This originally began as comments in my post about Damn You Alexis by my friend Diana, who you may remember from here, and who took photos of me a few weeks ago. She’s a complete stunner as well as a fashion photographer herself, and she pointed out how uncomfortable she was that the model used looked significantly smaller than the clothes being sold.
I know there’s been a massive amount of debate on this issue, for example the ASOS Curve models, Crystal Renn for Evans after losing weight, and so forth. For what it’s worth: I have no problem at all with straight size models! What I do feel strange about is the continued use of models who just about, if you squint and tilt your head, could be considered “plus size” modelling for a specifically plus size line, and the ramifications of that.
Apparently, tons and tons of research has been done on this sort of thing – and every time a model size 20 or over gets used, it’s really unsuccessful. Allegedly. The word that gets tossed about is “aspirational” – women want to think these clothes will make them look their absolute best, but a model that is genuinely similar to their size – or, heavens forbid, even larger! – is too close to comfort and apparently puts them off. As for me, I wonder whether they’ve been styled well enough, or shot by a good enough photographer, but what people in the industry say is that no matter what, showing women who actually fit into the clothes is offputting to customers. So they use thinner ones.
Here’s Diana‘s response, detailing exactly why she thinks it’s problematic. Please note there may be some triggering language regarding body image, health and weight.
That notion of “aspirational” advertising is rubbish within this sort of context. There is nothing wrong with using models from the smaller end of a range, as it is a size 6 / 8 which ends up selling a range of clothes aimed at people who will generally sit in a size 14 – 16 because I understand that notion of “perhaps I’ll look like that if I wear it”. And if transplanted, the higher sizes of this range such as the 24 / 26, would work with the model being an 18. Even a 16, pinned slightly. It just makes me angry because the women in these photos wouldn’t be able to buy these clothes to fit in that way, which in my eyes makes it as much of a lie as an insult.
– Just want to do a little pointing out here, as a lot of you guys will be like “OMG Crystal Renn for Evans after she got slim!” It turns out that Crystal had a contract with Evans to be the face of the brand for three years, and it expired recently. So if it seemed a little off that Crystal Renn started losing weight and was still modelling for them, that was why.
If I want aspirational images, like most people we all have our ideal selves in our head, whether it’s a bit bigger, a bit smaller, or pretty dam close to where we are but just with a new hairstyle. I don’t need a clothing line catering for a larger size to say “Oh hey, here are some clothes, but you know what, they won’t look that good on you so here’s what you could look like if you decided to put down the cheeseburger and visit a gym”. I find it patronising, annoying, and filled with so much bias and loathing and it sends out such an unhealthy message mentally. We already have people like Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld to pass comment and make people feel inadequate. However, their clients are almost entirely made up of people who will to an extent, share or at least adhere to the virtues of their personal asthetic beliefs. Although it’s unkind, it’s a different market so they can, in essence, pass as much judgement as they want and not damage their own market, and upset their potential sphere of customers.
However this style of advertising and thinking within the plus size clothing world is NOT ON. There is enough guilt and shame as it is. People should be allowed to feel beautiful, wear pretty clothes, and not be made to feel abnormal or subhuman in any way. Some people over eat. Some don’t. Some people have hormonal issues which cause weight loss or gain. Some people have wobbly arms, some people have legs which look like they’d break under the weight of a stocking. It is apparently ok to look underweight. Applauded even. But to be a few too many pounds to get rid off that muffin top over those skinny jeans, then ohmygod, you’re Satan in red lipstick to the very people who are selling to you. More than anything, this is what irritatates me.
FASHION IS NOT A QUESTION OF HEALTH. I cannot stress that enough. Sure, being overweight may be unhealthy. Being underweight can be massively dangerous as well. But… and here’s the irony… being in the middle; a healthy body, healthy bmi… it’s still not good enough for fashion. Because, it’s not about health. It’s about HOW THE CLOTHES LOOK. Health is what is pushed in the face of those “unlucky” (and I use that term with my tongue firmly in my cheek) enough to be carrying a bit of extra winter warmth on the body to shame us, but it all comes down to how the clothes look. Or else everyone on the catwalk would be 5’6″ and a size 10 – 14! Not 6’2″ and extremely lean – occasionally to the point of danger. And now, we get proof that plus size fashion feels the same way.
Personally speaking I’m quite lucky that in terms of my size, I kind of slot between straight and plus. I can wear an 18, and sometimes squeeze into a 16 if it’s the right material and I’m wearing an ohmygodcannotbreathcorset. But like many people, I have lots of body hang-ups and, yes, would like to be a smaller size, especially with the nature of my job as a fashion photographer. I am certain that there is at least one shoot in the past that I didn’t get in the end despite being the best photographer for it, not because of my portfolio, but because I wasn’t a cool looking, floppy-fringed, waif-like beauty. And it annoyed me massively. That was enough “aspirational” negativity for me to pretty much stop eating my already low-fat, low-everything vegetarian lifestyle, and add a whole load of other borderline bullimic ellements into the mix to lose weight that was only there because my body can’t get rid of glucose properly, not because I over eat.
I don’t need these kinds of ad campaigns rubbed in my face. And to be honest, if I’d been asked to shoot a plus campaign with a model that’s too small for the actual clothes, I would have told them in no uncertain terms to go to hell. Plus size fashion is far more body conscious than straight size, and has more politics and boundaries that need to be addressed.
I’m not stupid; I understand as a photographer that an idea and perception are being sold, just as much as the product itself. However I am not comfortable that within the confines of campaigns like this, what’s actually being sold is more akin to a lie and a lack of self worth.