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Category: Fashion Industry

Material Girls

Lourdes' new fashion label "Material Girl" which is aimed at teens.
Lourdes' new fashion label "Material Girl" which is aimed at teens.

The current generation of children has been found to be the most brand-aware in history. Why should we be concerned about this? Because along with heightened consumerism, adolescents are taking on some very adult-size burdens. Australian teens are working and earning more than ever before and a significant number are suffering stress from owing money to credit card companies, mobile phone carriers, and friends and family. They are even beginning to show signs of something you may be familiar with as an adult: ‘choice fatigue’. That’s when you become overwhelmed by the vast array of consumer products you seemingly must make a selection from. More and more kids wish that the whole consumer merry-go-round would just slow down for a second. Researchers have even found that when a child is more materialistic, she tends to be more depressed and anxious and have lower self-esteem.

We should be concerned, too, because teenagers now account for such a big chunk of the consumer market that they are ferociously targeted by marketing and advertising campaigns. While our daughters are still learning, growing into adults and forming their own identity, they are especially vulnerable and impressionable consumers, and marketers know that. You can’t help but feel a chill when you read the words of one marketing professional who said at a big marketing-and-advertising shindig in New York: ‘Kids are the most powerful sector of the market, and we should take advantage of them.’ Can you think of any circumstance where it’s okay for the words ‘kids’ and ‘take advantage of’ to be linked? Me neither.

Often teen girls are told both by the marketers and her peers that if they wear a particular label, they will be noticed and accepted. Teens feel a strong need to carve out their own identity. They want to be and look like individuals, with their own style and image. Yet at the same time, no teenage girl wants to be on the outer or to be perceived as uncool or clueless about what’s in. They want to be part of a group; they have a genuine and valid need to fit in with friends and peers. You may remember treading a fine line yourself in your high school years. If you were too slavish a follower of the latest fashions you looked like a try-hard; on the other hand, if you were wearing the wrong shoes you risked being relegated to the outer reaches of the girl-world galaxy.
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The people who sell products to our kids are only too aware of this eternal teenage paradox. Owning the right brands and products – and putting them together in her own style – is one way that a teen girl can walk that razor’s edge between being in and being out. Brand ownership enables girls to associate with a group: the other kids who gravitate towards those brands. The labels and products a girl displays can be like a social code, offering up signs of what kind of girl she is and who her tribe is. For instance, a Ralph Lauren top, Tiffany charm bracelet and Burberry bag sends out one signal. Vans sneakers, Roxy cargo pants and a Billabong T-shirt – a whole other signal. The importance of the social aspect of clothing can be seen when girls go shopping: they like to shop in packs. When a girl holds an item up to her friends and asks ‘What do you think?’ she’s second-guessing her own taste and testing whether it fits in with her tribe’s.

In our marketing-saturated culture, product ownership has joined the list of factors girls use to rank each other socially: to a girl’s beauty and popularity we can now add the rating of how fashionable and prestigious the stuff she owns is. American author Alissa Quart investigated the world of teen marketing for her eye-opening book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. What she noticed during her research was that the girls who owned the most name- brand products tended to be those who struggled to fit in according to the standard criteria girls judge one another by: they had an awkwardness about them or weren’t conventionally attractive.

‘While many teenagers are branded,’ she writes, ‘the ones most obsessed with brand names feel they have a lack that only superbranding will cover over and insure against social ruin.’

Kerri-Anne has recently asked me to help parents deconstruct the fashionista hype and to discuss a new label that has been launched by Madonna’s daughter Lourdes – aptly named Material Girl. I thought both interviews worth including here as they do offer practical advice on how you can support your daughter to look beyond the brand; particularly if it is a brand that wants to encourage her to look too sexy, too soon!

This post is partly based on “Shopping for Labels…or Love?”, in my book The Butterfly Effect (Random House Australia). My book may be purchased by clicking on the Paypal link on the right hand side of this web page.

Not the model I’m after

Australia’s Next Top Model rates well. Really well. In fact, last year the premiere of series 5 entered the record books and became the most watched show on pay TV. Many of the viewers are teen girls and many of the contestants are teen girls. This year, of the 16 contestants, only two are out of their teens and the average age is just 17.

What type of messages will girls be exposed to if they tune in this year? Past offerings give us something to go on…

In 2007, the American version set the tone with one of the most alarming and tasteless episodes I have ever seen. The models were asked to pose as victims of violent crimes for a fashion shoot. They were depicted shot, bashed, pushed down stairs—the images were graphic and deeply disturbing. But apparently, this graphic glorification of violence against women is so hot right now. The judges made remarks like: “What’s great about this is that you can also look beautiful in death” and “Death becomes you, young lady.” Even more disturbingly, the “victims” were all meant to have been killed by other models, so vicious was the contestants’ desire to win that they would kill the others to secure the coveted prize. The scenario of one of the pictures was so over the top that it would have been laughable if it wasn’t so creepy: “Diana poses—organs stolen by a model”. What was the other model meant to have done with the stolen kidneys? Sold them for Prada?

"Diana poses - organs stolen by a model."
"Diana poses—organs stolen by a model."
'Dionne poses- shot by a model."
"Dionne poses—shot by a model."

In 2008, the Australian series was rocked by (read: the show grabbed free publicity and maximised its audience with) awful bullying. Contestant Alamela Rowan, the victim of verbal taunts and physical  attacks, was left quite distraught. So bad did the systematic intimidation become that the show’s judges at the time—Jodhi Meares, Charlotte Dawson and Alex Perry—reprimanded the other contestants, but no further action was taken and the bullies weren’t punished. This sparked a media debate on teen girl bullying, though the show’s culture of “compare and despair” and practice of ranking girls on their looks was not called into question. The main bully, Demelza Reveley, ended up winning the series and going on to receive the lucrative modelling contracts—there, that showed her, didn’t it?

Throughout the seasons, the judges themselves have sometimes been less than ideal role models. Alex Perry has a reputation for doling out harsh criticism, calling contestants things like “wild pig”. Charlotte Dawson sends mixed body image messages. She now says she regrets some of the cosmetic surgery she has had, and that “anyone thinking plastic surgery will make them happier is wrong.” However, though she says she’s given up on invasive surgery, she does still use some cosmetic procedures. And she has a damning, dismissive and totally out-of-touch attitude toward plus-size models.

