian government’s National Body Image Advisory Group set up in 2009.
Giving Dolly the positive body image award is like awarding KFC a healthy food award because it started selling salads.
As other countries such as France and Spain look to change the law (for example, by banning ads for plastic surgery and dieting until after 10pm), our government has introduced a toothless voluntary code and rewarded a magazine that upholds the body ideals of the global beauty industry.
The Minister for Youth and Sport, Kate Ellis, said at the launch she was ”calling on industry professionals to move beyond the ‘business as usual’ approach and take real action to promote positive body image”.
Unfortunately industry didn’t give a damn. Besides Dolly, the Dove Body Think Program was highly commended. Dove is owned by Unilever, known among other things for its skin-whitening creams, seeking models who meet a long list of beauty criteria, photoshopping women in its ”real beauty” campaign, and the notorious Lynx/Axe brand of male deodorant, which has been advertised as “washing away the skank” of an unwanted sexual encounter, and using the more recent “Clean your balls” campaign.
Even Mia Freedman, a former Dolly editor and chair of the advisory group, admits she was “wrong” to think the voluntary code of conduct would work. “NOTHING HAS CHANGED. The Body Image Code of Conduct has been given the fashionable middle finger by those it was aimed at,” she wrote.
That’s a lot of money and energy down the drain.
When will we get regulation that actually works, and which doesn’t reward a girls mag for bringing back the archaic practice of pitting girls against one another based primarily on their looks.
Lydia Jade Turner is a psychotherapist and managing director at BodyMatters Australasia. Melinda Tankard Reist is a commentator and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Both were co-founders of Collective Shout, which entered the body positive awards.
‘It was a liberating act to throw them away: I had been held captive’
I sat near a girl and her mum in the coffee shop recently. She would have been 10, 12 at most. She had on wedge shoes, tight leggings, a handbag, and flicked her long, blonde hair around like a cast member from Gossip Girl. I was so sad. Where are her running shoes? Why does she care about her hair? Why does she need a handbag? To stash her lipgloss? Where is she learning to dress and behave like this?
The endorsement of profligate spending habits, the lavishing of attention on the self, the preoccupation with other peoples’ lives, the obsession with celebrity, success, money and beauty above all else. Where did these ideas come from? From whence did they germinate and propagate throughout the world in turn telling us, ‘This is the way to look, to act, to be!’?
One might suggest that these are notions as old as Adam. That humankind has always looked to the “other” (beings, things, icons) for validation, security, community and guidance. That stories need to be told to connect us and that the pursuit of upward mobility is a natural state of being. And that the advertising, media and entertainment industries cannily cottoned on because commerce is king.
But never in history has the “image”, of self and of others, been so intensely present, forcing us to compare, assess and validate ourselves by these externalities seen on the screen and in print. In turn, the selves projected out into the world are edited, controlled and Photoshopped, and one’s internal politics are governed increasingly by a conscience distorted.
There need to be options for girls. Most will simply never measure up to TV/celebrity/model standards, the prevailing benchmark for women in our culture, as far as their physicality is concerned (and we know it is a concern: the surveys continue to tell us, but you only have to sit back, listen and observe). These external pressures should not be reason for them to loathe themselves. What is the answer?
One friend of mine, a mother and journalist, has a policy in her home called “bin juice”. If there is ever any negative talk around body image in her home, the immediate response is, “Bin juice!”. She herself, like me, has struggled with body image issues. It is personal; a source of ongoing shame that needs to be negated each time it rears its (ironically) ugly head. Now she will not tolerate “bin juice” in her home. She is starting a new family culture.
Yes, it starts with us.
We all have the potential, in small ways or large-scale, to rail against the culture and create a new status quo. The main problem is the sheer financial power and momentum behind institutions and industries that rely on bodies as a commodity. They are hugely influential in the public sphere. Take the Logies, for instance. What would Australian entertainment’s night of night’s be without the red carpet, the dazzling dresses, the makeup, the glamorous ladies, soon after populating all the magazine pages?
