Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Blow to the "Gazelle-like"

Reuters is reporting that Madrid's fashion week, a premiere fashion show, has stirred controversy by launching a ban on "overly thin" models, citing the promotion of unhealthy body image as leading to eating disorders like anorexia and bullemia. Roughly a year and a half ago, I blogged about "Skinny White Bitches", referencing mainstream standards of beauty as being unhealthily skewed towards the unbelievably thin and racialized to marginalize people of colour. At the end of my rant I asked,

But then again, I look at Sarah Jessica Parker and Joss Stone, and I wonder why it is that the Gap and other clothing companies, which carry so much influence over young women's sense of beauty, can't promote more representative body types of all colours? Why can't traditionally white magazines like Cosmo and Sixteen feature beautiful, full-figured women of colour?
I responded to these questions by saying:
The bottom line is that, in the short term, that would translate into a loss of sales as the women already socialized into hating their own bodies would refuse to buy the magazines.
I'm glad to see that I was wrong. I was pleasantly shocked this morning when I read the headline -- could it really be? Was the same fashion industry that has for a generation lauded the "famine-druggie-chic" of Kate Moss once again promoting more healthy female forms that leave room for a woman to possess internal organs in their proper placement? By placing itself at the forefront of this socially responsible act, Madrid is sending the message that it's not just about money anymore, that industries must take responsibility for how their products can cause deleterious effects on society, even if those effects are intangible and hard to quantify. Of course, what's most fun about the article is not the ban on overly-thin models, but the modeling agencies' response to the restriction. Cathy Gould of New York's Elite modeling agency is quoted as coming to the defense of (get this) "gazelle-like" models:
"I think its outrageous, I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer[?]"
First of all, I think the word of the day must be "gazelle-like". Talk about a great euphemism for "starving". Imagine if the U.N. started sending humanitarian aid not to regions of famine, but to rescue people from "gazelle-like" conditions. Or that you couldn't buy clothing in S, M or L, but in "gazelle-like", "gazelle-ish", and "gazelle-not". And secondly, why should I care about discrimination against the model? If I were worried about discrimination against fashion models, I would speak out against the treatment of fashion models as walking clothes hangars, without brains, doomed to an existence of being seen and not heard. I would speak out against the inherent sexism of dressing women up and parading them around like dolls to be leered at by salivating men. I would speak out against an industry using women to tell other women how to think about themselves, other women, and the world around them. But talking about discrimination against skinny fashion models -- with the emphasis on skinny -- is like talking about discrimination against Whites because we want to remove White privilege. Talking about discrimination against skinny models is like saying that Aundrea, Aubrey, Dawn and Shannon of Danity Kane fame are losing out because D. Wood's bootylicious ass (far left in the picture below) is getting paid to be on the same CD case as they are (albeit clothed in more layers than the rest of their outfits combined to hide the "rolls" and pushed off to the side so that we can focus on the skinny White bitches who get to take center stage). Yes, after this restriction, it might be harder for a skinny fashion model to get a job, but only harder because now the playing field is being equalized as more "plus-sized" models (as in, plus compared to size 2) get the jobs that have been long denied to them because of discrimination they face in favour of the skinny models. And as a girl who wears size 8-10, I'm all the happier because of it. The fashion industry needs to realize that we (the "plus-sized" women) are beautiful and their consumer base. And maybe all this will actually lead to the second necessary step in the fashion industry: revolutions in clothing that can actually fit a normally-sized woman. How often has the average woman seen a beautiful outfit that they would love to wear, except that it only fits right when made in sizes 0-4? As a buxom curvaceous woman, it's virtually impossible to find a trendy outfit that not only fits my curves, but actually hangs properly when it does it. So many of the latest fashion trends have been made to fit those with "gazelle-like" figures: from Uggs to those poofy skirts, to the peasant tops -- all these cuts of clothing tend to make any but the most stick-figure thin look short and dumpy. Activists are frequently asked for pro-active solutions to social problems. For Asian Americans, for example, we often must address the question if Asian American screenwriters are doing enough to increase the quality and quantify of Asian American representation on the big screen. And when we say "no", we're usually cited as being impossible to please and asking too much. Well, here, Madrid has set a fine example of what can be done by leading members of a particular industry. The Madrid fashion week is a prestigious event and rather than shirk from what it feels are its moral obligations, Madrid threw care to the wind and took a bold stand -- one which the fashion industry is more-or-less forced to abide by. Madrid's stance has also made the world consider more closely the role that fashion models play in our standards of beauty and the connection between that and ever-increasing instances of eating disorders in the world's youth. Madrid has shown by its action that this is an international problem with an equally international (and, really, relatively simple) solution. All it took was one person (or in this case, one city) to take an unpopular stance. That being said, one down-side is that Madrid will be using BMI to make its determination of who can and cannot participate in the fashion week. Although it's better to use numbers than subjective characteristics, the BMI is a flawed index that is incapable of distinguishing between fat vs. muscle content of a person's body. Although it's hard to conceive of a more precise measurement that is as easy to take, that probably would have been preferred over supporting the BMI.