Last year saw a revolution of sorts, when a “plus-sized” model, Tahnee Atkinson, won. She was a size 10. I say this was a “revolution of sorts” as the average Australian woman is a size 16. It was hardly an earth-shattering move, was it? Yet many commentators asked if she was really top model material:

In an ideal world, yes. The girl is unquestionably gorgeous—she’s got an exceptional figure and a smile that stops traffic. She’s professional, well-behaved and determined. Her ‘normal’ beauty is something that a lot of women would love to see more of in fashion magazines. But in the fickle and unfair world of modelling it probably won’t equal a long-term fashion career. As casting agents politely explained in the show, she just doesn’t have the matchstick-thin figure required by most top designers. — Georgia Waters, Brisbane Times

What about this season then, post Tahnee, post the government’s Body Image Advisory Group? Don’t hold your breath that this season the show will suddenly adopt the new voluntary code of conduct for the fashion industry and begin to promote a diversity of sizes. In the first episode of the new season, airing next week, viewers will see a 16-year-old contestant get excluded from a catwalk parade because she is “too big“. She’s a size 8. She says the experience left her feeling embarrassed and shamed into changing her eating habits. I spoke about this recently with Kerri-Anne Kennerley:

The new season has a ridiculous promo ad featuring models competing like racehorses—or are they greyhounds?—on a race track, trying to outrun one another to snatch the lure, i.e., the modelling contract. Women as thoroughbreds. And there is Sarah Murdoch with the starter’s gun. Sarah, I think your heart was in the right place when you joined the government-appointed body image advisory group. You were no doubt already a busy woman, successful and influential in your own right, so why would you join it other than because you believe action is needed to improve young people’s body image? However, perhaps you failed to realise that it was not a one-off gig but an ongoing commitment to showing how things could be done differently in the fashion industry. Whether it is your intention or not, you are a role model. Sorry, but we expected more. I believe the rest of the advisory group did, too, and I hope they make a statement on the fact that messages in Australia’s Next Top Model contravene many of the group’s recommendations.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Australia’s Next Top Model isn’t my favourite show. But before anyone is tempted to outright ridicule it in front of teen girls who avidly watch it—or try to ban them from watching it—I want to say that I see a danger in demonising something that teen girls are interested in. From working with girls all around the country, I know that huge numbers of them dream of becoming a model, which is why in previous posts I’ve tried to take an objective look at modelling. Coming down too hard on girls for being interested in modelling or wanting to watch Australia’s Next Top Model is probably one of the least effective ways to minimise the potential damage. It makes us look out of touch, and that can put us on the back foot. It makes us look dismissive, and nothing is more frustrating to a teen girl than when adults act as if she doesn’t have a brain. And the best way to get a teen girl to watch something is to say we hate it and she isn’t allowed to watch it.

Goodness knows, as a teen girl I was obsessed with some shows I can look back at now and recognise as being rubbish- Prisoner anyone?  And I remember that my friends and I were not just passive absorbers of those shows. Actually, we’d sit in front of Prisoner, loving every minute of it, but relentlessly poking fun at it, deconstructing the ridiculous things the characters did and said. To me, TV has always been an interactive medium, and I think it should be for all girls! The best thing we can do is encourage girls to deconstruct media messages, and that means getting a conversation going about Australia’s Next Top Model. Avoid the temptation to lecture, but instead ask questions about what the show tells us about the fashion industry and the media.

  • Is it fair that we are all meant to aspire to a narrow beauty ideal?
  • How achievable is that ideal?
  • Does anyone truly win when girls compete against one another based solely on appearance?
  • These are real teen girls on the screen, not made-up characters. Is it okay that they face this type of criticism and judgment for others’ entertainment?

What other questions do you think would be worth raising with girls in order to encourage them to see past the fashionista hype?

Look good by doing very little

lydia2The following is a guest blog post used with permission by the author Lydia Jade Turner. Lydia is a psychotherapist and the Managing Director of BodyMatters Australasia. BodyMatters Australasia is a specialist clinic that was established to not only treat disordered eating, but to diminish the complex factors that contribute to our global epidemic of eating problems.

Last week Youth and Sport Minister Kate Ellis revealed a new code of conduct for the fashion and advertising industries, backed by the Federal government, in what is claimed to be a world first attempt to regulate the industries contributing to increased rates of body shame and eating disorders.

The voluntary code, outlining a list of proposed changes that reward magazines, fashion labels, and modelling agencies who comply with its criteria with a ‘tick of approval’, has met with mixed response. Responses have ranged from the dismissal of the need for any regulation, to claims that the promotion of anything other than a thin ideal will inflate obesity rates. Others who acknowledged the need for industry regulation expressed scepticism that the code would work, given its voluntary nature.

Helen Razer wrote a scathing critique of the code arguing that eating disorders have been around for centuries and therefore it is misguided to blame mass media and regulate industry. Those who argue that media images are harmless, or in some cases, that resiliency programmes are all that is needed to combat body shame and eating disorders, do the field of public health a great disservice. Evidence extending over hundreds of international studies confirms that the promotion of a thin-ideal increases body shame, which itself increases risk of developing clinical eating disorders, unhealthy weight loss practices, self-harm, and depression.

The fact is that eating disorders have never been as prevalent as they are now. Arguing that they can’t be triggered by the bombardment of a thin-ideal because they have been reported to exist prior to media images is essentially like arguing that lung cancer can’t be triggered by smoking because it was around prior to the invention of cigarettes. Razer’s point that the Roman elite used to throw up after meals in a “practice we’d now call bulimia” is based on a myth that misinforms about the true function of the Roman ‘vomitorium’.

Contrary to popular belief, vomitoriums were not used by the Roman elite to get rid of their stomach contents. The vomitorium is an architectural structure within the Roman amphitheatre, designed to alleviate crowds by allowing the audience to “spew out” after the show.”

While there have been some historical reports of Romans deliberately vomiting, this was certainly not part of a regular binge-purge cycle and there is no evidence that it was accompanied by a sense of loss of control, cognitive distortions, body shame, or feelings of low self-worth, as seen in those suffering from bulimia.

Having had a previous patient justify her bulimia citing this very myth about ancient Roman practices, it is important to exercise caution when discussing eating disorders in this context. Eating disorder sufferers already experience great difficulty grasping the seriousness of their condition, and any argument that risks framing their illness as some sort of lifestyle choice or culture clash is potentially harmful.

