Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Role Models

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. It's an ad for an Italian clothing brand. They claim at least that they're trying to combat the problem of fashion industries promoting an anorexic look, by showing the true horrors of anorexia. It's pretty grim. And certainly if I think back to when I was anorexic (almost 15 years ago now) it's a realistic portrayal (although the model pictured is much thinner than I ever got - apparently she's 4st12lbs - 76lbs, I never really went below 7st - 112lbs).

The thing is - I'm not sure that frightening women is going to prevent anorexia. I mean it now seems that the message is - don't be fat but don't be too thin either. I think women already have more than enough messages about what they shouldn't look like and what they should find disgusting about themselves. I think the approach that would really help is if fashion houses showed a real range of women, old, young, fat, thin, etc. And I mean a REAL range - not one token super-photogenic black woman and one stick-thin white 40-year-old alongside half a dozen Kate Moss-alikes.

Actually I have a theory on this. I think if your advert is going to use the term "all" or "everyone" - like the GAP ads - "everyone in khaki" or even the "we all love clover" adverts for that, err, butter-style spread (? mmmm...) then for every two models put forward by the advertiser an independent board (me) will provide a third model. And I'm REALLY going to push the envelope. So if you say "everyone in khaki" and your size range only goes up to a 16, I'll be sending a size 28 model along and then we'll see if your products look good on everyone.

The other advantage to my plan is that it will provide an extra source of income for that weird relative you always try to avoid inviting to parties. Creepy Uncle Neville? No he won't be able to come to Jenny's wedding - he's off on a £1000-a-day modeling contract for butter-style spread in the south of France.


Jennifer Ewing said...

The vibe I get from that poster is still "you really don't want to look that ugly". Which really isn't ideal, it's like if you are anorexic you should feel shame and probably not go outside before you've eaten a few chocolate eclairs. There are so many things about anorexia that are worse than just looking thin.

It also suggests that if it was something that didn't affect your appearance, no one would give a shit. In fact in general, I don't think appearance should be relevant in debates about body fat - if it's causing or exacerbating health problems, that's when people should be receiving advice about it.

That's what makes me sceptical when I see feminists wanting to break down the whole beauty myth by saying fat can be beautiful. It shouldn't matter whether it's beautiful or not - what we're trying to do away with is the requirement for women to be beautiful at all times. It shouldn't be about talking yourself into feeling beautiful before you can get on with everything else.

Winter said...

As an ex-anorexic I have a lot of problems with that image. First, I think it's horribly objectifying to use a real live woman's body to create a sense of abject disgust. Second, the poster makes the mistake of assuming that women become anorexic simply to look good, so if they see how "disgusting" it is to look anorexic they won't do it anymore. This is patently wrong! Showing me that image when I was ill might have made me feel even more shitty, but it wouldn't have helped my eating distress at all because the illness had it's root in all sorts of problems in my life. Yes, they were gendered problems but they weren't simply the result of looking at posters of thin women. And as Zenobia says doesn't this really just reiterate the whole women have to be beautiful rule, as in anorexia is bad because it ain't pretty?

Cruella said...

Yeah very good points, the idea that the best way to convince women to do something is to convince them that it's unattractive not to is pretty fucked up in itself isn't it. I remember those weird anti-smoking adverts - with a cigarette stubbed out in a jar of face cream and a slogan about smoking causing premature skin aging. As though we'd all be a lot less bothered by lung cancer than by a few wrinkles...

Holding_Eternity said...

Zenobia makes a really, really good point.

Anyway, first priority should be your health. Have a healthy diet - EAT but don't OVEREAT all day either, and do some cardiovascular exercise for god's sake. It's not always about WEIGHT its about overall good, lasting health. Then, if you want, you can think about how you look. I feel like its just as irresponsible to tell girls that fat is beautiful as it is to tell them they need to be a size 2. That is missing the point entirely. It's as if health is a non issue as long as your looks are accepted/admired. Your body's sole purpose is not to visually please random strangers.