Skinny models and our obsession with appearance

The fashion industry has bestowed on us all manner of treats. Racists, misogynists, homophobes, fattists, just for starters.

Another oh-so-wonderful gift is all the bloody marketing. Be it manifesting in a double-page spread in Vogue or the latest too-thin/gapped tooth/asexual sensation sashaying down the catwalk, the only way the industry can convince sane-ish people to spend swags of cash on branded malarkey is via marketing. Without constant exposure to images of glamour lifestyles we’d completely fail to hate our own lives and thus neglect to buy theirs.

While fashion has a vested interest in constant change, some peripheral industry constants remain. Shock horror, for example, wearing logoed denim won’t actually make our lives better. Equally, with the exact same regularity as new and disposable clothing flooding into stores, commentators will engage in yet another round of chatter about pore-less, wrinkleless models in advertising and unimaginably thin models on catwalks.

Feminists concerned about objectification. Psychologists worried about unattainable beauty benchmarks. Whingey mothers confident that the industry will somehow convince their daughters to spread their legs.

Every time there’s a fashion week. Every time the Advertising Standards Board reviews a complaint. Every time that models in the twilight of their careers divulge diets of cigarettes and tissues. In and out, in and out of the media cycle goes the very same conversations about an industry that exists to peddle delusions and not engineer social change.

The latest incarnation of this conversation is the proposed French legislation aiming to eliminate models with too-low BMIs.

Fashion is a business. It’s about finding new ways to get us to buy things we don’t need and to quickly hate everything we own. Rinse, repeat.

My use of the word “industry” earlier was no accident. Fashion is a business. It’s about finding new ways to get us to buy things we don’t need and to quickly hate everything we own. Rinse, repeat.

And this industry wouldn’t keep splashing cash on expensive advertising campaigns – and certainly wouldn’t keep sending skeletal models down the runway – if they didn’t believe this parade of absurdity worked. If consumers really cared about the ubiquitousness of Photoshopping, if they really cared about skinny models on the catwalk, then we’d vote with our purses. This hasn’t happened in the decades that we’ve been jibber-jabbering about these issues because those with genuine concern are a) in the minority and b) not in the target market for overpriced ego strokes.

Truth be told I don’t have that much of a beef with the proposed French laws. I actually think a critical function of the state is to be seen to be doing the right thing, to be seen to care, even if in reality holding designers accountable will be pretty much impossible and any financial penalties will just get factored into a marketing budget.

I care much more however, about the fact that we keep arguing – invariably hypocritically – around the edges of much more concerning industry problems.

We have debates about too-skinny models for example, in a culture where we’re repeatedly told that we’re fatty boombas. Skinny is bad. Fat is bad. Perfect is unattainable. Here, buy a handbag.

We have debates about too-skinny models under the guise of advocating healthy body image while simultaneously reminding girls that they are permanently being judged for their appearance no matter what the hell they look like.

In continuing to have the same airbrushing/skinny model debates, we are subtly repeating the damaging message that appearance is the most important thing a woman has to offer. That the appearance of women is worth talking about. Endlessly. That even if a girl’s not yet obsessing over every kilo lost or gained, fear not, because pundits will be more than happy to step in and do this on her behalf.

Sure, there’s something wrong with a culture that wants to see emaciated women in fashion marketing.

There’s also something wrong with these same models doing interviews regaling their enormous appetites and miraculous metabolisms. And there’s something wrong with a size 10 model being called plus-sized.

And most of all, there’s something very, very wrong about thinking that the fashion industry has any interest or obligation to make us feel good about our bodies. To reflect our own body shapes. Or skin tone. Or neuroses.

Creating BMI-based legislation to address an ill-defined problem is lip service and at best politically correct government rhetoric that will do nothing to change a toxic industry.

March 17, 2015

© Lauren Rosewarne

Original Source: ABC The Drum