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Boys will be girls

Why have a problem with Andrej Pejic when Chloe Memisevic is on the runway?

AndrejPejicA reader wrote in recently to ask if I was going to sound off about the latest modelling sensation, Bosnian Andrej Pejic, who modelled the wedding gown in Jean-Paul Gaultier's Jan 2011 catwalk show.

Well, the thing is, no, I'm not. 

I couldn't care less whether Andrej is a bloke any more than I care whether Caster Semenya is a girl or that androgyne beauty (more correctly epicene, I feel), is currently the big flavour in fashion. 

Nor am I spectacularly annoyed that Jean-Paul Gaultier has dared to dress up 'a man as a woman'. Gaultier has always enjoyed a bit of gender-bending, and I think a: he's having a laugh (and fashion should have a little humour after all, which is why Milan is so unbearably tedious) and b: if Pejic is a new icon of beauty, then good luck to him - because he IS beautiful. In fact, other than the hair and the makeup, he looks exactly like the bloke I lost my virginity to. (The wedding dress, incidentally, looked every bit as good on Rihanna at the Grammies.)

andrej-weddingRihannaI don't really care what anyone's sex is and even the idea of having 'a sex' is primarily cultural. Science has no real way of telling what anyone's sex is (witness the recent debacle over  Semenya's testosterone levels), even if it can tell you what chromosomes you have. The Ancient Greeks believed that the division of humanity into two sexes was something of a mistake and that the hermaphrodite - with characteristics of both sexes - was a more ideal form of humanity. I'm fine with that.

Fashion fads also come and go, and this is just one of them. I've lived long enough to remember when it was a big whoop back in the 70s when David Bowie and Freddie Mercury got right up the nose of the establishment with their 'feminine' appearance (just like the Puritans got annoyed with the Cavaliers). And again in the 80s with Boy George and Steve Strange. Back then, when I swanned around with my boyf, Graham, he was wearing more mascara than I was. 

Long before that, in the 1920s it was women's turn, and 'la garconne' with her cropped hair and flat chest shocked her elders, then Marlene Dietrich turned up in the 30s wearing trousers (ooh, shocking at the time).

It will pass. 

Gender differentiation by clothing is also culturally dependent - there are many cultures where men show their masculinity by wearing skirts and women show their femininity by wearing trousers. So I can't get all airated about Pejic wearing a wedding dress: he can wear a hula hoop and a top hat for all I care.

To deny him the right to do so, in any case, would be to undermine my own right to wear trousers, or jeans, or any other items of supposedly masculine clothing (it's usually women who've stolen clothes from men in our culture, so maybe we shouldn't jump on this particular bandwagon). 

It would, of course, be possible to infer that this young man is meant to represent a paradigm of female beauty - ie: we should all be flat-chested, long-haired, young and beautiful. But I don't really think that's the issue at play here. To start with, I think he's being held up as an ideal of non-sexually specific beauty and secondly it is an easy argument to make that 'real' women have curves, but the truth is that they don't. Real women come in all shapes and sizes from the flat-chested and angular like my old friend Dom, whose every rib you could count, to the absolutely rotund - it is lack of diversity in height, weight and ethnic origin that is so sadly lacking on both the catwalk and in fashion editorials.

Let us also remember that there have been decades and decades and decades of history that favoured the fuller figure - to such an extent that the majority of women had to pad out their breasts and hips with wadding in order to be considered attractive. The current obsession is with skinniness is part of the obsession with youth, and it's annoying for those of us who aren't either, but really - it's only a phase. We only think of it as important because we are the ones living through it. 

MartynamemisevicThe really disturbing trend noticed at London Fashion Week (though not so much in Paris or Milan) was the return of the anorectic, gauntly skeletal model, preferably made up to look like a drug-addled zombie. Of this, needless to say, I do not approve because it glamouries ill-health, like the heroin-chic models of yesteryear. Wasn't the fashion industry meant to be getting rid of this kind of crap?

When models with the BMI of Chloe Memisevic and Martyna Budnya are once again appearing on the catwalk, whether they are male or female, now that really IS worrying.


More airbrushing nonsense

Advertisers certainly don't want to give up the power to screw us over without us knowing.

Ralph Lauren imageFollowing an earlier article I wrote on the subject, I was pointed at this article by a Second Cherry reader, about a campaign to have digitally altered images labelled as such.

It is only a shame that, as usual, the moves to force the use of more realistic imagery of women in advertising are so heavily blocked by corporate interests. 