Anonymous Jay said...

Ah yes, equality is discrimination because the privileged have less benefits than before. That's great.

(You're right. Businesses noticing externalities? That's a relatively new thing. Only smart people get externalities.)

9/13/2006 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger barbara jane said...

Amen, and thanks for calling our attention to this article.

9/13/2006 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

here here!!

Could that Dannity Kane shit not be more offensive? I remember when Carnie Wilson was always behind the piano, but THIS is what we're hiding now!!!!!!!!!!!!!

not only am I not skinny, but I'm short (& you know how we just can't carry clothes)! NYT had an article about how many designers are no longer making petites & department stores are no longer carrying them. So that means I have less of a selection of clothes AND I must attempt to have ill-proportioned garments tailored to fit me. The same article discussed how St. John shifted their advertising focus from 40-ish women of some mean$ to tall, skinny Angie Jo in their print adds. AND of course the sizes & styles of the clothes changed too.

I am not poor, but I sure as HELL ain't wealthy. I'm at the point where I have to put aside $ to have certain garments made!!!

Gazelle-like...dear god those fashion people take themselves SO...DAMN....SERIOUSLY. Discrimination and freedom? I have a serious problem with people using such serious concepts to justify bullshit. HEIFER, PLEASE! St. John freely exercised its right to tell its consumer base to fuck off! Discrimination is when you continue to book for a designer (Prada putanna I'm talkin' to you) that does not use non-white women in its shows. Discrimimination is when you need to book someone to do a skincare line & the Pakistani, Nigerian etc.. women don't exude "clear complexion". Discrimination is when someone asks for a "classic" beauty, or the "girl-next-door" & the Vietnamese, Bolivian women's pictures end up on the bottom of the pile.

While I'm on the subject, you're going to have to do better than Gisele Bundchen (bless her dear, sweet heart) for Brazil. I mean give me a fucking break.....of all the women in that country....

PET PEEVE: If I, Jenn, or any other non-white person can go to a makeup counter & not find a shade that is at least reasonably close to our complexions, YOU CANNOT DARE CALL YOURSELF AN INTERNATIONAL MAKEUP LINE. (Laura Mercier - best foundation my black ass). If you can't assist a non-white woman in picking out colors that look good, you don't need to be there honey until you get more training. My poor friend (Chinese +Korean) said Nars put foundation on her that made her look like the Green Goblin!!!!!!

Cathy Gould: [whiny voice] but doesn't it make business sense to focus on white women who [presumably] have disposible income?

Answer: umm is there ever a legitimate bu$ine$$ reason to ignore the majority of the world's population. Sure, not every nation will be able to afford your foundation. But that hasn't stopped MAC from trying...

9/14/2006 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Filby said...

What gets me about this "discrimination against the gazelle-like" BS is that being skin-and-bones thin is a wholly unnatural state of being. One might as well claim discrimination against people who practice self-mutilation.

