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Category: Beauty Industry

“Youth and sex sell baby,” designer Charlie Brown.

This week’s Sunday Life (an insert with the Sun Herald) was a dedicated fashion issue. I was particularly keen to read the “Rewind, 1999” article on designer Charlie Brown’s decision to use plus size model Sophie Dahl (a size 14) for her 1999 fashion show – had it been motivated by a desire to offer women real alternatives? How much has changed now in the industry – would such a move still be considered shocking?

The answers were simply sad.

Ms Brown’s only motivation was to get exposure for her brand, “I knew she would interest the public and the press….(it) brought me lots of attention.” Was she concerned that the media had been so rude to Dahl; one journalist had the hide to ask her “…what was it like to be a freak in the fashion industry?” Only in as far as it may have impacted on her own show -“I wasn’t very happy either because they asked (Sophie) this five minutes before the show started.” 

What did the gorgeous Dahl make of this event? Ms Brown tells us Sophie spent the trip ” …fighting her own shit about her weight…she pushed a lot of lettuce leaves around.”  

Why I am shocked at the insensitivity and overt and unabashed exploitation of a young and obviously vulnerable woman? This same designer produced a range of t-shirts last season that boasted “Trophy Wife” and made the much criticised decision when she hooked up with partner Danny to set up another home across the road so her own 11 year old daughter could live there with a Nanny and not with them. Perhaps there may be more to this parental decision than meets the eye, and I hate getting into the judgement game with other women as no-one wins it, but surely that seems insensitive too? Yet despite knowing this background, I still find the complete lack of empathy and respect shocking.

And so to Charlie Brown’s proclamation that “Youth and sex sell baby.” Can’t argue with that – and Sophie certainly caught on to the latter when she made the infamous advertisement below for Opium perfume. Strike a pose indeed…

Sophi and Opium…strike a pose!

Recent events at a Gold Coast Fashion week highlight that our obsession with youth is also getting dangerously out of hand. The Queensland fashion festival has been accused of child exploitation after choosing a 12-year-old girl as the face of the event.

The selection of Year 8 student Maddison Gabriel, as ambassador of the first Gold Coast Fashion Week has sparked condemnation from within and outside the modelling industry. Maddison’s mother and organisers of the Gold Coast show have defended the move, she said Maddison, who turns 13 this weekend, had wanted to model for years but had been forced to wait until she was considered old enough.

“I’m very proud and excited for her,” she said. “Some 12-year-olds are very young but I think Maddison is a woman in her own right. The judges themselves didn’t know how old she was. They just saw her as a model against other women.”

Models this young should be protected, she may well be mature but this particular “playground” is notoriously nasty and would challenge even the most worldly of girls. It certainly damaged 22 year old Sophie Dahl who, not long after her trip to Australia’s Fashion week, dramatically lost a lot of weight and sparked concerns for her health. However, I also think there are broader implications that are equally as alarming.

The reality is that Maddison will not be the only one at risk here. The fashion parade is an adults event, the audience are adult women and the clothes are aimed at women not small girls. Every women watching the fashion show will inevitably start to compare themselves to Maddison ( “Gee…my thighs don’t look that great actually…maybe I can’t get away with this look… oh I guess if I dieted hard enough I could shave a few centimetres before summer…”). WHY would a prepubescent girl be selected to model clothing designed to sell to women?

Society is becoming obsessed with youth – and this is not just hurting women as they desperately try to turn back the clock, but our children, who are being put forward as the desirable ideal. Rush and La Nauze’s 2006 Report “Corporate Paedophilia, the Sexualisation of Children in Australia” gives a disturbing account of how showing images of young girls dressed as sexual adults feeds men who prey on young girls – it “feeds them”.

Maddison should do herself (and every other women and girl) a favour and strut and pout around home for a while first. Surely there is time later in her career for modelling women’s clothing…

Mixed Messages

During one of my discussions with Board members from the Australian Women’s Forum they highlighted the hypocrisy inherent in many of the programs that say they are designed to promote healthy body image. Apart from magazines that pretend  to be “a girl’s best friend” whilst feeding their insecurities and advocating consumerism,  other cosmetic companies are now using the “we care about girls / want to promote a positive body image” as a marketing ploy. 

Dove has launched their REAL Beauty campaign and hope to promote a teacher training seminar through schools.  Whilst some of the materials they have put together  may well be useful ( have you seen the You Tube clip that shows the truth about airbrushing? Evolution? well worth a look)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iYhCn0jf46U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

There are obviously some real conflicts of interest when Dove’s core business is selling beauty creams and cellulite potions! What really infuriates me though are the mixed messages. Dove is owned by Unilever – Unilever are also responsible for Impulse (no REAL beauty messages there – the slogan is “Feel irresistible”) and LYNX. You may have seen the LYNX ad’s – where pretty girls are reduced to uncontrollable sexual gyrations at the mere smell of Lynx on really plain / inappropriate men ( one girl resorts to stripping the much older father of her boyfriend!).  Not good enough. These ad’s are completely inappropriate and only reinforce the sexualisation and objectification of women. 

A Year 8 girl in a workshop I ran recently in Canberra pointed the Lynx ad’s out as causing her real anxiety…as we were running the new “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty” workshop at the time she drew a very clever parallel –
“It is like the old Ugly Duckling / Beauty and the Beast story – girls are meant to see the inner hotness in all guys and just fall at them. Where are the plain girls that can be transformed though? Plus why are girls always acting like strippers on TV nowadays? It is embarrassing to watch.”

If you’re looking for another very clever clip (that is not ultimately designed by Unilever to rake up sales and get their brands into our classrooms) show your girls the short film produced by Kiri Davis entitled A Girl Like Me.  

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/17fEy0q6yqc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

It looks at the promotion of skin whitening by the beauty industry and the profound effect this is having on girls from different cultures – who start to see their dark skin as the enemy. It is really moving…

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