Is Vogue Still Setting Unrealistic Body Standards or Breaking Them Down?

Vogue’s “What’s Changing About Fashion’s Relationship to the Body?” featuring Kim Kardashian who talks about the negative comments she has heard about her body both in person and on social media.

One of the most prevalent issues within the fashion industry is its lack of diversity. Lately, I have been seeing more and more online content discussing this topic. Among this content is a Vogue video I found on Youtube titled “What’s Changing About Fashion’s Relationship to the Body?” The three minute video stars pop culture phenomenon Kim Kardashian alongside other successful female-identifying models of various races, nationalities, sizes, and ages. There are various shots of the models throughout the video as they offer overlapping commentary on their personal experiences loving and owning their bodies. Of course, the video is well-directed and entertaining through its editing and background music. It captures the challenges of finding self worth and confidence in an industry that has set impossible beauty standards not only through discussion but through visual cues. We see scenes of women exercising and weighing themselves whilst hearing the models talk about the negative body shaming they have faced. Historical female sculptures are shown in a probable effort to depict the everlasting beauty standards for women. Vogue clearly wanted to promote body acceptance through this video though there are several ironies that belittle its goal which commenters are not afraid to share. 

Screenshot of a woman weighing herself on a scale while models talk about the body shame they have received.

First of all, Vogue is a major contributor to the beauty standards set by the fashion industry. They have taught women that in order to be pretty and fashionable, they must be unattainably skinny and have flawless skin. Many commenters on the video echo this feeling as they reveal Vogue is in fact partially responsible for making them feel uncomfortable with their own bodies. One commenter points out that while the magazine is trying to reverse some of its past mistakes by capturing different bodies, it is not enough. If they want to change the narrative, they have to do more. The company definitely has the power to do so as Vogue is the epitome of fashion for many people. Vogue thinks so too as the “About Vogue” reads “Vogue is the authority on fashion news, culture trends, beauty coverage, videos, celebrity style, and fashion week updates.” They could use their power for good and create a new standard that every body is beautiful. 

The video was not received well not only because it was created by Vogue but because it featured Kim Kardashian. Like Vogue, Kardashian herself has set unrealistic body standards. While Kardashian just as rightly deserves to own her body like anyone else, commenters take issue with her being in a video alongside other women who have battled the beauty standards, not created them. Kardashian readjusts her pose in a short clip and asks if  “this looks good.” Kim Kardashian trying to look her best in a video promoting body authenticity and acceptance makes Vogue’s intentions seem fake. They could have easily made this video without Kardashian, which would have generated more positive reception. Instead, they likely added her to reach a larger audience and generate more profit. It seems like Vogue’s real goal was to appear politically correct whilst making money. Yet, they do capture many other models besides Kardashian who have faced struggles loving their bodies. But does this diverse cast of models appear on the runways too?

Another commenter who claims to work in the modeling industry argues that this diversity in the video is nonexistent in the actual industry and only appears in the media. I find this fact unsurprising as it’s easy to create the false appearance of something. Despite all the pushes towards diversity, the fashion industry is changing at a slow rate. Vogue doesn’t completely overlook this notion, writing that “body acceptance is a long and winding road” in the description box. They may be trying to suggest that the industry has a long way to go before it is inclusive. Nevertheless, it’s probable that the diversity on screen is mostly absent in real life. 

The video sparked major debate among viewers for good reasons. Others interested in social justice would likely agree with me and the other commenters. It is hard for an audience to watch a video produced by a company that lowered their self-esteem in the first place and celebrate them. Although, I believe Vogue had good intentions. They are making an effort to rebrand themselves and pave the way for increased body diversity in fashion. Obviously, it will take more than a three minute video to achieve this goal and after a bit more research, I found other online content that Vogue has published surrounding body inclusivity. However, none of it avoided criticism including their March 2017 cover on Modern American Women that was criticized for not being diverse enough. It featured seven light skinned models including one plus size model. If they have faced this kind of scrutiny before, I have to wonder whether they expected the same comments or praise for their efforts to celebrate body diversity. Did they want to be celebrated for including models of all backgrounds instead of the usual suspects like Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid? Are they trying to forget their damaging past? Perhaps, by continuing to produce more inclusive content, they hoped to show their commitment to body diversity. Nonetheless, this video, various articles, and magazine covers act as baby steps towards a future with representation for all shapes and sizes. Just like many other companies in the fashion industry, Vogue has a long way to go with much more to learn. 

References

Torgerson, Rachel. “Vogue’s ‘Diverse’ Cover Slammed for Not Being Diverse Enough.” Cosmopolitan, 9 February 2017, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/fashion/a8696839/vogue-march-2017-cover-controversy/.

Feminist Mixtape: “What A Girl Is”

Dove Cameron singing “What A Girl Is” in the episode “Rate-A-Rooney.”

I had been trying to think of a song for the mixtape and suddenly this bop started playing in my head on repeat. I love Disney Channel shows but I know that Disney is highly problematic in its representation of women and marginalised people, so when Dove Cameron sang this bop back in 2015 I was very pleasantly surprised.

