A while back I had an email from someone concerned about the size of our models and their impact on people with eating disorders.
To my mind it follows on pretty well from things I wrote last year about eating disorders and our general discussion about the presentation of women in fashion and the media, so I thought I’d edit it slightly to remove some of the identifying details, and also to improve my terrible typing and poor phrasing! But the core message is the same – I’m afraid I’m with Ben Goldacre and my response to most things is “I think it’s a bit more complicated than that”, which is NOT a snappy PR answer. This is why I do not do interviews . . .
I should say that I have removed some initial compliments from the emailer, though these were gratefully received!
> I just have a couple of thoughts for you, regarding your marketing and the pictures you publish.
> I had an pretty severe eating disorder during almost my whole teen.
(edited to remove potentially identifying details; suffice to say happily things have improved, with treatment).
> Anyway, one of the things I reacted heavily to both before and during was all the images we’re constantly fed with from different media in society. You guys are using a couple of beautiful models (I mean it, truly stunning!), but all of them are true models in the sense of being very thin and small, just like the ideals of the society today seeks.
Mmm. I think you’ve been fooled a little by us not showing our models next to anything that shows their scale. Morgana is tiny – about 5 foot something not very much (don’t tell her, in her head she’s 5’7). Jessica is the other end of the scale - topping 6 foot, and of course at that height most people have a larger frame. Often sample sizes are too small for Jessica and too large for Morgana, since neither of them are exactly a standard 8-10. Meanwhile Louise, from a while back, was and is counted as a plus size model at a 12-14, Lydia is a 12 ish, and Ginger was a 14-16 upwards. Louise and Jessica sometimes manage to get agency representation, but mostly end up organising their own careers, and the others will never be signed by mainstream agencies.
Not that I fundamentally disagree with you, mind, but I’ll explain more below.
> I just wanted to send an request to you guys, to maybe… Why not give it a shot and use a plus size model? And with this i do not mean plus size as in UK 12 or what the industry might consider “plus”, but I mean a natural shaped, actual plus sized woman. Your products are meant to make all women feel as good as we all deserve to do. I would love to see that “all women” also has a place in your marketing.
There are many, many things that go into the image of women as portrayed by fashion industry. Some of those are
*coyly sexual if they are sexual at all
* toned, yet not visibly muscular
*small hipped and slender of thigh (this is changing)
*small of bum
*usually small breasted, except when its a lingerie/swimshoot, though sometimes not even then.
*no creases or wrinkles in their skin
*extremely young looking (though I must confess I sometimes wonder if this is just my bias as I get older; policemen have started looking like teenagers too).
*straight or lipstick lesbian at best
* frequently shot in an objectifying way or from the perspective of it being for men who are attracted to women.
I could go on . . .
Basically, from my point of view, I have so many problems with negotiating being commercial and yet not buying into the whole shebang. There is way more to diversifying fashion images than just the size of the model. We’ve used from a size 8 (Morgana, for whom it’s very much in proportion to her general teeniness) to a 16. We’ve also used a model with a visible disability, black and asian models, muscular models, models with some serious T and A albeit on a slim frame, active poses, aggression, a positively ferocious sexuality with no male gaze, and all our models are in their mid 20′s to 30′s. Oh, and we recently released a shoot that’s markedly snarky about things men say in response to knickers pictures.
Seemingly often because of these we mostly get ignored by mainstream stores. In fact, even one of our indie stores complained about the text on the recent shoot!
We’re one tiny cog in a very large industry, and to push the boundaries further on our images would cause us even more problems actually getting enough people to buy our stuff to keep us in business.
On top of that, on a purely practical level, the fashion industry runs on samples sizes, and we can only afford one sample. If its not the industry standard size, not only have we put off a whole range of buyers, we’ve also got a sample that we cannot get any press from because we can’t loan it out to magazines etc.
We could photograph things after they have come into stock, but good quality photoshoots cost a fortune, so shooting everyting twice in intermittent bouts would cause us to have massively mounting costs. Poor quality photoshoots . . . do not help anyone feel better about their size or shape, I think is the best way to put it.
Additionally, although on average, people say that they their buying intentions are to respond to photographs that are more realistic, in practice, that’s not what happens. If we were much much bigger I’d be varying several factors in images to test why, but at the moment that’s not an option for both cost and statistical reasons (insufficient sample sizes!). But big retailers ARE doing that and track which models convert to sales best.
Good luck anyone who can ever wrest that data from them, by the way. I’d be way more interested in it than the research on theoretical buying intentions, which to me lack ecological validity.
Viktoria Modesta, a musician you may have seen in the paralympics ceremony this year, and Lady Voix De Ville, now sadly having a career in a way more sensible industry.
Re-reading this now, I’m struck by this bit:
>I mean a natural shaped, actual plus sized woman.
I am genuinely confused by this. All the women who model for us are the shape they are naturally. Of course they are also extraordinary looking, partly because that’s why you use models – to make things look as good as they can – and partly because as far as I can tell everyone looks fabulous after 3 hours in hair and makeup, with brilliant lighting and photoshop retouching.
>I would love to see that “all women” also has a place in your marketing. ”
I have literally no idea how on earth we would represent every single body variation in shoots. Though after the sucess of the Shoot Yourself competition, we are working on a Black Milk style plan to reward people who send in pictures, kind of like crowd sourcing photoshoots!
>I’ve been trying in different ways to change the way girls and women see themselves. And if I somehow helps one person to not fall into the dark abyss I’ve been in… Then it’s all been worth it.
As it happens, I’m an ex mental health professional who spent 4 years working in in-patient care of people with eating disorders.
I tend to see the causes as much more complicated, and though I think the fashion industry plays a role in the cultural preoccupation with thin-ness, even when you take it away, people still develop eating disorders. I tend to regard it as a trigger and a precipitation factor rather than the direct cause – but obviously what is in general true is not specifically true for each inidvidual. Each person with an eating disorer has their own especial etiology and reasons for their actions.
> You guys are doing a great work will all your clothing, and I would admire you so much if you also displayed what I at least think you want for women – a possibility for ALL to feel as great as we truly are!
Thank you. At the moment our compromise with the cultural view of women has been to vary most things other than not going ab above a size 14-16 in official shoots. But we do also run picture and video competitions with fans which obviously encompasses the full size range.
Louise on the left, from a few years back when she’s been spending time at the gym, and Lydia on the right. It’s rare I use a shot without showing a models face but I loved that one. Lydia had her gymnast groove on that day.