Thursday, November 05, 2009

Good Mental Health Guideline 2: Forget Models

The other day my perspective on the whole models issue shifted. I spent a lot of time, especially when I was in my twenties, brooding over the fact that I did not look anything like a magazine model.

The story, "Should Fashion Reflect Fantasy or Reality," was about a photo in Glamour magazine that got a lot of attention. It featured a beautiful, smiling blonde woman wearing just her undies, but the shocker was that the model had a small but visible belly bulge.

The story did not get my attention because I really believed that "fashion industry is 'sizing up.'" because of one 3" x 3" photo in a whole magazine full of the more familiar airbrushed models. I tried to call in to say how ridiculous it seemed to make a fuss over one picture, but of course, I couldn't get through. Glamour has used pictures like this before, and they always get lots of positive comments, but they continue to only use images like this in stories about how we should learn to love our bodies "no matter what" or in discussions about how to hide "flaws."

It also wasn't because the callers were so accepting of this supposed change in the fashion industry. There were plenty of supportive calls, but there were also the usual arguments that clothes look better on tall, thin people and that we shouldn't "encourage obesity," as if this model was anywhere close to obese. According to Newsweek:

At 5'11 and 180 pounds, she has a body mass index (a weight-for-height formula used to measure obesity) of 25.1, which is two-tenths of a point above what the National Institute of Health deems "normal."
Showing a model who is two-tenths of a percentage into the "overweight"on the BMI scale is hardly encouraging obesity. If the model lost the few pounds necessary to drop her into the "normal" range, I don't think her appearance would change enough to satisfy the commenters who were lamenting this unhealthy role model appearing among all the other "healthy" models.

The reason it changed my viewpoint is that it showed how ridiculous it is to think that I should care what kind of models Glamour or any other magazine puts in its pages. When a fashion editor lets us know that plus-sized clothes are modeled by women who are 5'9" and wear a size 6 or 8, and when they admit that the typical photo shoot uses "child models" from Eastern Europe, I think it's all too ridiculous to generate much emotion in me. When even one of these models is photoshopped so that her pelvis is smaller than her head, it becomes clear that this is a farce. When someone uses Michelle Obama, who is intimidatingly fit, as an example of a woman who is not represented in magazines because magazines are about aspiration and fantasy, it is something I just can't care about anymore. It becomes obvious, as Robin Givhan says, that "
this isn't meant to be literal" -- that there is no way that you can think that these should be our role models, just as you wouldn't wear a designer ball gown on the beach and let the hem of the dress trail into the ocean.

The funniest moment was when someone asked about the unattainability of male model images and the commentator was incredulous that men would worry about something so silly:
I don't think that the average man looks at a model, a male model who has the body type of a 12-year-old and says, you know, oh, gosh. I need to stay out at the gym and cut back on, you know, my protein so I can achieve that.
I think we need to "man up" here and realize that it's just as silly for adult women to aspire to the body type of a 12-year-old girl as it is for a grown man to want to look like a boy. We can either enjoy these images as an interesting art form (I actually enjoy the ones in Vogue more than in other magazines, because they are so spectacular that there is no pretense of attainability -- the clothes and everything are so over-the-top that we know it's just art) or ignore them altogether.
I don't think the magazines are really going to change because they've had plenty of time to do so if they cared what women thought. It's not as if we haven't been hearing for decades how bad women and girls feel when they see impossibly thin models.

My guess is that more women are tuning out, and that Glamour's attempt to garner attention with some "normal" women in their magazine is because we're in a recession, and fashion magazines and designer clothes are easy items to cut from the budget, especially when women have gotten the message, whether intended or not, "that fashion isn't for them." Maybe one plus of the recession might be that now it's hurting them as much as it used to hurt us.


  1. I was really surprised to read all the hoopla about the Glamour photo. I hope they actually hold up on their promise to include a a diversity of models in their magazine from now on...

  2. I would be very surprised if they did. They have given lip service to this issue before, and their idea of body diversity is to include a size 2 among the size 0s.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07