On the Disney Channel show “Liv & Maddie,” on the episode “Rate-A-Rooney,” a group of guys had been rating girls, giving them numbers on their appearances. Protagonist Dove Cameron sings “What A Girl Is” in response to their comments.

“On a scale from 1 to 10/I am perfect like I am/I don’t need your number”

This is Dove Cameron’s response to the rankings of the men. She expresses that she determines her beauty, that beauty is something internal and personal, not determined by others.

“And these stupid magazines/Want me to change my everything/They don’t even matter/They’re not taking my power”

Magazines nowadays feature and promote impossible beauty standards for women. Like Jean Kilbourne mentioned in her TED Talk “Killing Us Softly,” “the image of women in media is worse than ever” and puts unnecessary pressure on women to look thin and young. These lyrics convey that women’s diversity and uniqueness is their power and they shouldn’t try to conform to what magazines and the outside world deem ‘beautiful.’ These lyrics also reminded of a quote in Feminine Mystique: “When she stopped conforming to the conventional picture of femininity she finally began to enjoy being a woman” (Friedan 279) which is similar in mindset since Dove Cameron is singing about not conforming to the standards for femininity.

“I’ll show you what a girl is/’Cause all of me is perfect/Who cares about a dress size?/It’s all about what’s inside”

As Jen Baker said in her TED Talk “Complete and Total Body Love,” happiness is not a number on the scale or a size, it’s a state of mind where we say “I’m okay just the way I am.” This is exactly the message being passed on through the first few lines of the chorus.

While Disney has a long way to go regarding its diversity and inclusion in TV and films (with TV taking steps forward a tad faster than the films) this song of female empowerment and independence, even though it is sang by a white cishet actress, is certainly a step in the right direction.

The Female Student-Athlete’s Body Image

One idea that we discussed in GSS101 and that I focused on in my book review was body image, and we particularly focused on this topic in week 4 when we discussed bodies, ads, and fat studies.  Although every week in this class definitely taught me something new and helped me realize my own ignorance in different topics, this week in particular was probably the most eye-opening for me.  I have always thought about how the media portrays unrealistic body images and ideals, and I have been aware of eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, and other problems that have to do with body image, but this week made me aware of so many more aspects that come into play when discussing body image.  For example, I had never before discussed or understood fat studies.  I had also never thought about many of the ideas Rosie Molinary discussed when she came to class and talked about her new book Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance, such as her critique of deodorant and how companies make us believe that we need it.  Being exposed to these ideas and concepts questioning body norms made me contemplate every ad and body enhancement product I saw, including products that I would have never seen as being a body enhancement product (like deodorant) before taking this class.

Because I’m a student-athlete, I have seen intersections between these body image ideas and athletics, and having the knowledge I now have about body image has given me the ability to critique and have a different perspective on so many things that I would have never questioned before taking this class.  For example, almost everyone on my team seems to have some part of their body they are not okay with, or think there is something they can fix with enhancement products like deodorant, makeup, or hairstyling.  It also seems like we all think about what we eat way too much, wondering about the calories and fatty content that might add some unwanted curves, instead of thinking about how it might fuel our bodies for a grueling practice.  This discomfort with our bodies, of course, is not strictly limited to the girls or student-athletes, and many of these problems are consistent throughout the female population in America, and surely extends to more than females, for that matter.

However, in focusing on Davidson’s campus and the population in which I spend a lot of time because of my gender and being an athlete, I plan to address female student athletes’ body image at Davidson.  In order to do this and attempt to make a difference using the knowledge I have gained from GSS101, I will start out by sending an anonymous poll in order to ask questions and assess how female student-athletes at Davidson view themselves, and what body image issues are prevalent.  I can then use these answers to put together a presentation on body image for female student-athletes (similar to a previous presentation by a female Davidson swimmer called “Get Ovary It”) and discuss points such as those brought up in Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance.  I can also use Socrative during the event in order to give everyone an opportunity to directly address and discuss problems.  I will likely start out doing this with my own team to provide a smaller environment so that everyone is comfortable talking about such intimate issues, and I can then attempt to expand these ideas and the presentation to help Davidson’s whole population of female student-athletes.

1972 Sex Positivity Fair: Body Image


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1972 Sex Positivity Fair: Body Image by Rachael, Maryanna, Malia, and Caroline B.

“If we start from a position of neutrality, and do not make an a priori assumption that higher  BMI  is  unhealthy,  we  are  left with  numerous  studies  showing  health  benefits based on quality nutrition, regular physical activity, social support, restful sleep, freedom  from  violence  and  stigma,  abstention  from  smoking  and  excessive  alcohol  and drug use, access to quality medical care, and so on” (Burgard, 47).