In consuming these images via television, the internet or in the magazines, though it might sound trite, we are participating, to an extent, in the perpetuation of the body-beautiful stereotype, as well as the idea that men can wear the same suit but stand-out because of their personalities, whereas women need to compete on physical points. In this act, their full personhood is essentially stripped of them, while at the same time we create and consume still more unattainable beauty benchmarks.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Round and round on the merry-go-round we go, until our heads are in such a spin that we do not know where we started out: ‘Where is my starting point?’, you might ask. ‘I don’t think I like this ride anymore.’ It’s not the individual women, by virtue of their chosen profession or entertainment associates, who are the problem: it’s the tangled web of industries all vying for our attention, our dollars and our sense. They are experts at captivating us. But we are collectively wising up.
Many women I know, including myself, have a no women’s/celebrity magazines policy in their home. It was a liberating act for me to throw mine away, though the reasons for doing so are manifold (personal, political and spiritual). I had built up a wall of them and I was held captive, oppressed by their sheer presence. For a very long time, I had justified my consuming them (in a way that should require a prescription) on the basis that “I need to be abreast of the culture” and “Hey, I run a media blog!”
Regrettably, because of my own influence, my nieces started to think it was okay to buy them. Girls will always want to emulate those who are closest to them, who show them love and attention. We are approval seekers.
And here’s the rub: I think some women can tolerate exposure to everything the entertainment, pop-culture and media industries can dish up for them with little effect to their personal wellbeing (as far as survey results go, we find there are few). There are others who skip past the culture with barely a sideways glimpse in its direction and carry on with all of life as if it did not exist.
These blessed women have never become indoctrinated into “glossy culture”, with its models and fashionistas and pricey clothes and tips on makeup application and the best new accessories and ‘all-hail-the-celebrity!’. But sometimes in life – like the Goldman Sachs banker who had an epiphany and resigned over the company’s “toxic greed” only to be met with a patronising “Well, durr” in response – there is a reason we enter into it, eventually finding ourselves complicit.
We have not yet seen the proverbial light, and we need to come to our own conclusions, awaken consciousness, about such things to grow as humans, which we are all entitled – indeed, should be encouraged – to do.
Why might someone choose to stew in a culture that benefits them little? That forces one to reflect on their body, their clothing, their achievements, their relationships and feel only inadequacy or anxiety? And that, in turn, causes to project these anxieties onto others? Or to think of others in the same way? To lead them also astray? What turns them into something their childhood selves would have despised or been saddened by?
Like someone possessed to spend their life savings at Star City, perhaps they simply do not value their own life enough, nor see the possibility that they might live a different way. A way that is even more satisfying and gratifying than what the culture is prepared to serve them. But there is an “out” as well as an “in”. You can turn off. Not buy. Bin ‘em. Pick and choose according to who you are and what you value.
The world has an amazing ability to numb our senses, our minds, our hearts into a state of apathy where we are prepared to just accept the status quo and onwards we go or else try to fit into it like a square peg in a round hole. But in order to create change – real, lasting, meaningful, thirst-quenching change – there must be the ability to reason, options to chose from and also the will to pursue that which we have decided is the better choice.
If I am to give up smoking, for example, knowing that it is injurious to myself and those around me, I must know how good it will make me feel to liberate my lungs and receive the appropriate support and edification to give up. If I am to give up eating fast food, then I must learn to love preparing good food for myself and my family and similarly gain knowledge and support where it is lacking. These things can take time. In some peoples’ lives, a “wake-up call”, like a heart attack, a diabetes diagnosis, or the birth of a baby might give us us a new appreciation for how precious life is and the determination to change on a faster schedule.
The former Fox film executive Scott Neeson had a profound experience in this sense and moved to Cambodia to concentrate on philanthropy. But there are some whose vested interest (or blind self-interest) is in keeping our options limited; there are others whose creativity for thinking around the status quo has been limited by the relentless 24/7 news environment or the world of commerce and the fashionable thinking of the day and the internet information exchange.
In order to think outside the culture, and carve out a self-identity apart from it if we feel our real selves have been suppressed, we sometimes need to step out or back for a while and ponder questions such as ‘Is this how I want to live my life?’, ‘Is this helping or hindering me?’, ‘Is there another ‘me’ I would like to be?’.
