Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mmmm Bop. Fashion.

(*I should begin by saying that throughout this blog I am referring to high fashion modelling. I fully support the work of campaigns like All Walks, who want to encourage more diversity in the ages, races and body shapes we are used to seeing in modelling more generally.)

Fashion is notoriously elitist. This we know and accept this, and arguably it's part of its appeal.

It may surprise some people to learn that I am the product of a veritable fashion dynasty. It’s in my genes, quite simply (or jeans, if you like). My mother is a former catwalk model who met my father because he was one of the few heterosexual fashion buyers operating in the West End at the time. My now deceased legend of a Great Uncle was a Master Tailor for Jaegar and my Aunt is a big-effing-deal at Frank Usher.(I was, as you can imagine, the very best dressed baby you could have ever wished to encounter.)

You might assume then that I, dazzled by frequent reminiscing about the glamorous World of couture and celebrity, became enchanted by the idea of becoming a model myself, hence my foray into this industry in my early 20s. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I was scouted literally by accident, when I walked into the wrong casting at what I had thought was a singing audition. My Mum, who was always attracted to and disenchanted by fashion in equal measure, regularly drummed into me the notion that modelling was something you did when you were too stupid to do anything else.

Whilst I’m not even sure that she truly believes this (modelling does require some unique skills and credentials), I was never under any illusion that fashion modelling was anything else than JUST ANOTHER JOB. Some people are cut out for it, but, just like any other job, they are in a minority.

Why did I feel the need to give you this glimpse into my family history? Well, it all arises from a conversation I had with a fashion industry insider over the weekend, who seemed to believe that my ethics as a body confidence campaigner and hers as a lover of fashion and all who sail in it, were unable to comfortably co-exist.

She seemed stunned when I was able to list some designers I admire and reveal some passion for couture as an art-form. She paused, mid-breath through what was clearly a well-rehearsed lecture extolling the virtues of heroin chic to look at me with a new-found respect (or at least that is what I interpreted it to be). I suspect that her expectation was that I would blame the fashion industry for poisoning our perceptions of beauty and for being the root of all low self esteem.

But I don’t. The problem is not the fashion industry. The issue is the perception of it as something which is not only aspirational above all other potential professions but also attainable by Every Person.

You wouldn’t harbour a lifelong ambition to be an Accountant if you were rubbish at maths. Similarly, if you are naturally short, curvaceous or over 25 years of age you aren’t designed for the traditional catwalk. This doesn’t make you any less of a worthy person. It just means you have a slightly different skillset to Naomi Campbell.

Last week, we were shocked by the story of 20 year old Claudia Aderotimi, who died after receiving the illegal buttock implants she believed would propel her into a life of hip-hop stardom. I’d apply the same logic here. Whilst the beauty industry insider I interviewed on my Colourful Radio show last week argued that it was Claudia’s right to pursue her dream by whatever means possible, I’d maintain that she should find another profession to excel in (one with less emphasis on the gluteous muscles perhaps) and not think anything less of herself for it. We can (mostly) agree that eating disorders are a terrible thing – As is anything which arises out of a desire to fit a certain aesthetic and carries the risk of death.

So, next time you are pouring over the fashion pages of your favourite glossy, see the models for what they are – human coat hangers physically designed to showcase the work of designers who are creating a piece of art not destined to flatter a normal, healthy human body. Enjoy it like you would a surrealist’s painting, but don’t make it part of your reality.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

My Newest Outrage: The Statue of Liberty is on a Diet

As a dedicated Body Confidence Campaigner for almost three (count ‘em!) years now, few things shock me. I may be saddened, disheartened, surprised or disappointed, but gone are the days when I am incandescent with burning hot rage on an almost daily basis. This is good news for my blood pressure. It’s difficult to live life with that degree of anger circulating in your system and harbouring a constant suspicion that the World is unjust. That doesn’t, of course, signify that I am any less devoted to stamping out the causes of body insecurity and narrow beauty ideals, it’s simply an indication that I’m less likely to rant at high volumes for hours on end to anyone who will listen (which is a blessed relief to all my friends and family, who were collectively getting an awfully big earache circa December 2009).

However, my current calm equilibrium was shattered three days ago as I casually flipped through one of the weekly celeb glossies (ostensibly for “research”, I do PR you know darling, but actually just because, well, you know). An advertisement for a slimming aid showed the Statue of Liberty with a tape measure around her newly svelte waist. I would estimate the oh-so-familiar proportions of one of the World’s most iconic landmarks had been reduced by a total of one third.

The implications of this moronic and highly offensive advert are myriad. It suggests that paradigms of beauty are now so fixedly and utterly changed that we must go back throughout history and “correct” those who do not fit today’s super slender standards. What’s next? Will we shave a few inches from Monroe’s ample hips? Shall we decide that the Mona Lisa has too much puppy fat in her enigmatic face? Will Reuben’s paintings be eliminated from art history altogether?

Yet far more offensive than that is the idea that Libertas, the Roman Goddess of Freedom, an icon of hope in a new and exciting World should be at all concerned with the circumference of her waist. Even a mythical emblem carved in stone, it seems, cannot escape the scathing criticism of a body image obsessed civilisation.

Susie Orbach once conjectured that (to paraphrase) any woman who takes up too much space in a man’s world, who stands too rigid and proud and refuses to apologise for herself, will be put in her place by overt reference to her physical shortcomings. It seems that even the Statue of Liberty is, sadly, no exception.