According to Jen Baker in her TED Talk Total Body Love, “4% of women will call themselves beautiful, and in my experience men are very similar.” By creating an exhibit for the 1972 Sex Positivity Fair, we seek to discover why only 4% of women would call themselves beautiful. As students of GSS 101, we have learned to identify the voices seeking to force, in both subtle and blatant ways, the image of the “ideal” body upon us. We have learned to reject these voices in the name of Total Body Love. We have identified three voices that are loud, though sometimes unrecognized in our culture: advertising and media, the health/wellness industry, and the medical world.

In a society overridden by advertisements and media, we are constantly bombarded with both conspicuous and inconspicuous symbolism in images dictating what “attractive” means. These images pervading online, in the news, and even in public spaces, are in almost all instances edited to depict what those believe to be a desirable body type for both men and women. For example, in Agnes Rocamora’s article about the fashion industry titled Personal Fashion Blogs: Screens and Mirrors in Digital Self Portraits,she states, “in a field, fashion, where those in charge of taking photographs have been predominantly men, and those photographed women, visuals show the latter behind the camera actively engaged in an act of self-representation contrast with doxic views of men as photographing subject and women as photographed object” (Rocamora, 420). Our culture teaches us that the woman’s body is valued only when serving a specific audience – whether that is the male gaze, commercial gain, or even representations of purity or innocence. The woman’s ideal body type has changed drastically over time, however. Today the ideal female body type depicted in the media is widely accepted as unrealistic and photoshopped, and many companies have moved towards a “body positive” approach to their advertising as in the case of Aerie’s #AerieReal campaign featuring models with untouched bodies. Conversely, advertisements featuring the male body are frequently also photoshopped to unrealistic proportions of musculature, which acts to shape society’s interpretation of masculinity. However, this issue has yet to take off as a widely accepted false representation of the male body, which can lead to low self-esteem and poor body image in the male population.

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The health and wellness industry contributes to an unrealistic body image by creating an unattainable picture of health. There are men and women whose bodies simply cannot be shaped and molded into the hard, athletic lines of a stereotypical gym-goer. The pressure to be toned and muscular has led to an increase in disorders like muscle dysmorphia: an obsessive preoccupation via a delusional or exaggerated belief that one’s body is too small, too skinny, insufficiently muscular, or insufficiently lean. Muscle Dysmorphia and other related disorders concerned with the strength of the body (together referred to as “The Adonis Complex”) are often overlooked. Because those affected by muscle dysmorphia are not seeking to drop significant amounts of weight, if at all, they are sometimes considered outside the realm of eating (or body) disorders. We are reminded of Marilyn Wann’s claim that “The weight divide is not just a fat/thin binary… People feel superiority or self-loathing based on each calorie or gram of food consumed or not consumed, in each belt notch, pound, or inch gained or lost, in each clothing size smaller or larger” (Wann xv). We learned that identifying voices seeking to shape body image in a way not immediately identifiable with the pressure to be thin or beautiful are especially insidious, and need to be addressed. IMG_6510Because they are encouraged to subscribe to patriarchal standards of “masculinity,” many men are imprisoned by society’s definition of “healthy.” Harrison Pope argues in his book Rise of the Adonis Complex, “Over the last three decades, the Adonis Complex has spread dramatically among boys and men, and more and more men are struggling to improve their appearance in one way or another.”  This obsession men experience with body image echoes Harrison Pope’s study, which reported “95% of college-aged men being dissatisfied with some part of their bodies.” Muscle dysmorphia and other disorders of the health/wellness world need to be more widely recognized in order to make effective and valuable changes.

Another voice seeking to define which bodies should be loved and which should be shamed comes out of the medical world. Fat studies scholars like Marilyn Wann and Deb Burgard argue that the unrealistic and scientifically false standards of “health” set up by health and wellness industries are perpetuated by members of the medical world through measures like BMI. BMI, or Body Mass Index, is one of a variety of “ideal” weight charts used by the federal government to mandate who is healthy and who is not. The problem with BMI is that it is too simple, and does not account for the full range of human diversity, especially in children. BMI works by juxtaposing height and weight to create a n
umber from 12-42. The oversimplification of the incredible varieties of the human body leads to the “medicalization of human diversity,” which “ inspires a misplaced search for a ‘cure’ for naturally occurring difference. Far from generating sympathy for fat people, medicalization of weight fuels anti-fat prejudice and discrimination in all areas of society” (Wann xiii).  Medical professionalsIMG_6508 who seek to determine patient’s achievement of “good health” based on flawed scales like BMI contribute to the chorus of voices that say, falsely, that our bodies are too fat, not muscular enough, too short; basically, that our bodies are
incorrect. We still need to seek advice from medical professionals; there are men and women who have completed years of training in order to help us live our best lives. Through this project, we discovered the importance of seeking medical professionals who understand and appreciate the diversity in human bodies and also encourage us to seek out a truly healthy lifestyle (in every sense of the word).

 

 

Works Cited

Rocamora, Agnès. “Personal fashion blogs: screens and mirrors in digital self-portraits.” Fashion Theory. Vol 15, No. 4, 2011.

Wann, Marilyn. Foreword to the Fat Studies Reader, by Marilyn Wann,  xxi-xxvii. New York: New York University Press, 2009.