It must be a conscious decision: we cannot be forcibly pried away. And it does not necessarily require physically removing yourself (for example, you may have a job to hold down). It can be a process of elimination whereby habits and thoughts and feelings are more consciously reflected on. Feelings are fickle things, so it must go deeper than that. There is a “rightness” of heart and mind and soul that comes when you feel you are becoming who you are meant to become (the process may never reach a finite point, but there must surely be this progression).
But while I can escape from the culture, shutting it out or picking and choosing things for consuming, the dominant culture still remains to be absorbed, growing in strength and power. Inevitably, we must enter back into the fray where the world exists (seemingly tilting off its axis), hopefully having learnt something and created for ourselves more solid foundations, a firm sense of self apart from the culture; better equipped to tackle the the lure of the desirables all around us that coo and call in weak moments when vanity and the ego and the desire to be just like everyone else is vying against your better sense.
You are better able to discern the good from the bad; the worthy from the worthless, but we remain imperfectly human, given over to moments of hypocrisy, weakness and relational infidelity (one’s life quest might be to overcome these very things and replace them with sure-footedness, strength and loyalty).
As culture reflects our human progression, too, even those who choose to eschew it because it offends sensibility or triggers some lesser part of themselves to commit an act of personal treason, there are pointers within the culture that alight the collective heart and remind us that, ‘Hey, it’s not all that bad after all’. A story of a victory of humanity over circumstance, like that of Aung San Suu Kyi, or the ANZAC spirit that permeates the news media each year on April 25 come to mind. Such people and events reconnect us with what we truly value as humans; what we value AND what we despise; what we can let go of and what to reprise.
The world is a diverse and interesting, promising and hope-dashing place, and we are all products of upbringing, culture and our times, for better or for worse. None of us is free of the stain of making a mistake, of calling someone out when we were wrong; of daring to think ourselves superior in some way when the truth is that we are vulnerable; most of us have unwittingly, or by choice, fallen prey to the prevailing cultural snares or into the traps of our own shortcomings (they have a habit of playing off each other). All of life must forge forward, and we learn as we go.
But we have to also accept culpability when it is the right thing to do.The turning point in my thinking about the dominant culture for girls came about 2007 when I was a stand-in panellist on the Girlfriend magazine Model Search. (As an aside, in contrast, the Girlfriend of the Year competition, which celebrates girls’ gifts, abilities and talents all the more, has sadly never attracted as much revenue as the lucrative Model Search). On that occasion, after hundreds of hopefuls had ushered past, six finalists were announced.
But two girls shared the same name of the final finalist. Two approached the stage. One was turned away.
I cannot imagine how mortified that girl (whose name I conceal) would have felt that day: a teenager publicly embarrassed because she hadn’t measured up; hadn’t made the cut. I felt immense shame and rage at the injustice of it all, my hands forever stained to have played a part in the stage show. I phoned her mother and we organised for them both to visit.
In the event of this pathetic but earnest consolation, organised as much to appease my ill feelings as to build up the girl’s self-esteem, I was humbled by the humility, willingness and positivity of her and her mother. She shared with me all the good things she was doing in her life, and the positive, affirming way that she’d been raised. Her personality popped and buzzed and fizzed over. To be in her presence was a delight. The world seemed to say, ‘It’s going to be alright’.
But it would be a terrible shame to leave this life thinking that you could have helped to make at least a small change, especially when you yourself had been complicit due to ignorance (and, to this end, we must grant each other some pardon for failing to prevail against circumstances that set the wheels in motion). John Newton knew that, that’s why he penned “Amazing Grace”. I do not like to heap blame on others, to judge or condemn, and in the event that I have in the past, I have nearly always reaped discontentment in return.
When I hear of teen modelling competitions now, I can feel only sadness. Why are we still here? Why hasn’t something changed? Has the talk not been loud enough about the damage such things are doing to girls? Who are we loving more: the images girls are told to aspire to (and the income they generate as they circulate endlessly from magazine to internet and perpetuate over and over again), or the girls whose entry cards end up on the cutting room floor? Have we not loved girls enough to create a sweeping change? Or do we, as a culture, accept that the pretty girl still wins the on the day and that she is an entirely different and superior species or commodity to the regular girl next door?
