How do the fashion and media industries portray imperfections in industries dominated by perfection?
I would like to acknowledge everyone who has played a role in my academic accomplishments.
First of all my husband and parents who have supported me with love and encouragement. Without you, I could not have created this work without your help and understanding
Secondly, I would like to thank my dissertation supervisor Jamie MacDonald, whose fantastic knowledge of the arts and continued support guided me greatly in creating this finished product.
Also, Alyson Agar for her support and presentations on skills for writing and researching for our dissertation.
And lastly, I would like to thank my friends for ‘being there’ throughout writing this dissertation.
Thank you all for your unwavering support.
First things first, “flaws” aren’t really there. Flaws are man-made. And yes, I mean man-made. They’re seeds planted in our minds by manipulative power systems, to make us feel so insecure that we buy products that promise we will become more acceptable, more desirable and physically attractive … The things you feel most insecure about in your body are more likely a direct result of capitalism because it works very hard to make sure that you will never feel enough without the aid of its products. (Given, F. 2020. p.54)
Throughout history, society has controlled the way women are seen and the way in which the female body image is portrayed. Attempting to convince women of the need to constantly strive for perfection, whatever the ideal of perfection at that time is. Whether it was being big and curvy in order to look wealthy to attract wealthier men (1400s-1700s), trying to hide their curves in order to fit into flapper dresses to perform on stage for men and to achieve a more androgynous boyish figure (1920s), or taking weight gaining pills in the 1950s in order to get curvier to look like. Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. In the 1990s heroin chic became the rage, and rib bragging, models were unhealthily thin and women were trying to replicate this, which made anorexia boom.
Artwork and photography have long proven to be powerful means of communicating strong messages about the female image and identity. These, whilst at times may have had a positive effect on the way society and indeed women view themselves, unfortunately, it would seem they have more often a negative influence, manipulating the way women believe they should look and often setting out near unattainable expectations.
In her book, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Florence Given states that flaws do not exist, that indeed a person only believes themselves to be flawed because of the manipulative influences within society which festers insecurity and then, in turn, drives the need to aspire to, and attain a manufactured level of attractiveness and desirability.
The focus of this study is to investigate the notion of beauty and how it is manufactured and ‘sold’ to women by glossy publications, the fashion industry, beauty brands and social media. It will look at large publishing companies who have global influence, focusing on key texts and articles, as well as examining the influence of social media, both of which have a wide range of influence on women and their perception of beauty. The concept of perfection and imperfection will be discussed; how beauty can be found in imperfection and how, if at all, this is represented in mainstream media whilst scrutinising the balance and representation of inclusion and diversity.
In 1978, Vogue released the ‘Body and Beauty Book’ written by Bronwen Meredith, which includes tips and advice on; The Basics (Slimming, Skin & Limbs), The Aesthetics (Make-up, Bathing & Hair) and The Sciences (Plastic Surgery, Alternative Medicine & Ageing). In the nutrition section, Meredith talks about different diets, briefly talking about what vegetarians eat (pg.39) and also stating that lunch/dinner, should ‘always’ be a salad - this is a view that was promoted as a result of the cultural pressure and diet propaganda of the time to eat as little as possible in an attempt to obtain the ‘ideal’ figure. Olivia Goldhill, a science reporter wrote in an article in 2016 saying that
Salads are an unappetizing scam. I’m not talking about a nice little side salad to go with a meaty main dish, or a pasta salad laden with rotini, feta and chickpeas. But anything that’s more than 20% leaves and served as a meal is inevitably lacking in nutrition, leaving you both hungry and hangry. That’s because the whole dish serves as a means of eating as little as possible. (Goldhill, L. 2016)
Meredith, saying a woman needed to be eating salad for two out of three meals a day, had the potential to be incredibly damaging, for both a person’s physical and mental health. Salad became a way for women to eat less and limit their calories in a socially acceptable way and to supposedly escape the guilt of diet culture. It reinforced the notion that ‘you have to eat salads to be thin and healthy’, whereas in reality, it deprives the body of vital nutrients and energy that the body needs in order to get a person through the day. The body needs a wide range of foods to fuel it, especially healthy fat as a body will not be able to absorb most of the micronutrients in the salads that are being consumed without it, protein also very important in a healthy balanced diet. Exclusively eating salads, that are mainly leaves and water-based ingredients (which most salad ingredients are), the body will not absorb anywhere near the amount of nutrients needed to stay healthy.