Another reason used against regulation lies in the misguided belief that the promotion of anything other than thin-ideal will inflate obesity rates. What the weight loss industry has cleverly hidden is that the drive to be thin actually plays a role in contributing to long term weight gain. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily bring on thinness, although it will bring about health benefits. Dieting, on the other hand, may bring about thinness (initially), but is actually the biggest predictor of binge-eating due to our hardwired response to the sense of deprivation. Dieting is also a significant predictor of weight cycling and long term weight gain.

It’s important to recognise that losing weight and being thin do not necessarily equate to health. Currently the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria reports that eight percent of teenage girls smoke in an effort to control their weight. The fear of being anything but thin is so strong in France, that the anti-tobacco campaigns now address women’s refusal to quit smoking for fear of weight gain. A whole variety of disordered eating behaviours are used to achieve or maintain a slim body, but at what cost? It’s time we stopped swapping health for thinness. What has been lost amidst Obesity Hysteria is the idea of health, and the idea that bodies do not have to exist in a ‘thin versus fat’ dichotomy.

Industries involved in promoting body shame and disordered eating must be held accountable for their actions. In this light, it is good to see our government acknowledge body image as a serious problem. But steps to regulate industry are not a “world’s first.” If anything, Australia is lagging behind. Both France and Spain, for example, began taking steps to regulate their industries several years ago, with The Guardian reporting in January that Spain’s lower chamber approved the banning of advertisements for plastic surgery, slimming products, and some beauty ads being shown before 10pm.

Some argue that legislation is not necessary to regulate industries. I disagree. Every governing structure has its limitations. Within a capitalist structure, the goal is to maximise profit. Corporations are accountable to their shareholders. As retail expert Brian Walker said, “Unless there’s a direct benefit to their sales margin for implementing the code, then retailers aren’t going to take this up. If the only benefit perceived is societal, I think there will be a mixed response, with many choosing not to take it up.” Indeed The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday that Myer has already backed out, while other retailers like Portmans did not even bother to return calls.

Perhaps the real problem lies in the fact that a number of women who sit on the National Advisory Board have conflicting interests. Sarah Murdoch’s actions have proven nothing but hypocritical. How can anyone take her seriously as a body image advocate when her brand, BONDS, continues to make no effort to promote anything other than a thin ideal and sells padded bras to eight year old girls? She is also the executive producer and judge on reality show Australia’s Next Top Model, which last year labelled the winner of the show Tahnee Atkinson ‘plus size.’ Atkinson is a size 10. This year the show is reported to be limited to size 8 and smaller contestants. Ads for the show have already compared the contestants to greyhounds, as they are shown racing from stalls in a degrading manner as they chase the lure – in this case, a modelling contract.

Kate Ellis, who commissioned the advisory board, recently posed in a tight-fitting leather dress with Gucci heels for Grazia magazine’s “body image special” in a bid to raise awareness about body image issues. Yet when asked whether or not the images of her were airbrushed, she refused to answer the question. Disclosing when images have been digitally enhanced is one of the board’s key recommendations. How can board members expect corporations to ‘fall in line’ when they themselves refuse to adhere to their own code?

It seems much has been invested in creating the appearance of doing something – but so long as we continue with this voluntary code, any changes made are unlikely to be sustained.

The Government’s New Body Image Policy

bodyimagecodeLate last year in this blog, I gave my assessment of the National Strategy on Body Image proposed by an advisory group that was appointed by the federal government. Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, has just released the government’s body image policy in response to the proposal. So, how has the policy shaped up?

I had praised the advisory group’s recommendations for a Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist, so I am happy to see that the government will be distributing posters based on the checklist to every primary and secondary school in the country.

Regarding the rest of the policy, I think the intentions are good and many of the principles are undeniably sensible. Stores stocking a broad range of clothing for all shapes and sizes? Of course I believe in this recommendation, and many similar recommendations. However, I also believe that girls and young women deserve stronger action than what this policy takes.

The government has introduced an industry code of conduct designed to encourage the media, fashion and advertising industries to promote more positive body image messages. I agree with most of the guidelines in the code, such as calling on companies to: promote positive body image messages; include images of a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities; not undermine positive body image editorial messages with negative advertising; use models who are of a healthy weight and appropriate age; and cater to diverse women. One aspect of the code I am suspect of is that it asks companies to not digitally alter images to an unrealistic or unattainable degree, and to tell consumers when they have altered images. Frankly, this recommendation seems inadequate. Doesn’t any Photoshopping send the message that women are not good enough the way they are? That aside, in large part, I think it will be a healthier world for our girls to grow up in if companies follow the code of conduct. But—and this is a big but—the code is only voluntary.

This seems profoundly naive to me. What media, fashion or advertising company is going to invest time and money in following a voluntary code—unless it’s good for their bottom line?

This brings me to my next reservation about the new policy . . .

A national body image friendly awards scheme is to be launched. Organisations, initiatives and products that receive awards will earn the right to display a body image friendly symbol. It’s like the body image equivalent of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval. But surely companies will only vie to win an award if it helps their bottom line. Are we seeing the start of the commodification of positive body image? That’s a possibility that truly makes me shudder.

Already we have seen companies such as Unilever using the body image issue to sell products, through their Dove “real” beauty campaigns. Given that Uniliver employs incredibly negative body image messages to sell some of its other brands, such as Lynx, Slim Fast and Ponds Skin whitening cream in Asia, I think it’s fair to conclude that at least in that company, profit is more important than positive body image. (There has also been some questioning of just how real the images in those Dove campaigns are. If you want to find out more, there are articles in New York magazine and Jezebel about a hypocritical casting call for “beautiful” and “flawless” women for their next real beauty campaign. Dove has since put out a statement that they didn’t approve the casting call—though I notice that they haven’t denied an association with the casting company that issued it.)

My main concern is that a body image friendly symbol could become just another marketing tool to drive profit—and one that may well be fairly meaningless to the consumer if it doesn’t reflect the whole reality of a company’s body image messages.

Last year, I noted that the proposed national strategy had nothing to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls. The government’s policy also fails to address these crucial issues, even though the pressure to be too sexy too soon is a major part of many girls’ body image dissatisfaction. Experts in child and adolescent development, parents and social commentators have identified the damaging rise in sexualisation and objectification as something we as a society need to act on now.  The Australian Psychological Society has issued guidelines and has lobbied extensively in Canberra. So, why the deafening silence in the government policy?

