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German magazines bans professional models – an in-depth disussion

Brigitte fashion shoot

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?

Brigitte fashion shoot

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.

Brigitte fashion shoot

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.

Brigitte fashion shoot

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!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jayne 11 October 2009, 1:11 pm

    wow this is fascinating! its horrific to think they used to ADD weight to models, eww 23% is a huge percent! someone really needs reevaluate the industry before these crazy anorexic models all die. however, I'm a bit skeptical about "real" models, because there obviously is an editing process here. these so called real models probably look perfect in every other way but body shape and size, so is it really different?

  • ROSINE 11 October 2009, 4:39 pm

    And next year in January, they release their new "Brigitte-Diät" as every year. To me, this is typically Brigitte's double standard. I really don't like this magazin.

  • Diana 11 October 2009, 6:13 pm

    I've never read or heard of this magazine, but it sounds like they just want publicity. From what the first few paragraphs sound like, Brigitte is a fashion magazine, but it's really deceiving. It's different when you see "everyday" models in career outfits, and holding a cup of coffee, compared to when you see them in some avante-garde editorial. I'm all for "real" looking women, but it just seems instead of just giving a big huff about it and the magazine making the comments, they should have not said a word, hire the "real" models and let the readers comment.

  • Oranges And Apples 12 October 2009, 8:03 am

    That's kind of what i think too, it feels like a publicity stunt, and it seems to have worked! I was expecting them to do this for one issue, in which case it would just be headline grabbing, but they actually have committed themselves to doing it for ever (or until there's a new editor/the advertisers complain/readers want models back). So we'll see how they get on I suppose.

  • Sal 12 October 2009, 4:09 pm

    I've gotta say that, in this case, I'm in favor of a publicity stunt. Yes, models have a specific look and a specific skill set. But non-models can look just as amazing – see the umpteen trillion street style blogs for proof. Yes, this isn't a high-fashion mag, but every little bit helps when it comes to promoting diversity of body in printed images. Diana makes a valid point – that the mag could just as easily have hired the non-models and let its readership sense the change – but as this is a hot issue that is gaining momentum, I support Brigitte's decision to stir up some artificial hullabaloo.

    I completely agree, though, that the whole real/fake women dichotomy is bogus. Models are just as real as non-models, and anyone who says otherwise is being oppositional and counterproductive.

  • Oranges And Apples 12 October 2009, 5:00 pm

    I guess I'm not saying that non-models *can't* look as good as models in a photo shoot, but simply that there is skill involved in being a successful model over and above simply being good looking. Not everyone who looks gorgeous in real life, or even who photographs well would be a good model. I know I take nice enough pictures for the blog, but they tend to be of one type, and I wouldn't be able to give you 20 different looks in 20 minutes. I don't agree that models have to have a specific look at all, or that the fact that they do have a look is a good thing, but I do feel that they have to have those other skills.

    I guess I just feel that you should change the model industry from within by demanding and booking more diverse models, rather than opting out altogether. Which wouldn't be an option for a smaller magazine without the resources to run what is essentially Brigitte's own model scouting system. Which is why model agencies exist in the first place.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments everyone! I do like a good discussion!

  • gina 14 October 2009, 1:47 am

    Great post. From all the press about it, I too thought Brigitte was a fashion magazine till I saw a copy of it in a bookstore yesterday.

    I also dislike the idea of "real women" vs. models. Models are women. Women who are 23% lighter than the general population are still women. Women who are several inches taller than the general population are still women. Not all models are anarexic.

    The problem is that this one slightly unusual body type is favored by the fashion industry while others are ignored. I wish more people would plead the case of diversity without criticizing the current body type favored by the fashion industry, since real women also come in that thin and/or tall shape. Criticizing that body type just offends and hurts people unnecessarily.

    Getting rid of that body type in magazines isn't necessary, since it does represent some people. Body types in fashion need to be expanded to include representations of all women.

    I too would love to see magazines continue to use real models, but choose a wider variety of body types. The "woman on page 194" of Glamour was a professional plus-size model, who does not look at all plus-sized to me! Modeling agencies represent women in a wider variety of body types, but these models are not considered "high fashion" due to height and/or weight. But they're out there, and I wish magazines would start using them.

  • Jen 15 October 2009, 4:58 pm

    I think this is great. It seems like magazines are either super skinny or plus sized. I'd like to see women of an in between size (my size) too. 🙂

  • Lilly 20 October 2009, 9:29 pm

    Hi! I live in Germany and therefore know 'Brigitte'. It makes me feel uneasy that they try to appeal to average women by bashing models. And as it has been pointed out before, they are absolutely not a fashion magazine and will publish the next diet any issue. I remember a few years ago, when all of this "Next Topmodel"-Stuff came up, a German magazine called 'Mädchen' (Girl) casted average girls from the streets to participate in their fashion editorials. As far as I am informed, they changed back to professional models fast. Maybe it was the higher costs of their productions or maybe that they had to neglect girls who were not pretty enough to appear in the magazine!
    That is my point: what's with the women who apply to 'Brigitte' as a model and do not get chosen? Can they consider themselves as 'no real women'? The professional models still have the advantage that they are considered as pretty, but how would the neglected 'real' women feel? That they are to ugly to be anything? That is a disturbing thought. Or would they tell a pretty/tall/light weighted woman among their readership that they – sorry – can not use her as a model, because she is 'not real enough'? Let's see what the outcome of all this will be!
    PS: I am sure there is a striking reason why so far we needed 'professional' model women.

  • Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP 2 November 2009, 10:28 pm

    Interesting post and comments – why should there always be some sort of conflict involved in these things – real vs model – normal vs model etc.

    Why the conflict? It creates tension and media coverage I guess.

    It will be interesting to see if it lasts and if they chose 'average' height and weight women or they end up with the slimmer end of 'average'.

  • Jeni 6 November 2009, 9:08 pm

    I agree that it was a publicity stunt, but i'm also grateful because without it we probably wouldn't be debating the issue.

    I wrote an article about the same topic, with regards to Karl Lagerfeld's comments on it.

    It makes more sense to still use professional models, but models who have different looks, sizes, heights etc. I understand that 'real' women might not be good at modelling, but surely that's because they've never had the chance or opportunity to become one!


  • Jana 18 February 2012, 9:54 pm

    Totally disagree with you. Fashion industry is all about marketing. Making us believe that only youth and beauty are important. What really gets me is ads for wrinkle creams while they show a young girl with flawless skin. Not only is there so many young women and now boys with issues with body image (thanks to the magazines) which show unrealistically thin girls. One of my friends’s daughter has stopped eating because she thinks she is fat. She is a normal size girl.