There is rarely enough chicken on a chicken salad, rarely enough cheese or seeds, and healthy fats, it is predominantly just leaves. It will leave you feeling hungry, it will not keep you stained, it is not going to feed your brain at all. (Lambert, L. 2016)
It is widely known that our culture has put immense pressure on women by judging and shaming their eating habits if they are anything more than ‘healthy salads’. An example of this can be evidenced by the vast array of stock photographs available on the internet of women ‘laughing alone with salad’ (Figure 1). Psychologist Meredith Young did a study at McMaster University in Ontario, where she observed 470 graduates eating habits in the canteen. She found that when accompanied by a man, women reverted to eating “rabbit food” or meals with significantly lower calories, whereas when eating with other women, women would eat better portion sizes. Young concluded that women would use their food to send a signal to men, to create an image in much the same way they would with clothes and accessories, they would pick meals to ‘enhance their desirability’ (Chakrabortty, A. 2010).
Even though Meredith's approach to the ‘Slimming’ section of the Vogue book overall does not appear too bad, the section that is concerning is the lists of ‘bad’ food, ‘ok’ food and ‘good’ food (Meredith, B. 1978. pp.49-50). This section tells readers to stop eating foods such as chocolate, jams, tinned fruit, rice, beans and lentils. Is this a good approach? When a person stops eating the things they enjoy the desire for those foods can turn into a craving which in turn can develop into a binge eating disorder or other unhealthy eating habits. ‘Banning’ certain foods can cause the mentality of “I have to eat it all now because I don’t know when I’ll be able to eat it again”, which can be detrimental and cause unhealthy eating patterns and weight gain, rather than weight loss.
Herbs and seasonings are allowed, but use little salt. Never, never, fry in fat. Meat and game can be braised in a non-stick pan, on an iron griddle or on a barbecue rack. Otherwise roast, grill or boil. Fish should be roasted, steamed or grilled. Vegetables should be eaten raw whenever possible, but when cooked boil in a minimum amount of water or braise in the oven with a little oil. Sugar is forbidden in all diets: if absolutely necessary use a minimum amount of honey to sweeten a beverage. (Meredith, B. 1978. p.51)
Although in essence, the stated cooking methods promote healthy eating they do appear extremely rigid. There is nothing wrong with consuming sugar in small-moderate amounts, but eating only raw vegetables is not overly satisfying, enjoyable or realistic. It is widely known today that there are many more ways to cook healthy meals whilst maintaining nutrients.
Whilst the ‘Body and Beauty Book’ was meant to promote a sustainable healthy diet, it is unrealistic for the average woman who needs a wider range of food and will likely tire of the diet regime this book suggests. Further to diet Meredith also defines the ‘ideal’ body image.
Changing the shape of arms is very difficult. Though slender arms are desirable, skinny ones are not — but to put flesh on the arm is almost impossible unless combined with an overall weight increase. There is a tendency for the upper arm to be flabby, particularly noticeable as one gets older. (Meredith, B. 1978. p.143)
A woman needs to have slender arms, but not too skinny else, that will not look good, but she should not have arms too big either because that also will not look good enough. Although this section of the book is generally good, giving advice on limbs, how to make your arms look better, your hands more graceful, however, it’s range for achieving success is extremely limited. What particularly stood out was the statement that Meredith (1978. p.151) made that “cellulite is ugly”. Cellulite is caused by the fibrous connective cords that connect the skin to the underlying muscle and can be caused by even a small amount of fat lying between the connectors (every female has to have at least 21% - 33% body fat to be healthy). Instagram Influencer Karina Irby is known for having cellulite on her bottom and thighs, however, she is incredibly healthy and is a fitness influencer, figure 2 is a photograph of Irby. Nothing about her is ‘ugly’, she’s fit and healthy, and does daily workouts and weight training, yet still is subject to abuse online for “being fat” and having a “cottage cheese butt”, Meredith says “It is also a sign of lack of exercise”, which is clearly untrue in you can see in figure 2. Irby strives to encourage and empower other women by showing that cellulite and various skin conditions (she had psoriasis) are normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Meredith promotes the use of anti-cellulite creams, which is ridiculous as the main ingredient in a lot of anti-cellulite creams is caffeine, which does not actually affect the cellulite, it just temporarily tightens the skin.