Melinda Tankard Reist has written a couple of thought-provoking blog posts on this gap in the policy. Among other things, she discussed the absurdity of the media touting the size 14 model Laura Wells as the ultimate in positive body image simply because she is not thin and is happy to pose almost nude, squeezing her breasts together for the camera. I agree wholeheartedly with what Melinda wrote in a follow-up post:

You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.

Associate Professor Karen Brooks, of Southern Cross University, in her column in The Courier-Mail, like me agreed in principle with the aims of the policy but had reservations. She believes, as do I, that it is unfortunate that the advisory group did not seek opinions from a greater number of outside bodies and individuals with expertise in these issues. Karen also notes that the government’s allocation of funding has opened the way for beauty industry involvement in the teaching of positive body image in schools. I think such involvement is a whole world of wrong, akin to a fast food chain going into schools to promote healthy eating. That’s why Enlighten Education will always remain proudly independent, never accepting sponsorships or partnerships with corporations of any kind, especially beauty and fashion companies.

I also share Karen’s view that it is key for any in-school body image initiatives to be targeted at large groups of girls, over a sustained period. This is something that Enlighten believes in very strongly, because evidence shows that large-group interventions—say, with an entire grade—are far more effective than small-group ones of only a dozen or so girls. It is critical to spread the message to as large a number of girls at once as possible. That way, a girl’s whole peer group is speaking the same language, so the message isn’t undermined.

Over the next few months, the criteria for earning the government’s body image friendly symbol will be fine-tuned. I join with Karen Brooks in urging the advisory group to use this time to consult more widely with experts and with young people. I applaud the government for its good intentions and for acknowledging that negative body image among young people is a real issue that we all need to be concerned about. However, given the policy’s limitations, I again urge parents, teachers and community leaders to keep up the good work of combatting negative body image messages. In the end, it is our responsibility to be body image role models for girls and to send positive body image messages in what we say and what we do.

“Could I Be a Model?”

Over the past couple of weeks, guest blogger and Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis has shared thought-provoking insights into the world of modelling. For young girls, the decision about whether to try to model needs to be made jointly with her parents, and I hope that Nikki’s posts will help you talk with your daughter if the topic comes up. 

I have to admit that when a young girl tells me she wants to be a model, it triggers all sorts of concerns for me. I am sure I’m not alone and that similar questions spring up for you: Will someone try to ply her with alcohol or drugs? What if she gets rejected by all the modelling agencies? And a question that resonates strongly here at Enlighten Education: What if she is asked to pose in a raunchy, adult way?

There is ample evidence that children are being sexualised at too young an age by exposure to a relentless barrage of hypersexual images in the media, advertising and popular culture. We can only guess at the damage it does to the young models who are actually posing for those images.  People were rightly outraged by the sexy makeup, clothes and poses that Australian model Morgan Featherstone was put in for a photo shoot . . . at the age of 8. She and her mother appeared on this 60 Minutes story on which I and other experts spoke about why it is so wrong to portray girls as sexy women.
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Click on the image above or here to go to the URL to view Little Women

Let’s say your young daughter is one of the handful of hopefuls who get signed up by a modelling agency. There is every chance that she may be asked to pose in a way that is too adult or too sexy for her age, and you will need to agree on how to respond to situations like that. I urge all parents of young models to teach their daughter to ask questions before she goes on a job, about what she’ll be wearing and the image she’ll be portraying. Until she has developed those skills herself, go along with her and do the asking. If a modelling agency makes you feel prudish or “difficult” for wanting to be informed about how your daughter will be portrayed, then maybe they’re not the right agency for your daughter. 

Until at least the age of 16 girls need a trustworthy chaperone. The ideal situation is that the chaperone, usually a parent or another trusted guardian, sits quietly in the background — but quickly steps in if a girl is asked to do something that is not age appropriate or she feels uncomfortable about. As shoots can run for 12 hours, the chaperone issue needs to be considered when your daughter says she wants to be a model. Chaperones are especially important for the small percentage of models who break into the high-fashion stratosphere, where champagne and pills may be on offer. In recent years there have been some pretty depressing stories about young, inadequately chaperoned models going off the rails.

Given how highly competitive the industry is, I guess it’s no wonder that there are scammers out there who capitalise on girls’ intense desire to break into modelling, plus their lack of knowledge about how to actually go about it. If an agency flatters your daughter and tells her they want to represent her, and then they ask for a fee — that is not a legitimate modelling agency. If a photographer says your daughter must have an expensive portfolio of shots before approaching an agency, they are not legitimate. Same goes for modelling schools that make overblown guarantees of a career at the end of their course.

The big reputable modelling agencies do not require girls to have gone to modelling school. Nor do they require them to have a portfolio already. On their websites, they give clear instructions on how to begin the process — usually by sending in a few snapshots, her age and measurements. If a legitimate agency is interested in signing up a girl, then they will give a range of options for photographers who can put together a portfolio. If you’re suspicious about a company, contact your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading department.

Young models have the potential to earn far more than their peers — who might, as I did, work at McDonald’s. Too much money too young can be a toxic recipe, so it’s vital for parents to keep a judicious grip on the financial reins. If you find yourself needing to help your daughter manage a substantial income, a starting point for financial advice is the Australian government’s financial literacy website. In New Zealand, there is the excellent independent financial advice website Sorted. Sound financial management (and getting a good education!) is vital for young models because, as noted in the Australian government’s job guide, a model usually retires at the ripe old age of 25. 

For me, the most difficult issue is knowing what to say when a girl of 13 or 14 looks at me and asks, “Do you think I could be a model?”  It’s insane to try to answer the question factually. There are only a couple of requirements you can be certain of at the big modelling agencies: that she needs to be at least 173 cm tall and a size 8 to 10. Beyond that, ideas about what makes a girl attractive are subjective, and what the fashion industry finds attractive can be mystifying to us ordinary folk. Really, the only person who can answer the question is someone at a modelling agency.

What it is important for us to try to answer is the real question that lies beneath it. “Do you think I could be a model?” is not just a question about career choices. It’s also shorthand for “Do you think I’m beautiful? Do you think I’m special?” And the answer to that should be easy. All girls are beautiful. And special.

Be honest. Tell her that you are not in a position to know whether she could be a model. But that most importantly, modelling is not the only — or even the best — way to feel beautiful and special. Praise all of her achievements and wonderful qualities, not just her appearance. Talk about all the talents and skills she has if modelling turns out to not be the right thing for her.

