Like most fashion lovers, my admiration of pretty things and pretty people has me flicking through magazines, trawling blogs and online/window shopping at least once every day. I love seeing new collections on the runways and considering the concepts the designer is putting out there, and then picking out the styles and shapes I like and looking for similar pieces on the high street rails.
For me, part of the glamour of the fashion industry is that there are some style goals, which are not universally reachable – whether for financial or physical reasons. I know that I will never be taller than 5ft 4 (ok, 3½), that I will never have a willowy frame and that I will always – no matter how much exercise I do – have a real, right-there, can’t-miss-it, bum, but this doesn’t prevent me from admiring the creations of fashion designers which would only look good on someone with the figure of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley or Christy Turlington.
However, alongside reports on prestigious fashion weeks across the world there is one debate which perpetually rears its head, and the past few weeks have been no exception: what is the fashion industry telling us about body image?
Last week, a $10,000 reward was offered by US website, Jezebel, to anyone who could provide the original, pre-Photoshopped images of Lena Dunham’s cover story in American Vogue.
Image courtesy of David Shankbone, Flickr Creative Commons
For those who may not be familiar with her, Lena Dunham is the writer and star of the hugely successful HBO series, Girls; a show not afraid of exhibiting the naked human form. Dunham is known for her attitude towards those who bitch about her size and question her willingness to allow warts and all footage of her body to be broadcast in this way. And yet, whilst she’s been lambasted by some for this lack of filtering, she has also been attacked from the other side for allowing herself to be photoshopped for Vogue.
Jezebel claims the request for the original photos was made in anger at US Vogue for retouching Dunham’s image to make her “Vogue-worthy.” The website’s aim was to declare Dunham as its own…wait for it … positive body image role model.
But the thing is, Lena Dunham doesn’t care. The 27-year-old told Slate: “I understand that for people there is a contradiction between what I do and being on the cover of Vogue; but frankly I really don’t know what the photoshopping situation is, I can’t really look at myself really objectively in that way.”
She added: “A fashion magazine is like a beautiful fantasy. Vogue isn’t the place that we go to look at realistic women. Vogue is the place that we go to look at beautiful clothes and fancy places and escapism and so I feel like if the story reflects me and I happen to be wearing a beautiful Prada dress and surrounded by beautiful men and dogs, what’s the problem? If they want to see what I really look like, go watch the show that I make every single week.”
And I have to agree with her. Why can’t we be sensible about this?
That said, the damaging implications of retouched images, particularly on young people, have been widely discussed, and as someone who has seen a very close friend go through the terrifying stages of an eating disorder, I absolutely think it’s an important discussion to have.
Last week also saw Apple and Google face social media backlash for promoting animated plastic surgery apps to children. The introduction to one app called “Plastic Surgery & Plastic Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie” reads: “This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We’ll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate on her, doctor?”
Image courtesy of Son of Groucho Flickr Creative Commons
Can we really be sending a message to children as young as nine that being slim makes you beautiful and that you can hack away at your body to make it that way?
MPs have discussed the potential for schools to have mandatory lessons on body image, and if the report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image is to be believed – with girls as young as five years old worried about the way they look – this can only be a good thing.
So, you’ll understand, I am torn. My god-daughter is 7 years old and to think that she is already worrying about what makes her beautiful are already running through her head is scary. How are her ideas of what’s beautiful being formed?
Image courtesy of Sheila Tostes Flickr Creative Commons
But then, fashion is my escapism. I enjoy it as an art form and I wouldn’t like to see it lose that glamorous side.
There are loud shouts from both sides of the divide on this argument, I think we need to see common sense prevail.
By Olivia Parish