Recently I have spent a lot of time going through model portfolios to select a model for our upcoming Christmas campaign. Booking models is a new experience for me and it sparked some thoughts on size and retouching.
Two years ago, the Danish fashion magazine Cover used a young model that was far too thin in an editorial. It sparked outrage on social media with people quickly naming the scandal #covergate and demanding that the editor be sacked. It appears that, at no point did anyone raise concerns about whether it was ethical and morally sound to use a visibly underweight model in a magazine directed at teenage girls/young women. The model agency was also challenged on why they had not encouraged the 16-year old to gain a healthy weight before being cast for assignments. They defended themselves by stating that they hadn't seen her prior to the job, and that the responsibility ultimately lies with the fashion designers who mostly ask for a size 6 for their look books and catwalks.
Although one can argue that the models are responsible for their own health, most are teenagers when they are scouted and easily influenced. They look to the model agency for guidance, to the fashion brands for requirements and to their peers and magazines for inspiration. If these outside influences validate that super skinny is the way to become successful as a model, there is a risk that a young impressionable model would be encouraged to starve themself.
The ramifications are great, and not just for the models. Younger girls in particular aspire to look like the beautiful women they see in the magazines and, consequentially, many of them may develop either an unhealthy relationship to food, low self esteem or both. The good news is that many of the big designer brands such as Gucci and Dior have made it their policy to only use women who are a UK size 6 or above. Whether this is the result of countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Israel having banned the usage of unhealthily thin models or a genuine concern for the models' well being, one can only speculate.
Interestingly, while the debate is primarily focused on underweight models, a recent debate in Australia has raised the question whether it is acceptable to use overweight models. In this particular case, Sports Illustrated used models of all shapes and sizes to celebrate that all women regardless of size are beautiful. It is a lovely message and they probably didn't expect a backlash for this, yet an Australian medical body pointed out that using overweight models on the catwalk isn't great either given the associated lifestyle diseases.
Upon launching VILDNIS, we made it part of our commitment to only use healthy looking models for our campaigns. For our first season, our eyes fell on the lovely Anna-Sophie, an Austrian model who enjoys vegetarian food and runs half marathons. Over the years we have heard many stories of models starving themselves while on a photo shoot, and we are happy to confirm that Anna eats both breakfast and lunch as everyone else while on the shoot. Anna is a size 8-10, a small size S. For this coming season we will be using a second model, a brunette, alongside Anna. In all honesty, it was proving challenging to find a suitable fit in between a size 8 and plus sizes, and it is an area we will need to explore further. For now, we have chosen models who are as close to our size S(10) as possible.
Another area that is potentially affecting our self esteem as consumers is the heavy retouching of photos taking place to change the model's body shape, improve skin, remove wrinkles etc. Models possess natural beauty and, while I agree with the saying that beauty comes from within, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with aspiring to emulate a healthy model. But why the need to 'enhance' their beauty even further? This presents unachievable comparisons for us when we end up aspiring to look like a model who have had all her (almost non-existent) 'flaws' removed in retouching. In other words, we end up measuring ourselves against an unrealistic body image and it makes us feel inadequate, old, ugly etc.
Part of VILDNIS' commitment is to use minimal retouching. It requires some 're-training' of photographers and other creatives in the industry who have been used to a set way of working. On the 1st of October this year, France introduced a new law requiring all retouched photos to be clearly labelled as such and one can hope that Britain will follow suit as this would help changing the norm.
It is so important that we start promoting a healthy and real body image. Not only will it help reduce the number of people affected by lifestyle diseases and mental health conditions such as anorexia, it will also without a doubt increase happiness and raise self esteem levels.
Instead of aspiring to unreal beauty ideals, we should start celebrating the beauty of the body at different stages in our lives, and cherish the fact that we are healthy and well.
Caption: Behind the scenes at VILDNIS' AW17 photoshoot. No filter and no retouching.