And make sure she knows that no matter what she chooses to be when she grows up, you’ll be there to support her all the way.

Model Obsession — Part 2: Career reality check

Last week Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis shared stories from her time as a young model dealing with the body-image pressures of the fashion world. This week, to help inform the many girls who want to be models, and their families, Nikki gives us an insider’s look at the positives, the negatives and some of the practicalities of life as a model.

Girls who love clothes and makeup will enjoy many aspects of modelling, such as wearing new fashions before their friends do, having expert makeup artists working on them using top-of-the-range products, getting invited to launch parties, and receiving free products and goodie bags. When girls think about the positives of being a model they immediately think of these perks, plus all the attention. But there are also long-term and substantial benefits a girl can get from modelling if she handles it well.

Modelling is a chance to meet and learn from a wide range of different people. I have worked with artists in their own right such as fashion designers Alannah Hill and Akira Isagowa, choreographers Jason Coleman (from “So You Think You Can Dance”) and John “Cha Cha” O’Connell (who worked on “Moulin Rouge”), and many brilliantly talented photographers and hair and makeup artists. Some of these contacts have led me toward other opportunities such as acting, writing for dance publications and mentoring young performers. Modelling also brings some girls the opportunity to travel overseas, and that can be great learning experience.

A model has to develop good interpersonal skills. She needs to be able to walk into a room full of strangers, put her card or portfolio down, confidently say “Hi” and present herself. A lot of clients only want to work with girls who are nice, bubbly and easy to be with on a long shoot. My agent says to me: “Sometimes, Nikki, I think you get booked because they know they can stand to spend 12 hours with you!”

Being a model has helped me gain confidence and become the presenter I am today with Enlighten — and I am more passionate about this job than anything else I have ever done before. Modelling has been part of my journey, for it has taught me exceptional presentation skills. I might go to a casting for something like a yogurt commercial and not have any actual props to hold. They just turn the camera on, and I’ve got to pretend to get out of my car, open the boot, get the dog out, walk the dog, then eat a pretend yogurt. And I’m just making an absolute fool of myself! Then I walk out and think, “Okay, if I can do that, then I can stand up in front of 90 girls at an Enlighten workshop and put myself out there!”
Fourth from left - modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at 29! Noqw that i am 30, I am usually ionly considered for shoots as a mother  M
The fashion industry is obsessed with youth: me, second from right, modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at just 29!

Modelling can also be an inroad to related careers such as acting, television presenting, or working as an agent, booker, makeup artist or photographer. The key is for a model to always be planning for the future, even at the height of her career. The fashion industry is obsessed with youth, so models as they head towards 30 start to get panicky if they haven’t trained for any other role and perhaps left school at 15 or 16. As a girl, my primary focus was always to finish school and go to university.  

A lot has been said about the photoshopping trend in magazines and advertising. I once got a total shock when I saw a magazine picture and didn’t even recognise myself. When Sarah Murdoch appeared on the cover of Women’s Weekly free of airbrushing, she said, “I think when I’m retouched in photographs it’s worse, because when people see me in real life they go, ‘Oh God! Isn’t she old!'” But the fact is: once a model is past a certain age, clients don’t bother to hire and then retouch her unless she has a big name. Indeed, only the big names such as Sarah Murdoch ever have much chance of getting the high-paying, glamorous jobs. 

For the vast majority, modelling won’t pay the rent on its own. The hard reality in Australia is that only the top 5% of models are doing the amazing jobs — the fashion magazine editorials, the sides of buses, Australian Fashion Week. The rest are doing the type of jobs that I have mostly done — the mall and department store catwalk shows, catalogues, That’s Life magazine. The pay for those jobs is not all that high, and there is rarely enough work available for girls to model full-time. All the more reason why they need to acquire additional skills.

The financial pressure is heightened by the fact that as a model you are expected to be ready for castings on short notice, and that means spending big dollars (and hours) on being manicured, pedicured, fake tanned, fashionably dressed, and having good hair and teeth — all the time. 
 
Another thing girls should be aware of is that modelling can change the way people see you. Others sometimes make an immediate assumption that I’m not particularly bright, and that is incredibly frustrating. Guys might assume that all models are party girls and I must be out all night at bars. Women automatically think that life must be easy for me and I have never worried about my body or appearance (if only!). Or they transport me right back to the schoolyard by picking my flaws — “I can’t believe she models with a bum that size” and so on. When you’re on a catwalk or in a magazine, you are putting yourself out there to be judged, and that judgment won’t always be favourable.

Similarly, models need to get used to being rejected at castings. There will be times when you are not what the client needs — maybe they needed a petite blonde and you’re a tall brunette — and models need to learn not to take it personally.

Ironically, all these negatives I’ve raised do have the potential to be positive, if they help a girl develop resilience. If she can learn to deal with the inevitable self-esteem jolts of modelling, she can draw on that inner strength for the rest of her life, in any situation.

The key to becoming resilient rather than being crushed is to do what we talk about with girls through Enlighten: remember the real reasons why you’re special. Perhaps you fit into society’s idea of what is good-looking, and you can model, make some money and have some experiences — that’s fine. But remember why your friends like to spend time with you. Stay focused on all the other achievements and activities you’ve got going on in your life.

They are words for us all to live by.

I know that it can be a real source of anxiety for parents when their daughter announces that she wants to try to break into modelling, so next week Dannielle Miller will conclude this three-part series of blog posts by looking at ethics in the industry, hypersexual images of girls in advertising and how to talk with your daughter about her desire to model. 

 

With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".
With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".

Nikki Davis, BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Model Obsession — Part 1: Body image

Huge numbers of girls dream of becoming a model. It really is almost an obsession. But a girl’s choice to pursue that dream can bring a mixture of pride, uncertainty and downright anxiety to her parents. I wanted to know more about why modelling is so very appealing to teen girls, and how the reality compares to the dream. So for insight, I turned to Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis, who spent a number of years dancing and modelling professionally after completing her BA Communications degree, and continues to do some modelling work. She writes my guest blog this week, looking at what makes modelling attractive to so many girls, and the self-esteem and body image issues that arise in the modelling world. At Enlighten we strive to help girls and their parents make informed decisions about the future, so in following weeks Nikki will talk about the positive aspects of being a model, along with the practicalities and the challenges. 

