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Old 27th February 2011   #1
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Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 517
Default Underweight models ''look ill'' (article)

Of late, the Daily Mail has been doing the best work of any newspaper in Britain in promoting a pro-curvy stance and slamming the fashion industry's promotion of anorexia.

Now The Guardian has offered something constructive -- a transcript of a debate on body image featuring a psychotherapist, a communications specialist, a former advertising consultant, a fashion magazine editor, and a fashion model.

Their comments are surprisingly in tune with much that has been stated at the Judgment of Paris, and refreshingly, they reject many of the canards that usually come up in these discussions. Emma John, the writer of the article, appears to have been the de facto moderator.

Here are the most significant portions:

Fashion, beauty and women's lives: the great debate

Susie Orbach and an invited group of models, academics and fashion media insiders discuss issues from cosmetic surgery to self-image affecting women from the catwalk to the classroom

27 February 2011

Emma John: Expectations for women to look "attractive" are as old as time. Is that pressure really more dangerous or prevalent now than at any other time in history?

Terri Apter: Well, if you look at girls' diaries circa 1890 and 1990, they're always talking about self-improvement. In 1890 they're talking about being better people, being more helpful, being more considerate. Whereas in 1990, when they talk about self-improvement, they're talking about their bodies: "I'm going to diet, I'm going to work out." Their body is a project and it's something they have to work on. So you can actually track the difference in that way.

Right away, I was impressed with this article due to the above statement. What a dramatic indication of cultural decline. Not only were aesthetic values healthier a century ago, but so were social values. The two are clearly linked. When a society sees self-improvement in the profound 1890s terms described above, it is a noble society; but when it sees self-improvement as diet-starvation and exercise torture, as is the case today, then it is a sorry society indeed.

I hope this prompts women to reconsider their appraisal of the past and to want to restore some of the nobler values that we have lost.

Robin Smith: I agree. I think it's about conformity. I question whether it really is about beauty. I don't think it's beautiful. I've been in advertising for 25 years. And I've spent a lot of time as an art director in the studios cutting bodies and seeing bodies cut: Cherie Blair, 30lb off her hips. She probably didn't know it was happening. It's just the normal process. The manipulation that women live with now and have done for the last 15-20 years is just huge, and it's becoming more and more normal. It's not even artistic any more; it's certainly not beautiful. It's just machined.

At last! How encouraging to see an industry professional acknowledge that the war on women's bodies is not a "cult of beauty" at all, but the opposite -- it is not beauty but ugliness that is being produced. Conformity, something "machined" -- exactly; this is what today's unnatural, androgynous standard is actually inflicting on society. I hope that more women recognize this modern vision for the soulless, unattractive look that it is.

Even the one panelist who doesn't fully recognize this as a "cult of ugliness" still commendably qualifies her use of the term "beauty":

Gwyneth Harrison: I have a good degree; I'm intelligent. But it's still really important to me that people think I'm good-looking in a way that's determined by society. I'm intelligent enough to know that that's not the most important thing about me but still, on some level, it affects you.

That's crucial, because by specifying that this warped notion of good-looking is merely "in a way that's determined by society," she acknowledges that there is a notion of good-looking that is not "determined by society" -- at least not by what the modern media dictates to society -- and that is true, timeless, full-figured beauty.

Now, here's where the discussion zeroes in on models. Notice how it even begins with the understanding that underweight models are a blight:

EJ: Why does the fashion industry persist in using skinny models when everyone seems to agree, even within the industry, that it's not helpful or necessary?

GH: Having been a model myself, still being a model but having been like a high fashion model, I've absolutely no idea. I really don't. There are so many reasons bandied around and from the inside there's not one that rings true.

EJ: It's not because the clothes look better on skinnier models?

GH: Personally, I don't think as a designer you're doing your job if your clothes only look good on women who are shaped like this. You have a job to do...There are certain clothes where women with busts and hips and bums are going to look better.

That's a fine rejection of the absurd excuse that clothes look "better" on cadaverous famine victims. Of course they don't. The panel, commendably, rejects this myth and denounces it.

You simply must read this passage, in which one of the panelists openly states the mixture of horror, revulsion, and pity that most of us feel when we look at the fashion industry's walking corpses:

KK: Every year they've got thinner and thinner and thinner. It's like, "What shall we do this year? What's going to get us on the front page? Ah, I know, let's go down a size." I saw some pictures today on a website and I just couldn't believe it. They looked like a friend of mine did, just before she died. I did a fashion shoot once and the models fainted because the photographer wouldn't let them eat. Now, I think that needs to happen more. If that happened then maybe if somebody would sit up and go, "God, what are we doing?" Because actually those women look sick, ill. They've got no life. They look dead. They've got no expression. They've got no vitality.