Brown spots: The Development of these so-called ‘age spots’ can be retarded and in many cases prevented by the use of suncream. Existing spots can be bleached out with de-pigmenting cream, or hidden with a waterproof cover-up make-up (good for hiding veins too); dermatologists can professionally lighten these spots and remove scaly bumps by therapies including cryotherapy and electrodesication. (Meredith, B. 1978. p.145)
Encouraging women to bleach their bodies is damaging, it also reinforces the idea that ageing is ugly by saying that you must get rid of ‘age spots’. Naturally preventing ageing skin by using suncream is acceptable, and indeed recommended, as all skin should be protected from the sun, however, bleaching skin to change the way it looks is not necessary, can be dangerous and will only feed into further body image problems.
On page 315, Meredith talks about plastic surgery and how it can help remove excess skin caused by weight loss and also to erase the signs of ageing. Each part of the body is discussed in separate sections also stating ‘operating time’, ‘hospital time’, ‘recuperation’, ‘after-care’ and ‘benefit duration’. Plastic surgery is a topic viewed differently by each individual, there is no right or wrong reason to get it, however, it should not be used to shame people about the ageing process as it is a completely natural and beautiful part of life.
When it comes to celebrities, plastic surgery is often quite commonplace, however, it is not always a success (figure 3). Body modification is something to be taken very seriously and not promoted as an easy option to looking more beautiful, as it can have risks, take a lot of upkeep and after-care, or even require more surgery in the future — for example, rhinoplasty (nose reshaping) is not necessarily permanent, as the tissue and cartilage can reform and change the shape of the initial reshaping, this can result in further surgery to correct the issue once again.
“Fifty years ago a woman of forty was finished.” (Meredith, B. 1978. p.331) a theme seems to be running throughout the book, that ageing isn’t attractive, and that women should put precautions in place to reduce the effects that ageing has on the appearance, whether it be through surgery, ‘anti-ageing’/‘ anti-wrinkle’ creams, nutrition or hormones. Women under twenty-one want to look older, and women over twenty-one want to look younger. This is, in large part, due to societal pressures to either ‘be maturer’ when young, or to be more youthful when older. However, rather than empowering ageing women, this book promotes the belief that they should try and stop the ageing process. Once again it comes back to weight loss ‘being thin and healthy will keep you looking younger’. This is not necessarily true. Each individual person ages differently, each individual's skin elasticity wears at different rates, for example, someone living a healthy lifestyle could still look a lot older than someone who is a bit heavier and not necessarily as healthy, as the excess fat, could cause the skin to look more plump and full.
The attention a mature woman gives to her appearance must be specialised and consistent. Looks are not luck but a daily responsibility. You need not spend a great deal of time each day, but it must be every day. The good looking vital women with the young figure, the smooth skin, the shining hair is a study in discipline. (Meredith, B. 1978. pp.334-335)
Older women should not be made to feel the need to have a daily routine in order to make themselves look younger than they are. Influential fashion and beauty companies, while marketing their products have a responsibility to be empowering women, and encouraging them to embrace their ageing process, their grey hairs, their smile lines and stretch marks, rather than shaming them and trying to sell them products to ‘reverse’ or ‘prevent’ something that is completely natural and happens to everyone. It is shocking that Vogue felt the need to release a book solely dedicated to how women should look in order to fit the ‘idealised’ standards of beauty, creating a generation of women who were in danger of obsessing and worrying about whether they were too old, or too fat, or too thin. Fortunately, in the 1980s, an increasing number of women found a new freedom and started the process for today’s females to not feel bound by what society thinks about the way they look and began to push back against the need to fit into the societal standards and expectations, and instead to simply love and embrace the way their bodies look.