I wish I could have stopped time and suggested that two girls, not one, sharing the same name would be finalists that day on the Model Search stage. Similarly, I wish I had reached out to that girl in the cafe, and her mother, and said, “Hey, how about we hang out sometime and I’ll show you how to climb a tree or write a poem – pack your backpack and we’ll make a day of it!”. Perhaps I will get that opportunity again some day? Every opportunity lost to tell a girl that there is so much more to her than how she looks, and to show her what life could look like outside the world of celebrity and fashion, is an oversight.
It’s hard for mothers to push back against the culture when they see their girls adopting behaviours and attitudes in conflict with their best intentions. It is a minefield out there. So there must be support from families, schools and teachers, communities, churches and other organisations to help them fight the onslaught with counter-cultural messages, activities and role modelling until the collective consciousness awakens to the damage it is doing, not just today but generationally.
It is a travesty to think that every day there are girls who cannot enjoy who they are or how they look due to external politics and economic self-interests (so expertly articulated by Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth all those years ago) that creep surreptitiously (or ostentatiously, as is the case with reality TV) into her life and subconscious. But I believe this current generation is smart; it’s one that can learn from the mistakes of before and rise above to declare war on that which distorts, robs and plunders their self worth.
As the “starfish story” goes, there is value in changing just one girl, but think of what the world could be if every girl could escape the trappings of culture. To find within herself the strength and self-knowledge to be exactly who she was created to be and to learn to hold onto what’s good while confidently declaring all the rest “bin juice”.
Erica Bartle is editor of GirlWithaSatchel.com and a former deputy editor of Girlfriend magazine. She has tutored in writing at Queensland University of Technology and has written for publications including Eternity newspaper and Sunday Life magazine.
After years of being slammed with accusations that they are projecting unrealistic body image ideals onto women, Vogue magazine has finally decided to do something about it. The 19 editors of the magazines around the globe have collectively made a pact that has the fashion industry giving them a standing ovation. The move has even been hailed as marking “an evolution in the industry.”
With such hype surrounding it, is this the revolutionary change we’ve been promised? Only by a perfectly blow-dried hair’s breadth.
The move is in a bid to help promote a healthier body image, but with a declaration as ambiguous as this, it’s easy to see why the fash pack is pleased, and why the rest of us have been left wondering what it actually means.
Firstly, are our standards really so low that showcasing models who “don’t appear to have an eating disorder” is actually considered groundbreaking? Shouldn’t that be a given? And secondly, you cannot tell that someone is sick by simply giving them a quick once-over. Bulimia, for example, is extremely hard to detect because many of the signs and symptoms are not visible to the eye.
The ABC’s Dubravka Voloder also questioned this, asking Australian Vogue editor, Kristie Clements, how exactly does one police an eating disorder? Clements’ answered:
I think you just have to make a judgement as to whether the girl looks healthy, whether she’s glowing, whether she has energy. You know, that there are not bones sticking out. I don’t think you can do a BMI like a body mass index. That is sort of cookie-cutter stuff. You can’t weigh people and get the tape measure out but I think from the general demeanour of a girl and the way she presents on the page you can see whether that’s a healthy image.
Clements’ answer only raises more questions. What is a “healthy” body? What does it look like? And is not having “bones sticking out” really the most accurate measure of health they can offer?
As for the healthy glow and energy Clements’ mentioned, that can be attributed to something that was completely overlooked in Vogue’s pledge: photoshop. Across all its publications, Vogue has become notorious for its liberal use of the digital retouching program. They’ve lightened dark skin , wiped out limbs, removed all expression from models and celebrities, and even children aren’t safe – somehow in postproduction of the US September 2011 issue, several fingers were erased from a child’s hand. Plus, let’s not forget the incident where US Vogue put musician, Adele, on the cover (who represents a more accurate version of the average woman), only to whittle her down a few sizes . What kind of message does this send? That “healthy” and “average” are acceptable standards, so long as any trace of normalcy is obliterated?
Finally, Vogue’s promise has ignored a key factor in promoting a healthy body image: diversity. Aside from the token plus-size editorial spread once or twice a year (which so far have been overhyped and over sexualised ), the magazine has shown next to no variety in the shapes and sizes of women. If we were to look at the covers of Vogue US, UK and Australia from the last two years as an idea to what the average woman looks like, we could only draw the conclusion that “normal” equates to skinny and Caucasian.