When girls I’m presenting to for Enlighten find out I have done modelling, there is this sense of awe. “What kind of modelling have you done?” “Are you on any television commercials?” “What magazines have you been in?” “What clothes, what designers?” They want to know everything!

Professional shots Nikki uses to promote herself with prospective clients.
Professional shots I use to promote myself to prospective clients.

When I was 14, I started at a new dance school that also had a modelling agency, and I began getting my first serious offers of work. The fact that people were approaching me to do modelling was very exciting to me. If someone said to Mum, “Can we do photos of your daughter?” my little ears pricked up. The thing that frustrated me about my mum as a child — but that I’m thankful for now — is that she didn’t really allow me to do any professional work until I was about 16. That was when I did a Channel 7 ad, and I was absolutely blown away by the glamour of it all.

The main reason that I was drawn to modelling, and why I think girls are now, was the simple pleasure of having confirmation that I was special. It validates that you have the “right” look. You think breaking into modelling will cancel out any of your self-esteem issues and doubts because it means that you are what society thinks is beautiful and special.

But of course the reality is far more complicated than that.

Me to Vin Diesel's right - complete with fake tatoo!
Me to Vin Diesel's right (complete with fake tattoo)

In some ways modelling does make you feel special, and in some ways the glamour does come through. I remember once I was in the newspaper after being hired to walk the red carpet with Vin Diesel. I’d had a totally glamorous makeover, and I thought I looked pretty amazing — I loved it! The next day, I had all these people I went to school with — funnily enough some of whom had teased me at school — texting and emailing me. And that kind of thing is fun.

Then sometimes it all comes crashing down.

You’ve been feeling pretty special sitting in the hair and makeup chair for 3 hours before a shoot or a catwalk show, and you go over to the rack of clothes . . . and you don’t fit the pair of jeans they’ve given you. All of a sudden you land with a thud back on Earth. So at each job, you would walk in feeling nervous. It was a panicky feeling; your heart would beat quickly. If you didn’t fit something, you’d have to put your hand up in the crowded fitting room and say, “I don’t fit this, and a dresser needs to go and get me the next size up,” and someone would shout across, “Aw, Nikki doesn’t fit the size 10; you have to get her a 12.” On one occasion, I had a photographer who was used to working with very thin high-fashion models say out loud, “I can’t position her in a way that doesn’t make her legs look fat!”

When these things were happening to me, I was around 19 to 21, and like most women that age, my body was changing a lot. I tried a low-carb diet and lost a bit of weight, and the other models and the dressers started praising me, saying, “Oh! Oh, you’ve lost weight. Oh, you need a smaller size in this!” Many unhealthy relationships with food and exercise have been started this way. I was given so much positive feedback that I became quite obsessed with not putting the weight back on — which is of course exactly what I did, because I became so concerned with weighing my food and denying myself that when no one was looking I’d eat four blocks of chocolate.

It was also around this time that fashion swung from the Cindy Crawford look to Kate Moss, and clients wanted the quite skinny girls. It blew my mind that my figure was out of fashion. I thought if I lost weight and I was smaller, everything would be good because I’d be making more money and I’d have a better career. The pressure that your income relies on how much food you put in your mouth is really overwhelming.

At that stage of my life I had just finished uni and wasn’t focusing on much else than modelling and dancing, and that was a big part of the problem. I think that’s when modelling gets a bit dangerous: when it’s all you’ve got going on. All you’re thinking about is your body all the time, and your looks all the time, with nothing else to distract you.

My advice to young models is to always have something else going on in your life as well. To be studying, to be learning another language, to be writing or producing art, to be training as an actor or TV presenter — something else that’s not pure modelling. It is important not to get so hung up on looks that you lose perspective. I have met models who won’t go out with their friends because they have to stay home and put four coats of fake tan on. You can get so caught up in looks that you forget to live.

Finally, I relaxed into the idea: “This is who I am. Book me or don’t book me. Don’t book me and then torture me when I get there because I don’t fit something.” It’s so hard for young girls, because they don’t have that maturity. I didn’t have that attitude until I was 27. I’d had time by then to develop the other parts of me. I’d been writing for a dance magazine, and I’d been working in production and events, so I knew I had a lot more to offer than just my looks. That self-confidence takes time to develop, which is why if you skip uni and go straight into modelling when you’re 17 and you do put on weight or your look goes out of fashion, it can seriously affect you.

I am grateful that my parents always made me feel as though my appearance and success at modelling weren’t the most important achievements in my life. How well I did at school and how I treated other people were more valued. I don’t want to give the impression that modelling is only full of negatives for girls, because there is good stuff to be had from modelling — but it is crucial that we put a girl’s looks into perspective, stressing that the kind of validation modelling brings is not the be-all and end-all, and prettiness is not the most important value a girl has to offer.

The good stuff to be had from modelling? Increased confidence, interpersonal skills, resilience — these are a few of the qualities it can help girls develop. Next week, I’ll get into those positives, along with some hard practical realities of making a living out of modelling. Until then, we would love to hear about your experiences with girls and modelling.

Nikki Davis,  BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Mags’ flawed obsession with body perfect

MTR-193x300Guest blog post by Melinda Tankard Reist, a Canberra based author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls.

SHOCK horror: nude supermodel has dimple on thigh. In a move labelled daring and revolutionary, this month’s edition of Marie Claire features nude photos of Australian model Jennifer Hawkins airbrush-free. The shoot reveals “brave” Jen with all her flaws.

And what exactly are these impediments? A tiny crease in Hawkins’s waist, a slightly dimpled thigh and
“uneven skin tones”.

hawkins-146x150

Quelle horreur. As if this isn’t enough, Hawkins notes an additional flaw: her hips. She has them. Miss Universe 2004 is really the Elephant Woman.

According to Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank, the Hawkins images were inspired by a survey of 5500 readers that found only 12 per cent of women were happy with their bodies. That’s right, nude pics of a woman considered one of the world’s rarest beauties are supposed to cheer the rest of us up. The pictures will be auctioned this month, with proceeds going to eating disorders support group the Butterfly Foundation.

That Hawkins has been enlisted in the cause of girls who hate their bodies and are, in many ways, victims of the dominant ideal of female beauty kind of messes with my head. How can these pictures possibly help women feel good about themselves?