In a world where the mainstream concept of what is and isn’t beautiful becomes increasingly narrow, you have to be young, you have to be thin, you should preferably be blonde, and of course, pale skinned. (McQueen, A.1998 Dazed & Confused)
Women are taking control and changing the narrative within the fashion industry, especially Ellie Goldstein (Figures 4 - 6), an 18-year-old model with Down’s Syndrome. Earlier this summer (2020), Goldstein featured in Gucci’s beauty campaign for their new mascara, and the response from the public audience was delight, with the Instagram post bringing in 850K likes, which is far beyond the average normally achieved by Gucci’s posts. It was a significant breakthrough for people living with visible disabilities. In an interview for Dazed Beauty (Cadogan, D. 2020) Goldstein said she was “just getting started and wants more visibility for all types of people with disabilities”
Ellie Goldstein is the first model with Down’s Syndrome to model for Gucci (if not any fashion brand). It was an incredibly defining moment for Goldstein to be used as a model for such a leading and influential fashion house, as yes, she is beautiful, however, she does not fit the stereotypical beauty standards set out by society and the fashion industry. By featuring Goldstein, Gucci was showing the world that changes are beginning to be made in challenging the concepts of mainstream beauty with more diversity. Gucci is a fashion house who also feature a range of models for their campaigns and not necessarily just the stereotypically beautiful models. However, the Gucci campaign did meet some resistance with people on Instagram wondering whether Gucci was simply using Goldstein for advertising to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ of inclusivity, or whether it was because they genuinely admired her as a model, and had the ethical integrity to promote a wider range of models. Zebedee Management is a specialist talent agency that manages Ellie Goldstein and was established to increase the representation of people with disabilities, or alternative appearances and people who identify as trans/non-binary.
Research has shown that less than 20% of adverts feature people from minority groups and when it comes to disability representation it is even lower. One-fifth of the UK population is recorded to have a physical disability, however, only 0.06% of adverts feature models with disabilities. ‘Fashion Week’ is also another area proving to be difficult for models with disabilities to conquer. Every season there is ‘The Fashion Spot’s Runway Diversity Report’ which tracks the diversity at fashion week, and whilst there is an overall increase in race, size, age and gender diversity, there is still no mention of disability due to the enormous lack of disabled models on the catwalks. (Jackson, L. 2020)
Jillian Mercado (Figure 7 ) is one of the few professional models with a physical disability in the fashion industry and is constantly fighting for greater visibility and voice for the disabled community, as they are often the last ones in the conversation. Considering 1 in 5 people have a disability, it shows that a lot of people are not getting the representation they deserve. In 2014 Mercado featured in her first campaign for the designer brand Diesel. This campaign caught the eye of the President of IMG Models, Ivan Bart, which landed her a modelling contract with them. Since then Mercado has modelled in campaigns for Nordstrom, Carine Roitfel’s CR Fashion Book (Former editor of Vogue Paris), Beyoncé’s merchandise promotion on her website, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and so much more.
During summer (2020), and the Black Lives Matter protests, people on social media began sharing and supporting Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) creatives, however, Mercado noticed that there was next to no one sharing disabled BME creatives, so she decided to compile her own list to promote them herself in order to gain more recognition for them as once again, they were the last ones to the conversation. She wanted to build connections and start more conversations between
I also wanted to give the opportunity to brands who, you know, are ‘talking the talk’, but they should ‘walk the walk’ as well. My whole thing is that if you want to talk about race and inclusion, you can’t leave out the disability community. (Mercado, J. - Devaney, S. 2020)
disabled and BME diverse led organisations and the rest of the world. So many brands, especially during the huge BLM movement last summer (2020), were talking about and posting about the fact that they are going to be more inclusive and were apologising about their lack of diversity in the past. However, since then there still has not been much if any progression on the visibility of BME models with disabilities. This would appear to be hypocritical; many companies claiming to be inclusive, yet still continuing to exclude these models, or else they are guilty of picking and choosing who they want to represent and who they are going to continue to ignore.
Mercado also discovered that Black people with disabilities, in general, are hired far less than white people with disabilities, often with the excuse of ‘we would need you to work in the office, not from home’ yet as a result of the current pandemic, working from home has become the new norm, so in most cases, this cannot be used as a reason to not hire. For years plus size, people have been fighting for more representation, and there are many companies now specifically designed for plus size people, along with mainstream companies also beginning to cater towards them and represent them, so why are these companies not doing the same with people with disabilities?
