“The worst of all is that Vogue is proud to continue championing this level of thinness”
“Surely they could have chosen a less shocking image?”
“Was this photo necessary?”*
These are just snippets of the comments left on Vogue’s Facebook page following the release of one of the three covers Vanessa Paradis’ graces for the January 2016 edition of the French fashion monthly. And understandably so, as honestly, this photo has genuinely upset me. The actress, who has admittedly always verged on the side of thin, had been purposefully styled and directed to especially highlight her small frame: bizarrely hunched, dress pulled over Paradis’ hip to expose her thin thigh, the headline reads ‘Guest of Honour’.
The notoriously stubborn industry has a plethora of new crises that have marked the last decade. Questions of manufacturing ethics, sustainability and the latent realisation that the fashion world largely lacks the appropriate business strategists to develop the industry’s ability to adapt rapidly enough to the digital revolution, emerging markets and evolving consumer behaviour mean that the tired questions of representation tend to garner a collective sigh. The challenging of fashions’ lack of ethnic diversity is still in its incipient stages though the question of size unfortunately persists with little having been remedied and the crusades for which appear evermore futile.
The truth is that any attempt at reformative legislation is impossible without the cooperation of those working within the industry, who have proven time and again to be resistant to reason and moral integrity.
In April of this year, the French National Assembly voted in favour of establishing a law that requires each model to obtain a medical certificate proving a ‘healthy’ body mass index. This to be presented by her agent in order to obtain runway work – which essentially accounts for a mere two months in the fashion calendar – under penalty of 6 months imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros. Socialist MP Olivier Véran devised the legislation with the backing of Marisol Touraine the French Minister of Health, in an attempt to clamp down on anorexia but the legislator fails to acknowledge the essential pitfalls of this so-called law, which include the fact that BMI is not a reliable measure of health, that the vast majority of models on French books are not French nationals, that the ‘regular intervals’ at which these certificates will be checked is never stipulated and the fact that casting directors – who are not directly employed by designers – in theory, need to be involved in the application and enforcing of this law. This ridiculous excuse of a law has failed at the first hurdle – as someone who ritualistically views fashion week images, there seemed to be absolutely no regulation most recently this last October, where pitifully thin girls ruled the runway once more. The truth is that any attempt at reformative legislation is impossible without the cooperation of those working within the industry, who have proven time and again to be resistant to reason and moral integrity.
On a wider scale, similar legislation that has been passed in many European countries regarding retouching, age minimums etc., mainly concern models and ignore the fact that print media has been largely dominated by actresses as these covers ensure higher sales volumes. This leaves the majority of cover stars immune to the rules and the publications legally guiltless of advocating what any sane human being would consider unfathomable beauty standards.
“French Vogue included a small piece on comedienne Amy Schumer that went on to laud her sense of humour but not before adding the following disclaimer: ‘Physically, she’s a cross between Mariah Carey after a trip to KFC and Miss Piggy*…’”
I take particular umbrage with this cover as the December issue of French Vogue included a small piece on comedienne Amy Schumer that went on to laud her sense of humour but not before adding the following disclaimer: ‘Physically, she’s a cross between Mariah Carey after a trip to KFC and Miss Piggy*…’ In fact, I was pretty outraged as I imagined the online sh*t storm that would inevitably brew if the American or British wing of the Condé Nast publication had dared to make such insulting statements. This does not mean to say that Wintour or Shulman, respective editors of the Anglophone editions, have been blameless in the on-going and deeply complex issue of size, with Shulman arrogantly proclaiming this month that skinny models are not responsible for causing eating disorders. In fact, the ignorance of her statements lie in the fact that she refuses to publicly assume the responsibility of playing a major role in an institution that unapologetically hires a specific type of girl, the images of whom are of absolutely no commercial or artistic value unless she is worn down to the bone.
When publications make blatantly shaming statements and use highly stylised and retouched images that undeniably promote a frankly exhausted trope of female beauty, everyone affiliated must be held responsible, especially when international fashion institutions of high repute such as Vogue perpetrate these ethical crimes. The question of size is far from being answered and needs a consistent and varied platform for debate before any reforms – idealistic or legal – can even be considered, with greater consideration for the young individuals who are consistently let down by the industry they invest so much time and emotion in – myself included.
Image Credits: Inez & Vinoodh, David Sims, Karim Sadli via Tumblr