Labelling hips, a little dimpling on the thigh, a small waist crease (which looks like what happens when any woman sits down) and supposedly uneven skin tone as flaws is already problematic. Who decided these were flaws and not part of being a woman? And if these are flaws, then how are other women supposed to feel feel?

And what about all the other flaws Hawkins, 26, will accrue if she has kids and when she ages?

The problem is the emphasis on physical attributes over any other qualities a woman might possess. And a freak-of-nature body that gets 24-hour-a-day attention and the best of care to earn its owner an income. Most women will never have a body like this.

Why would an editor and an organisation concerned about body image choose a Miss Universe title holder as the pin-up for the love-yourself-just-as-you-are campaign? The images attract comparisons and judgment, and provide more opportunity for objectification. They have already prompted a rash of emails from self-appointed male judges who said Hawkins was pear shaped, that her bum was unappealing, that her breasts were too small, that she should have kept her clothes on.

More worryingly, the images have prompted women to compare themselves with Hawkins. “She wants to make [women] feel more comfortable about how they look, gee thanks, I now feel worse! I’m a size 10 and I still have more rolls than her!” wrote one.

Another email included a bulimia reference: “If anything is going to have me running to the toilet with my finger down my throat it’s a picture of Jennifer Hawkins naked.”

And who exactly is going to bid for the photos, you wonder.

Perhaps the Melbourne man who posted this comment on the Herald Sun website : “*Pant pant pant* OF COURSE Jen should’ve stripped, what a silly question to ask!”. Or Kit Walker of Geelong, who asked: “Where and how many of these magazines can I get!!!”Or perhaps the charming Darren of South Morang, who referred to his imminent Hawkins-inspired sexual arousal: “It’s likely to have a very positive effect on my body, that’s for sure.”

The whole PC beauty shift is for so many just a hilarious bit of theatre. But there is nothing amusing in mocking or encouraging the anxieties that cause untold misery and suffering to so many women. And the hypocrisy is everywhere, rising up to hit you in your flawed face. In the same newspaper promoting Jen “flaws and all” in a banner headline on its front page were three full pages of “Best bikini bodies: How 10 celebs got the perfect figure”. And who is featured there? Hawkins for “best overall body”.

“Our former Miss Universe easily has one of the most envied bikini bodies in the world,” it says, and Hawkins provides advice on how to “get a bikini body quickly”. (Other celebs are given accolades for “best bottom”, “best post-baby body”, “best tummy”, “best thighs”, “best boobs and abs”, and so on.)

Women are expected to believe that enlightened advances are being made in this quite monotonous and unimaginative regime.

This has been identified elsewhere, in regard to the tobacco and alcohol industries, as air cover: giving the appearance of social responsibility while really not doing much at all.

Marie Claire and Hawkins and her flaws, which aren’t really, will do nothing to lessen body dissatisfaction. Because it’s not really about celebrating a diversity of women’s bodies, as advertisers in the magazines spruiking body improvement products well know.

If Frank and fellow editors are serious about the body image problems their magazines have helped to create, will we see less airbrushing, less attention to the “thin, hot, sexy” cult and more real women, rather than insulting and meaningless token gestures?

See Melinda’s article as published in The Australian.

A National Strategy on Body Image

The issue of negative body image has officially crossed over into the mainstream public debate. We now have a proposed National Strategy on Body Image, put together by an advisory group appointed by the federal government.

Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, put together the group, which was chaired by Mia Freedman, former editor of Cosmopolitan, and  featured big names in the fashion industry and  media such as TV presenter and model Sarah Murdoch, children’s health and psychology experts including Professor David Forbes of the University of Western Australia, and leaders of youth organisations such as the YWCA. They considered submissions from the public–mostly young people, teachers, youth workers, social workers and psychologists–then came up with recommendations for government action to deal with the widespread problem of poor body image.

What excites me, and my colleagues at Enlighten, is that the Strategy gives public recognition to the important role school programs can and should play in helping girls develop positive body image.  The Strategy calls for increased funding for “reputable and expert organisations to deliver seminars and discussions on body image within schools” and for workshops that increase girls’ media literacy so that they can stand up to negative media messages.

Many schools access independent organisations to deliver one-off body image workshops or to facilitate body image discussions among students. A number of these types of interventions have been demonstrated as effectively reducing the body dissatisfaction of students. The Advisory Group encourages government to increase the opportunities schools have to access these activities.

Proposed National Strategy on Body Image

As a first step, I call on the federal government to immediately introduce the Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist in the Strategy (on page 42). It has some great practical ideas that I would love to see implemented in schools across Australia. The best of the recommendations:

  • Bring positive body image messages into the curriculum. It is easy to see how body image can be incorporated into health and physical education lesson plans, but teachers need not stop there. In English, students could be asked to write a critical thinking essay on how the media affects our idea of what a woman should look like. A media studies class might focus on the way that programs such as Photoshop are used by magazines to create an unattainable ideal of beauty.
  • Consult with students to develop a sports uniform everyone feels comfortable wearing. Being involved in sport has been shown to boost girls’ self-esteem and body image–yet it has also been shown that figure-hugging uniforms are one of the greatest barriers to girls participating in sport.
  • Provide Mental Health First Aid training for teachers that can help them identify body image and eating disorders in students and then know what steps to take next.
  • Give training for teachers in how to use body-friendly language with students–that is, no “fat talk”, either about themselves or their students.
  • Include positive body image in the school’s policy, even writing positive body image and the celebration of diversity into the school’s mission statement.
  • Do away with weighing and measuring students. It seems kind of crazy that in this day and age that has to even be spelt out, but it is still done in PE and even some maths classes. And for many students, the humiliation they experience leaves lasting scars.

Beyond the school system, there are some other good (and long overdue) suggestions in the Strategy that I hope the government implements. A standard system of clothing sizes to avoid the distress many feel when they find they can’t fit into a certain size. Stores stocked with a broad range of sizes, reflecting the diversity of our body types. Mannequins that look more like the many different women we see every day in the street.

But as with most such working papers put together by committee, within parameters set by a federal government, the Strategy of course has its limitations. For instance, it can simply suggest that funding should be increased in schools to ensure all girls receive the media literacy and self-esteem workshops they need; it can’t provide an assurance that this will actually happen.