If people with disabilities grow up seeing a lack of representation of people who look like them in the media or witnessing a person with a disability portrayed as a lesser person in films and TV it will cause them to wonder why society does not value them and see them as being worthy. Mercado stars in the TV show ‘The L Word: Generation Q’, and her character is a lot like who she is in real life. As well as her disability not being the main focus of her character, she hopes that her role will help other people with disabilities see the representation that she did not see growing up, and hopefully start to bring change within the film and tv industry
Dove had a beauty campaign in 2004 that used normal everyday women instead of models, and this caused sales to soar as women could identify with the women they saw in the photographs. It was seen as quite a ‘radical’ thing to do, as it wasn’t that long ago that the desired body shape was super skinny (aka. Heroin Chic). As commendable as it is that Dove are using ‘normal’ women, in (Figure 8) they still don’t represent a diverse range of women, they are all fairly light-skinned, so there’s no representation for darker-skinned black women, and no plus size representative and no visibly disabled person, which suggests this campaign is lacking in its claim of being for everyday women. Also, somewhat hypocritically, the campaign was to sell cellulite firming cream whilst also claiming to celebrate natural beauty.
More recently, fast-fashion company MissGuided has been doing more and more to be inclusive and diverse with their models, using various sizes, and skin tones to reach their target audience. Whilst they are not doing so great in the climate change category with their mass-produced fast fashion, MissGuided are doing well with representing people across society. For their diversity shoot, they held a model competition to choose who would best suit their marketing style, and the winners of this are pictured in figure 9. Crouched down in the bottom right corner is Stephanie aka @baldyloxofficial, she has a condition called alopecia, which causes hair loss. This affects 15 in 10,000 people, and for younger people with this condition, seeing a model who looks like them will cause them to feel more self-confident and accepted by others.
While many companies are trying to be more inclusive and break body shape stereotypes, there is still a lot of negativity in social media and popular culture. Celebrities like the Kardashians are not helping in the cause to encourage women to accept their natural body shapes. The Kardashians heavily promote diet coffees and teas as well as intense workout regimes. The lifestyle and image they promote is one that is desirable to a lot of young women, however, it is artificial and very much impossible to attain in a healthy way. The Kardashians are famous for their artificial body image and receive financial gains and sponsorships for promoting it. Both Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West, regularly post photographs of themselves and credit their tiny waist to waist trainers (Figure 11), along with having multitudes of other cosmetic surgeries to look the way they do. Promoting these harmful diet drinks and waist training is incredibly irresponsible and misleading, waist training is not only addictive, but can also harm and damage the insides as it reshapes the body and pushes around the internal organs.
Jameela Jamil is a feminist activist and actress, known widely for challenging celebrities and companies who feature and promote unrealistic beauty standards for women, particularly Kim Kardashian West. Jamil herself has battled with eating disorders and as a result this topic is very close to her heart. In a tweet on the 15th of December 2020, Jamil Says:
If you want to get bigger or smaller you can and you do not owe anyone a size or explanation. However. Whichever way you go, do it slowly, and with the guidance of professionals and know that there’s no such thing as a “detox” only your actual natural vital organs can detox you. This is coming from a person who tried EVERY detox on earth I swear. From every country, from every book, from every celebrity scam. I did them all. Most did nothing beyond make me TEMPORARILY lose water weight and feel light-headed, most made me ill, or harmed my metabolism. (Jamil, J. 2020)
Jamil put screenshots of the tweet onto her Instagram page with a caption talking about her experiences with weight loss, explaining how celebrities should not be endorsing ‘detoxing fads’. As her tweets, state extreme detoxing is dangerous and will cause a person to lose only water weight or become incredibly ill - either way it will simply just not work.
In September 2020, Kardashian, shockingly, added a line of maternity shape wear to her clothing line. Jamil commented (Jamil, J. 2020) saying that “it would be cool if pregnant people could just be pregnant and get bigger and not be self-conscious, and enjoy the miracle taking place inside their body”
Whilst nothing has shown that maternity shape wear are physically harmful to the person carrying the baby, it still seems outrageous to suggest that a pregnant woman has anything to be self-conscious about. Pregnancy is beautiful and miraculous and should be celebrated, a woman should not be made to feel that gaining weight during pregnancy is bad or something to worry about. Figure 12 shows Jamil’s reaction to a tweet made by Khloe Kardashian promoting a ‘Flat Tummy Shake’ saying “YES, I used a personal trainer and nutritionist, but THESE SHAKES WORK” (Kardashian, K. 2020) Even after the years of backlash, judgement and disapproval, the Kardashians are still promoting these unhealthy products which are essentially laxatives. There is a portion of society that is desperate and vulnerable and are susceptible to these false claims of so called ‘flat tummy’ adverts. Jamil notes that making money off vulnerable people not only feeds into an eating disorder culture but it also shows bad morals in general and a lack of integrity and care by promoting these products.