All too true -- and clearly, as the panelist's own anecdote indicates, the models don't merely look "sick, ill," but actually are sick and ill -- so much so that the models are collapsing on set.

But will even such obvious indications of the models' emaciation spark designers' consciences? I doubt it. I still remember the horrible video showing the Project Runway designers laughing -- laughing -- when they saw footage of their own models literally fainting on the catwalk.

TA: So why is it that we like the look of them?

KK: We don't. I don't think we do. I think a lot of people are turning their backs on it. And I think women in general have had enough. There's so many people who feel the same way. I feel like the fashion industry can't be like Mubarak any more. The fashion industry has got to listen. Because if they don't listen they're going to die like a dodo. And I think a lot of people have turned their backs on fashion magazines. I'm certain women aren't buying them as much as they used to. And yet everybody in the fashion industry is passing the buck. They're all blaming each other. The editors are probably frightened of losing their jobs.

I hope that women are turning their backs on the minus-size fashion industry. And we all know that the industry's insiders certainly are "passing the buck" on one another. Those evasions can't save them forever.

I'm less encouraged by this statement from the magazine editor, which is an excuse that we've heard before, and it remains nonsense:

Njide Ugboma: I'm definitely not going to justify thin girls at all. But a lot of the girls are really young. They're 15, 16. So you have to remember that it's not them actually being that thin, it's them being so young. It's when they get older and they're trying to maintain that 15-year-old body that there's a problem. But they are really young girls.

But there are lots of plus-size 15 and 16-year-olds! Why not book those girls instead? Being young doesn't automatically mean "skeletal." What an intolerable position. That only suggests to young girls that if they're 15 or 16 and don't look like anorexics, then there must be something wrong with them, when the opposite is true. Looking anorexic is never the default body type -- at any age.

This panelist mentions something that many readers here have often brought up -- the need for government regulation:

KK: It's an industry. It's selling something. They've got a responsibility. And there is no regulatory body for the fashion industry. I find that shocking. You know there's a regulatory body for cars, for technical stuff, for finance. Everything. Even gambling. Not for fashion. Now why is that?

The moderator then asks an interesting question and, commendably, there is none of the usual false blame towards a non-existent "patriarchy," but rather, an acknowledgment that women do this to themselves:

EJ: How much do we think women are to blame themselves? Can women really see themselves as victims of this culture when they collaborate in their own self-modification in this way? Do we really think that women don't have the power to resist?

GH: I definitely think women are their own worst enemy when it comes to this. Men just don't get it. I went to an all girls school and there's definitely a sense of competitiveness as a teenager...My worries and my friends' worries about weight and how we look are usually to do with other girls whether they be our friends, or are people you meet in the street or who you work with and very rarely to do with men.

One panelist observes the truly tragic situation of mothers passing their own body anxiety onto their daughters, in a never-ending cycle of self-hatred:

SO: ...Girls are growing up seeing mothers and it's not to blame them with very insecure bodies. Mothers who are fretting about their bodies. Most little girls grew up hearing their mothers going, "I'm too f**. I'm not OK. I shouldn't eat this. How awful I look."

One of the participants, wisely, points out that the problem is even more insidious than airbrushing:

RS: It's not airbrushing. This is skeletal manipulation. Extension of legs, cutting out, removal of skin pores, changing of skin tone and texture, putting in cheeks. It's a complete makeover in the way you used to customise a car.

Notice, with the "car" reference, how this is again identified as something that is symptomatic of a world with a mechanized, materialist mindset, treating people like interchangeable worker-drones, indistinguishable units of a so-called "proletariat."

The panel also offers a welcome slam of the horrors of any kind of cosmetic surgery (the very thought of which appalls me):

TA: It's defacing, it's distorting. And you know you look at people who have had it and on the whole they look awful. I mean, talk about erasing the self and self-expression, the activity, the expressiveness of the body! It's this mindset of the body as a project. That's as grotesque as the surgery in itself.

Again, a fine example of how some commentators are rubbishing the myth that the modern, unfeminine standard is in any way "beautiful," but pointing out that it is the opposite, something that produces a look that's aesthetically "awful." Because it truly is.

Not everything in the article is as on-point as one wishes, and Liz Jones's recent piece for the Daily Mail was on the whole more visceral and compelling, but this is an excellent discussion, one which shows that some of the myths and excuses that are used to justify the androgynous aesthetic are finally crumbling. I hope this continues and helps to result in the restoration of timeless beauty -- the beauty that prevailed in the 1890s, for example, which, as even these panelists refreshingly admit, had healthier values than those of our own misbegotten, modern age.
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