The closest thing to an average woman Vogue Australia has put on their cover is Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr while she was pregnant, in their December 2010 issue. And although they have previously featured indigenous supermodel Samantha Harris, and Puerto Rican supermodel Joan Smalls, on their covers , that’s still only two women to represent culturally diverse society across two years. As for the US and UK publications, a Photoshopped Adele, and 62-year-old Meryl Streep is all they have to offer.
It is true that Vogue’s decision not to use models under the age of 16 is commendable, and the move not to use girls that look like they have an eating disorder is a lot more than the magazine has done previously in the name of promoting healthy body image. However, as author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty , Audrey Brashich, told the UK’s Daily Mail, this pledge is merely a “tiny baby step of progress.”
“The cynic in me feels like they are simply grandstanding while really just throwing a bone to an audience that is getting ever more savvy and tired of the tricks of the trade,” Brashich said.
For as significant as it is that it’s Vogue, with all its class and taste-making connotations, making this announcement, it’s also a double-edged sword. If the go-to reference for the absurdity of the thin imperative has always been Vogue, and then Vogue says it’s switching up the game, we’ve suddenly lost our reference point. Yet the referent still exists. Models are going to remain far thinner than the average woman, fashion images will continue to do their job of creating longing and desire, and otherwise sensible women will keep doing the master cleanse. All that has changed besides models’ labor conditions is that Vogue gets to seem like it’s doing the right thing, and those who have been agitating for body positivity get to feel like we’ve made progress. Vogue is doing nothing truly radical to change the thin imperative, and to pretend otherwise is to silently walk in lockstep with the very system that put us in this situation to begin with.
So although the pledge is a slight nudge in the right direction, what the magazine really needs is a solid sartorial kick. The fact still remains that at its core, Vogue is a business. It is trying to sell a product. In order for a business to survive, it has to listen to the needs of its consumers, yet all Vogue has offered is an implied guarantee. The models will not be hired under the age of 16 knowingly. The models will not be used if they appear to have an eating disorder. The models are not getting healthier, just seeming to do so. However, one definitive thing this move shows is that change is in fact brewing. For after all, a magazine cannot live off ambiguous declarations alone (and neither can its models).
While there appeared to be more ‘retouch free zones’ in this issue of Dolly (you may recall I said I’d like to see more of these), there also seemed to be even less body diversity. I couldn’t see one girl who didn’t fit the mould.
Dolly has so many pages of fashion and shopping I stopped counting. It’s the bulk of the magazine.
There’s a feature interview with Jennifer Lawrence, (also Dolly’s cover girl), Hollywood’s “latest It girl” who is Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy. She’s “freaking awesome”, apparently.
“Crush Crib Notes” tells girls how to “get” the boy they like. Stealth ways (i.e lying) include: ”Tell him you’ve lost your phone and ask if he wouldn’t mind calling it so you can find it”, “If you’re friends on Facebook, private message him saying, “I’ve lost the homework question and my laptop charger is broken…can you text it to me? My number is 1800AWESOME”. (Nothing like a bit of modesty to get the man of your dreams).
You can also “Text him: ‘you were in my dream last night.’ It’s sure to get him curious”. It may get him more than curious. Surely this will be read as a come-on? (bear in mind 11 and 12-year-olds read Dolly). There’s also 5 tips for how to make eye contact.
Justin Bieber’s new perfume Someday (“NEVER LET GO with the new fragrance for her that gives back” huh?) is scattered through the magazine. Yep, a 16-year- old boy with his own perfume line. Perhaps it’s the lingerie line next?
More useful is a two page feature on not comparing yourself to others and how to stop procrastinating. Even more timely is a feature called “Bullied to Death” about Sheniz Erkan who tragically took her life just short of her 15th birthday as a response to extreme cyberbullying. The piece cites a recent Australian report revealing that 52 percent of 13-14 year olds and 29 percent of 15-16 year-olds are victims of cyberbullying.
Joanna, 17, shares a personal account of two years with The Esther Foundations’ development program which helps out troubled young women, following bullying induced depression and self- harm. The piece also provides helpful advice on what to do if you are the target of bullies.