Chidera Eggerue is the author of What a Time to be Alone and How to get over a boy, she is also the founder of the online campaign #SaggyBoobsMatter. When she was a teenager, she told her mum that when she turned 18 she was going to have a breast reduction. She felt that if she underwent the procedure she would not be sad about her breasts anymore. However, she never went through with the surgery, instead, she realised the fact that as a young teenager, she thought her breasts were too saggy due to the mainstream images of ‘perfect’ breasts that are a very limited representation of real women within society. Eggerue recognised this misrepresentation was something that needed to be addressed and challenged, she did not like the fact that small-breasted women were allowed to walk around without a bra, yet women with bigger breasts are judged for it because ‘they move too much’. Every time Eggerue asked someone about this she was told that it was because she was a woman and they need to cover themselves up.
Our cleavage and curves are used to sell products in advertisements for companies run by rich men, but we’re told to cover ourselves up when breastfeeding our children. (Given, F. 2020. p.20) Women’s breasts and curves are used to sell products everyday, yet real women are expected to cover up in everyday life. For example, there is a very misguided opinion and attitude towards breastfeeding in public places where some people see it as ‘disgusting’ that a woman should expose a breast to feed her child. This is an attitude driven by the discomfort of the onlooker and disregards the reality that breastfeeding is completely natural, however, often somewhat hypocritically, the same levels of discomfort and public outcry does not seem to be elicited in many of these individuals by images of naked and partially naked women in adverts, the media and pornography.
This study has set out to explore the portrayal of beauty and imperfections in industries dominated by the pursuit of perfection. Researching how large fashion companies such as Vogue, set out beauty standards for women to follow in order to be considered beautiful, prescribing what they should eat, how they should exercise, what cosmetic surgery is available. Whilst appearing to have women’s best intentions in mind, do they really? There are a lot of supposedly positive influences, such as; the Vogue Beauty book written by Bronwen Meredith, which is just one example in a seemingly endless supply of women's magazines and publications with articles on how to achieve the perfect body, the perfect skin, the perfect shape, the perfect image and more.
Also, exploring the potential dangers of popular ‘influencers’ such as Kim Kardashian, trying to influence her followers to strive for and attain the ‘perfect body’ a.k.a her body, promoting slimming teas, slimming coffees, and her own brand of fat controlling underwear and loungewear (Skims), and how by using imagery of herself and other thin models lounging around surrounded by unhealthy food, discovered that Kardashian is representing an unrealistic and harmful kind of imagery, that sells a false narrative.
Whilst looking at false narratives, consideration must be given to the Body Positivity movement. This is a movement that has exploded over recent years due to the lack of representation of plus size men and women in the media. People such as the singer Lizzo, are body positivity activists promoting loving yourself as a bigger girl, and trying to get more media representation to create a better balance of model sizes. However, this raises the question of whether it is ethical and responsible to be praising the lifestyle of people who are medically obese and bigger? Cosmopolitan released their February 2021 magazine with three women of various sizes (Figure 15) and had a number of photographs of plus size women labelled “this is healthy'', and you have got to wonder, is it really? In order to have become plus-sized a person will either have a medical condition or are making poor lifestyle and diet choices, either of which would suggest that it is not healthy. Yes, you can love your body and not care what anyone else thinks, yes you are still beautiful if you are on the larger end of the scale, but should we really be promoting being a plus-size woman as being healthy? Whilst ‘the larger lady’, or man, deserves as much representation as anyone else, it needs to be done carefully, and with consideration of health, else it is at risk of being just as unethical and irresponsible as the unhealthy media rhetoric at the other end of the scale persuading women to strive to achieve the stereotypical perfect skinny body regardless of health implications.
In scrutinising the balance of diverse representation of women, it becomes all too clear that there is a large imbalance. In Vogue's September 2020 magazine, they celebrated back culture and black people with their magazine full of black people only. Whereas, in Vogue’s February 2021 magazine, over 60% of the models were white, with less than 8% being Latinx and Asian and roughly 32% being black. It is all well and good increasing the number of minority models used, however, there is still very little coverage for Asian and Latinx, and especially for people with disabilities.
