This post started out as a comment elsewhere, but when I realised I was getting to five paragraphs, I decided I might as well just to a post about it rather than clog up people’s blogs.
Anyway, in case you haven’t read about it yet, this is about the decision of the German women’s magazine Brigitte to stop using professional models as of their next issue. Instead, it is replacing them with ‘real life’ women, who can apply to take part via their website.
The main reason reported in the English speaking media is that the decision is about the prevalence of models that are too thin and unhealthy. For example, here are the quotes used in the Guardian article:
From 2010 we will not work with professional models any more,” said Andreas Lebert, editor-in-chief, adding that he was “fed up” with having to retouch pictures of underweight models who bore no resemblance to ordinary women.
“For years we’ve had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up,” he said. “Especially their thighs, and decolletage. But this is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real reader?”
He said the move was a response to complaints by readers who said they had no connection with the women depicted in fashion features and “no longer wanted to see protruding bones”.
“Today’s models weigh around 23% less than normal women,” Lebert said. “The whole model industry is anorexic.”
On the Brigitte website (link is in German only) itself, they describe their reasons slightly differently – please excuse the rushed translation:
Because women don’t need stand ins. They don’t want to be told what to do. Because clothes are not a question of trends, but of personality. Because new looks are created not only on the catwalks, but on the streets, at school, on stages at concerts, at the cinema, in the cafe and on the corner. Because in future we want to show fashion and beauty on women that do not adhere to the often perverse laws of the model industry, but are standing in the midst of life.
Because there is nothing more beautiful than WOMEN.
Sounds kind of good, right?
What people tend to not take into consideration is that Brigitte really isn’t a fashion magazine at all, but a women’s magazine, aimed squarely at people aged over thirty with career aspirations and possibly a family too. It has a lot of recipes and is compratively heavy on coverage of health, job and financial issues and social and political trends.
As the photos dotted about here show, the fashion stories aren’t really that ‘fashion’. There’s no mad shapes, over the top make up or crazy hair. The models are often shown in everyday situations, like walking down a street, rather than exotic or fantasy locations. The themes, such as they are, are pretty descriptive, like ‘autumn colours’ for example, rather than something like say ‘Alice in Wonderland’. The stories arent about creating high fashion eye candy, but about presenting wearable clothes to make readers look nice and pulled together, if not neccessarily interesting. The magazine actually runs a mail order business where readers can buy some of the clothes in the magazine.
In that context, using ‘ordinary women’ makes perfect sense, because if you’re all about wearability nothing proves that more than using ‘models’ who are actually your readers. I don’t want to downplay the significance of Brigitte’s decision, or the commitment they made in making it work, but it’s very different from a more fashion oriented magazine like ELLE for example using non-models in their editorial, which is what so many of the commenters are calling for. Its a difference that I don’t think is really appreciated.
But regardless of that, what I find baffling about this whole thing is the narrow focus on professional models.
What this whole thing assumes is that if you’re pretty and tall then you can be a model and that there is no qualitative difference between someone who models for a living and someone who is on their first ever photo shoot. Now I’m not saying models are brain surgeons, but its undeniable that there is some skill and experience involved in dealing with a photo shoot situation, taking direction from a photographer, getting a variety of different looks in as short amount of time as possible, and staying alert and upbeat despite long hours and mind numbing waiting about. If you’re dispensing with professional models, you’re getting rid of all that experience too, something which Brigitte do acknowledge when they say that it will actually cost them more to use the ‘real women’. I see no reason for it.
I find it quite interesting that in the quote on the website Brigitte are appealing to the autheniticy of everyday fashion (on the street, with personality) as opposed to presumably the artifice of catwalk fashion. It is then assumed that by using ‘real women’ their shoots will be more authentic, but I don’t see it. The clothes and setting will still be chosen by an editor or professional stylist, the photos taken by a photographer with a vision who presumably will tell the ‘non-model model’ what to do. If authenticity’s your aim, why focus on the models only?
And in terms of the weight/health of models, why this assumption that all models are underweight with protruding bones? Plus size models do exist, and wouldn’t it make more sense to put pressure on the modelling agencies to sign some larger/shorter/older/smilier/whatever models and put your money where your mouth is by actually hiring them? As Germany’s largest magazine, and with advertisers on board, that shouldn’t be outwith the realms of possibility.
My final point is about the artificial distinction between models and ‘real women’ this creates. Much has been said before about the problems with the term ‘real women’, so I won’t go into it here, but I just wanted to point out that this whole thing implies that models aren’t ‘real’, and in some quotes are even constructed in opposition to ‘women’. Consider a situation where a woman applies to take part in this, and does amazingly well in her Brigitte photo shoot so gets signed by an agency on the back of it. She’s still the exact same person, but one minute she’s ‘real’ the next she’s not. It just makes no sense.
What this model/real person dichotomy also does is create a whole lot of completely uneccessary conflict and between ‘us’ normals, who are real and have a personality, the professional modles, who are anorexic and machine like. I’ve come across far too many angry blog posts and horrible comments about this where people are basically saying ‘who cares about what happens to the models who are now out of a job, they’re worthless anyway because they make us feel bad’. Which I personally find very worrying.
So there you go, here’s my two cents. I took ages writing it and am not sure I’ve got it all worked out, but I tried! Apologies if this seems overly long and very ranty, but you should have seen it before I started editing it!
What do people think? I’d really appreciate some comments!