Another important piece is about the harms of marijuana ‘The Real Deal on Marijuana’ . According to the article, 21.5 percent of teens aged 14-19 have tried cannabis. Sandra, 16, shares how she saw the life of her best friend destroyed through marijuana. “…losing your friend to pot is the scariest thing – it’s a way more dangerous drug than you might think.” There’s a breakout box on ‘How to say No to marijuana’.
There’s a few pages on boys ‘extreme hotness’, ‘model of the month’, ‘homegrown hottie’, ‘hot factor’ (‘Did someone say T.A.S.T.Y?’)…You get the picture.
First person accounts from Dolly readers include a 17-year-old Speedway driver, a teen mum, an 18-year-old fighting to protect sharks from poachers, a 14-year-old athlete with an artificial leg, an 18- year-old ballerina, a girl with a “mystery illness”, another who survived an earthquake and a 14-year- old who stars in Nine’s ‘Tricky Business’.
Last month I wrote critically about the revival of Dolly’s Model search. This issue we meet past Dolly model search winners. Even a quick glance at the cover images from the 80’s and 90’s show just how much airbrushing and photo-shopping have changed the images we would see now.
Next issue we’re going to meet the state finalists of the Dolly Model Search. Guess I’ll have more to say then.
‘I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because it wasn’t a rejection from a high school bully, it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry’
Thank you for bringing the Dolly Model Reboot to my attention. I am disgusted and appalled. I’m sure you are already aware of the massive damage it can do. The fact that they have brought it back bothers me so much I wanted to share my story with you.
I was 15 when my mum entered me into the Dolly Model Competition. She told me it was to help me with my self-esteem which, at the time, was shockingly low. She said I was so beautiful there was no way I wouldn’t win. A mother’s naivety.
At first I was horrified because I had no respect for fashion models. I told mum that if I won, no one would ever respect me. I wanted more than to be a pretty face. I wanted to be a writer.
But she said, “What better way to get you noticed than to have everyone see your beautiful face?”
And it occurred to me that I would like to win.
I was bullied badly at school, long before I entered the competition. I had freckles and a flat chest and I was terribly shy, I wasn’t tall but I was very thin. You see, I barely ate. And I did think I had a pretty face. I’m part Native American, so I have very white skin with Indian eyes. I felt like it made me stand out.
I began to fantasise about winning the competition and not telling anybody, so they would all discover it when they saw the magazines and be sorry that they bullied me.
Of course, I didn’t win. I didn’t even make semi -finals, or get featured on the collage of entrants in the magazine. And I was crushed because I didn’t know why. The girl that won was pretty, but I just couldn’t see how I was different, or what made her, or all the other girls ‘better’ than me.
And I think the thing that is so painful is that they aren’t really better. They are all beautiful for different reasons, and for whatever reason they didn’t like the look of me.
But none of the entrants ever got to find out what was ‘wrong with us’. That’s what hurt the most. Not knowing why. All we got was the silent rejection of never having been called and knowing that for some reason we could never be told, we weren’t model pretty.
And because that was the whole point of the magazine’s message, that ‘successful’ was ‘pretty’ and ‘model’ was ‘most desired’, I started thinking that I would never really be successful because I wasn’t good enough, and that no matter how hard I worked, no one would ever pick me because I wasn’t pretty enough. The cold and silent rejection stung, and reinforced the message that I was not good enough, and that my bullies were right to pick on me.
It made me feel so worthless.
So 11 years later, after two sexually abusive ex-boyfriends, an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder that I’m still trying to control, and three suicide attempts, I have finally learned the value of myself and my life, and have clawed back some semblance of self-respect.
And I don’t blame the Dolly Model Competition for all of these things, but I do recognise it as a catalyst, and I know I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because it wasn’t a rejection from a high school bully, it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry.
Teenage girls just are not equipped to deal with the conflicting messages, and they are not equipped to deal with damaging competition and rejection.
If I knew what I know now, I would never have accepted the competition in the first place. If people had been less fixated on my looks and more on my talents and interests, I might not have accepted a boyfriend that hurt me, I might not have tried to starve myself, I might not have tried to die.
Girls are worth more than how they look, and I cannot accept that, with teens feeling the way they do, magazines like Dolly are willing to exploit them.
The Dolly Model Competition is bad news. They have enough girls clamouring for stardom in the industry, without bringing the rest of us into it.
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