Are we living in a society where companies feel the need to have a ‘token’ black person, a ‘token’ plus-size person or a ‘token’ disabled person? It seems as though quite a few large companies have these so-called ‘token’ people, to use for financial and popularity gain. Vogue magazine is a typical example releasing one magazine celebrating black culture and then reverting back to disproportionate racial coverage. Ideally, they should have proportionate coverage for all white and BME, including models with disabilities throughout all ethnicities.
In relation to the ‘token’ person, the Gucci makeup campaign, touched upon in chapter 2, featuring Ellie Goldstein, a model with Down’s Syndrome, it is my belief that the photograph the photographer took, and the campaign manager used, was not at all a flattering representation of Goldstein and her beauty, and instead appears to almost highlight the fact that she is disabled in order to get the public vote and approval. However, you can clearly see in figures 4 and 6 that Goldstein is absolutely gorgeous and looks very different to the way she has been edited to look in figure. It raises the question of whether it is ethical to emphasise a model’s disability, rather than simply embracing their beauty? For Gucci, this one image achieved them the highest post engagement they have ever had on Instagram, so technically was it a celebration of diversity or simply just good marketing?
At the start of this study the concept of a young model with a disability being featured in a campaign for one of the worlds largest fashion brands would have been something to commend and applaud. However, after further research, I begin to question the thoughts and ethics behind this campaign and whether the intention was to celebrate minorities or to simply take advantage of them.
More publicity and representation is needed for the positive role models for young girls such as Jillian Mercado, Stephanie/@baldyloxoffical, Ellie Goldstein and Chidera Eggerue, these women are fighting for change and are challenging the standards set out by society for the way that women should look. More companies and brands need to employ and feature these women for their campaigns in order for them to gain more recognition and in turn begin to become more mainstream and not simply a diversity ‘token’. There are so many beautiful female models with disabilities, and very few are getting the recognition as they deserve.
Instead, it would appear companies continue to choose the stereotypically ‘beautiful’ women who fit their idealised standard of beauty and inundating the market with a monotony of images devoid of real life.
Why should people with disabilities be made to feel that they are any less significant or valued than anyone else because they do not fit into the accepted norm? They are just as beautiful, just as amazing and should be just as empowered and represented as everyone else. 1 in 5 people have a disability, both visible and invisible, that is a large number of people not being represented within the fashion industry. Whilst we can commend brands and companies who have started to address the diversity imbalance so much more needs to be achieved.
REAL and diverse women need to become the mainstream representation of women in the society, and as a society, we need to be compelled to do more to bring representation to minorities, and hold companies accountable when they claim to be inclusive and diverse.
List of Figures:
Figure 1: Unknown (n.d) Woman with Salad Laughing [online image] Available from: https://www.sadanduseless.com/oh-salad-you-so-funny-lol/ [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 2: Irby, K. (2020) @karinairby - Karina Irby Instagram Post [online image] Available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHRR7Xmhcm2/ [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 3: Various (1970 - 2008) Jocelyn Wildenstein | Bad Celebrity Plastic Surgery [online image] Available from: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/11470174022247953/ [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 4: Unknown (n.d.) Ellie Goldstein [online image] Available from: https://www.zebedeemanagement.co.uk/ellieg?lightbox=dataItem-kfduhq51 [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 5: Hyde, D. (2019) Ellie Goldstein for Gucci Mascara Campaign [online image] Available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBlzf0vCuAR/?igshid=1ntusceg7iflq [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 6: Unknown (n.d.) Ellie Goldstein for Glamour Magazine [online image] Available from: https://www.zebedeemanagement.co.uk/ellieg?lightbox=dataItem-ki4hrchr [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 7: Unknown (2020) Jillian Mercado Instagram Post [online image] Available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBeKIOujwg7/ [Accessed 22 January 2021]
Figure 8: Unknown (2004) Dove Beauty Campaign [online image] Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20252921 [Accessed 09 October 2020]
Figure 9: Unknown (2020) MissGuided: Nudes [online image] Available from: https://www.missguided.co.uk/babezine/our-world/nudes-campaign [Accessed 22 January 2021]
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