9/14/2006 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger RachelsTavern said...

gatamala (imitating Gould) said, [whiny voice] but doesn't it make business sense to focus on white women who [presumably] have disposible income?"

Yeah, this whole notion that the numerical majority of the worlds population is wealthy and white is absurd. Seriously, why do they think Walmart has gotten so rich?? It's not by selling to rich white folks.

Of course, as Jenn points out, this industry has also helped contribute to self hating by most women, so many of us believe the hype. And in reality those of us white women who are neither blonde nor thin are probably the worst of the self-hating bunch. Many of us think that if we just lose a few pounds and find the right hair dye we'll be all set. In my own experience (judging by friends, relatives, and a few studies) women of color tend to be a little less likely to believe the hype.

9/14/2006 09:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Adam said...

On a totally different note, what the heck is up with the name "Dannity Kane"? Where the f*ck did it come from? It's one of the worst "band" names I've heard in years! I would have thought that Diddy would put more effort into a great name for a "band" he spent 2+ years putting together.

Additionally, D. Woods is one of the sexier and more "real" women of the group. Sure, she has curves, but they should be celebrated as adding to the diversity of the group, not down-played and hidden behind excessive layers of clothing. Beyoncé's is appreciated for being curvy, I would have thought that an astute businessman and observer of culture like Diddy would have caught on to that.

9/15/2006 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger JJ the Inquisitive said...

But talking about discrimination against skinny fashion models -- with the emphasis on skinny -- is like talking about discrimination against Whites because we want to remove White privilege.

RIGHT THE FUCK ON. What is it about so many liberal folks that they can spot heteronormativity, White privilege, class privilege, male privilege, and other systems of oppression from a mile away, but try to talk to them about thin privilege and they have no goddamn clue? (Or, worse, they shudder and say "but fat people are ugly" as if their fucked-up-society-driven aesthetic sense should have anything to do with what rights people are given?)

Every time this issue is brought up, there are a few really thin girls who complain because they don't MEAN to be skinny, and it's not THEIR fault that they just happen to have the most privileged body type, and the idea that models should be heavier is discrimination against them! At which point I tell them to shut the fuck up because all they're doing is demanding that they keep their thin privilege at the expense of the 95% of women who aren't unhealthily thin.

There's also the extent of the ubiquity of this particular bodily ideal. Because of the all-pervasive mass media, which creeps into more and more corners of our daily existence, the super-skinny ideal that had previously applied only to fashion models now applies to all women - and women are seen as unattractive if they are healthy. How sick is it that the majority of women, whose bodies don't tend to the "gazelle-like", must contract a fatal illness (anorexia) in order to be considered attractive in this society?

9/15/2006 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IRL, model-skinny is not considered sexy by a large number of men and women. Fit is considered sexy. I'd rather be Xena than Gabrielle, even if clothes are hard to find.


9/16/2006 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... I went back and read your piece on "Skinny White Bitches" and I have to say that I was surprised that such an obviously intelligent, sensitive (albeit profoundly angry) person would think it appropriate or desirable to use this term to describe a whole segment of the population. Has your hyper-sensitivity to POC race issues blinded you to the fact that some people might be offended by being called a "skinny white bitch"? After all, many of these people are no more responsible for their colour or size than you are for yours. Many of them aren't bitches either.

10/04/2006 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, meant to also add this


10/04/2006 05:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where to start? First off, media has also backlashed against skinny women, That Richie girl from the simple life as an example. Furthermore, skinny or in shape is sexier than flabby and overweight. SO, maybe 10-20% of the population fit this category. That means the other 80% of us need to stop complaining and learn to live with ourselves. It's not hollywood's fault you are unhappy. Everyone, skinny and fat, has problems get over it and enjoy life. Bottom line, some people are more attractive than others just like some people are smarter than others. Its a fact of life that will never change. Get over it.

10/05/2006 05:15:00 PM  

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