It is principally by making women feel dissatisfied with themselves, after all, that the fashion and beauty industry can continue to sell us products we don't actually need, and they have billions of dollars invested in making us feel crap. 

Mentioned in the article is the incident last October when Ralph Lauren attempted to take down bloggers who reproduced the ghastly ad shown at top left (in which the model's pelvis had been photoshopped to be smaller than her head). Ralph Luaren claimed copyright infringement, but BoingBoing claimed fair comment, and won. 

So, folks, here it is again, just to annoy Ralph Lauren.

I'm sure we are all well aware that ALL images are now retouched, but few people realise by quite how much. It t'olden days, every bit of retouching took a deal of time and could only be done once, so freckles, etc, were removed and eyes brightened, but there was no time to go around lenthening legs and bodies and arms and necks in the way it is almost universally done today.

The average model today has been Photoshopped to look like 'an anorexic with a  boob job' says one commentator, and that is about right, but so bad is the retouching on the Ralph Lauren image above that some people believe it MUST have been a publicity stunt. 

Ralph Lauren altered imageWhy then did the same company use this image (near right) just a week later in another campaign? Note the hips, which are about half the width of the poor girl's shoulders - you can see her correct proportions in the right-hand image. 

And why did Filippa Hamilton, the model in the jeans ad, later say she had been fired for 'being too fat'? If you want to see just how fat her size 8 figure is, click here.

The thing is, Ralph Lauren has a track record where this is concerned. Anyone much younger than me is probably too young to remember the controversy they caused in the early 1980s when they were among the first companies to use really spectacularly thin models. Their girl of choice back then was Saffron Aldridge, who was considerably thinner and bonier than the usual models of the day such as Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. Not since the late 1940s when many of the most famous models were suffering from malnutrition had we seen such angular cheekbones. But little by little we all got used to the bony look until it somehow became the norm. 

Now, though, it's all gone way too far, when the 'desireable' image thrust at women is not only to be underweight and follow a body shape (wide shoulders, big boobs, very tall) that falls only to very few, but be thin to a degree that is actually anatomically impossible




Get behind Dove

Most of us know about the Dove campaign for real beauty, but many of us don't realise quite how comprehensive it is.

For many of us, hitting 40 was a time when we actually became more comfortable about our looks and our bodies, finally achieving that balance between the person we thought we'd be and the person we actually are.

But life is different for our daughters.

I'm not a parent myself, but I find some of the stastistics coming out about young girls and their self-image very worrying.

* 50 per cent of teenage girls say they view their bodies with 'disgust'

* 90 per cent of women wish they could change an aspect of their appearance, with weight leading the list

* 67 per cent of women and girls withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks

* 91 per cent of all cosmetic surgery procedures are performed on women.

* Cosmetic surgery procedures have risen by 444 per cent in 10 years.

* In 1985, the average model weighed 8 per cent less than the average female. Now she weighs 23 per cent less.

* For the average woman to have the same proportions as Barbie, she would need to

- add two feet to her height

- add over three inches to her neck

- add over five inches to her bust, and

- take six inches off her waistline.

At the Dove site, you can download their full report "Beyond Stereotypes: Rebuilding the Foundation of Beauty Beliefs".

Of particular concern, Dove feels, is the fact that two-thirds of women and girls avoid taking part in activities because they don't feel they're good-looking enough. This includes activities such as meeting friends, exercising, voicing an opinion, going to school, going to work, dating or even seeking medical help. That is a very bad sign - I'm sure none of us wants to raise a generation of timid, unfit girls who are scared to speak up at school or even see their own doctor.

The malaise about body image was also once a western phenomenon, but is now afflicting other nations, including the South American countries (where the 'westernisation rhinoplasty' is so popular) and even Japan, where girls are increasingly turning to leg-lengthening surgery to imitate the image of the tall, leggy western model. The only country that seem comparatively immune is China, which is no doubt due to there being less advertising to keep women in a permanent state of discontent about their appearance.

"It is as though girls and women feel they must wear permanent masks approximating a current narrow ideal of beauty rather than face the world as they are, in their uniqueness and diversity," says the report.

This is all very gloomy, but the good news is that mothers can make a profound difference to how their daughters feel about themselves. Visit the Dove site and take a look at the interactive quizzes, short films and tips for helping your teenage daughter to be happy about her looks, as well as forums where you can have discussions with other mothers, and many other facilities.

For more information, go to: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

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