The limitations of the Strategy become clearer when it deals with other avenues for promoting positive body image. The right principle is there: to encourage clothing designers, magazines and TV, the diet industry, advertisers and marketers to finally shoulder responsibility for the shame, disgust and body anxiety they routinely encourage young women to experience. But the Strategy recommends first trying the softly, softly approach: asking companies to follow a voluntary code of conduct and rewarding them for good behaviour by listing them in a roll of honour and awarding them the right to display a logo. Think of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval, but in this case for creating positive body image rather than lowering cholesterol. Only once this approach had failed to produce results would penalties be considered.

I would be overjoyed if companies voluntarily started treating girls and women with more respect. And I think some would, so long as it was good for their bottom line. Think, for instance, of Dove, which uses the body image issue to sell a truckload of soap–while their parent company’s other key brands include Lynx (Boom Chicka Waa Waa, anyone?), Slim Fast and Ponds Skin Whitening cream marketed in Asian countries. A lot of fashion designers would  simply pull one of those frosty catwalk model faces in response to a suggestion they promote positive body image. I mean, can you really see Gucci saying “Hey, they’re right, we should stop promoting this unhealthy stick-thin image and adopt that voluntary code of conduct”?

I do wish that the proposed national strategy had more to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and especially of girls. While body size and shape and the lack of diversity in the media are prime sources of despair, the pressure to be sexy–and only within a narrow ideal of sexiness–is increasingly causing serious problems.

Research shows that over time women can come to see themselves as objects and subject their bodies to constant surveillance, feeling disgusted and ashamed about themselves. So even if the code helps industry to get serious about presenting more realistically sized women, the expectation to be ‘‘hot’’ and ‘‘sexy’’ will remain. And industry will have the right product and the latest look we need to achieve this false ideal.

Misty de Vries, COO, Women’s Forum Australia, in The Age

The way I look at it, the National Strategy on Body Image is a great place to start. But its recommendations are only worth something if the politicians, the fashion and beauty product industries, and the media and advertisers follow through on them. It is thanks to all of us voicing our opinions that the government commissioned a Strategy in the first place. Now we have to keep up the pressure!

Fat Talk and the Fashionista Generation

This is the Fashionista Generation. Chalk it up to Gossip Girl or Next Top Model or all those banks who handed out credit cards like they were candy — whatever the reasons, designer labels have become a part of our culture. We use them to fit in, to stand out, to create a glow of status and power.

Girls use brands to look more mature and hip; their mothers, to look more youthful and hip. This makes the marketers very, very happy. And it leads to some really creepy crossovers. Christian Louboutin — the French cobbler who only the fashion elite had heard of until Sex and the City but whose red-soled shoes all suburbia now lusts after — recently designed Barbie shoes for women. And women’s shoes for Barbie. The Barbie fantasy (or nightmare, depending on your point of view) is now reality: you and your teen daughters can walk in Barbie’s hot-pink stilettos, and she can walk in yours. At last, the circle is complete! The plastic woman and the living, breathing one are united. Childhood and adulthood have merged.

It’s rather pitiful, really, that in order for poor Barbie to be perfect enough for Monsieur Louboutin, she had to get cosmetic surgery on her “cankles” (a word in my top ten list of loathsome fat-talk terms it’s time we pledge to never use again). Barbie was already dangerously thin, people! If a real woman had her figure she would be classified anorexic and she would be unable to menstruate or have children. I thought we all knew that by now. Apparently the fashion world didn’t, because her grossly cankulous lower limbs needed to be made even more slender to be deserving of the designer’s shoes. On one level, it’s tempting to shrug this off as utterly ridiculous, just some designer who’s totally out of touch with reality behaving silly, but the fact that Mattel — a manufacturer of toys for children — indulged his whims actually makes me furious. Deep down, this is the message it sends to girls and women:

You’ll never be good enough. In fact, it turns out that the unrealistic ideal woman isn’t even good enough.

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How often has a day of clothes shopping turned toxic for you or your teen daughter? It can be daunting to see the racks filled with sizes that seem suited only, in fact, to a Barbie doll. What do you tell yourself in the changing room mirror? You wouldn’t be alone if you have fallen prey to some pretty self-hating thoughts under the fluorescent department store glare. There are women and girls who buy clothes a size too small for them so they will feel compelled to lose weight. Women and girls who unthinkingly repeat the old chorus “Does my bum look big in this?” as they twist to look at themselves in the mirror. Women and girls who feel ashamed because they aren’t the “right shape” for the latest designer label offering, as though there ever has been, or ever should be, such a thing as the “right” shape.

The tragedy is that too many women and girls diet to fit themselves into “must have” fashions, or they work themselves into an epic neurosis because they can’t achieve the look they see in fashion magazines and on billboards. That ideal look is achievable for only a tiny number of people (models are thinner than 98% of the population), or it is unachievable at all because it isn’t even real. Ralph Lauren recently Photoshopped model Filippa Hamilton to such an extreme degree that they made her look more like an insect than a woman.

Photoshop gone mad

It’s not a good example when you see this picture; every young woman is going to look at it and think that it is normal to look like that. It’s not . . . It’s not healthy, and it’s not right.

— model Filippa Hamilton

This was one of the final jobs she did for the company. She says that after 8 years of modelling for Ralph Lauren, they decided she was too fat for their clothes and cancelled her contract. Reality check: Filippa Hamilton, too fat for Ralph Lauren, is 178 cm and 54.5 kg, or 5′ 10″ and 120 pounds.  I’m sorry, Filippa, but  even before this deranged level of Photoshopping, your weight was not normal and healthy; you were already well into the underweight category of the healthy weight range.

Too many women and girls are berating and belittling themselves for being unable to fit into or look good in clothes modelled by skeletal models. I like nice clothes and shoes. I like to feel good when I walk out the door in the morning. And I don’t have a problem with people wanting to be fashionable. What I do have a problem with is clothing companies that make girls and women feel badly about themselves and talk badly about themselves. I have a problem with the fact that in many cases, women’s fashion is designed by male designers who probably know as much about building a rocket ship and flying to the moon as they do about the real lives of real women and girls.

What if we all make a pact not to buy fashion labels that make us feel less than beautiful? What if we say no to marketers who try to make us feel that we will never be good enough? They will  have no choice but to change their products and the way they market them.

During Fat Talk Free Week let’s transform the negative self-talk in the changing room into something far more constructive. Instead of punishing ourselves for not fitting into fashion designers’ narrow ideal let’s demand that fashion designers cater to our needs. And let’s choose to celebrate our differences and our unique qualities — rather than trying to squeeze them all into those designer jeans.

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