Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's better to be Natalia Vodianova than fat

I'm glad to have helped Elizabeth Nolan Brown theorize about why the concept of "natural beauty" is a load of bunk. The deal with natural beauty is, it's meant to sound like this noble concept - it lets you avoid toxic chemicals and fight the patriarchy! - but it's actually fairly creepy. It's about shaming those who get pleasure from self-expression through appearance-manipulation, a spectrum that ranges from spray-tans to neon mohawks. It is also, at its essence, about making sure that women with dyed hair, thinness brought about by dieting, high heels, etc. don't sneakily trick men into reproducing with them, and god forbid producing offspring without the desired traits.

The story Elizabeth responds to is about an 18-year-old British girl who won a contest for her natural beauty. Says the winner: "Women should not have to feel that they have to wear make up. I hope people will look at me and think they don’t need to wear lots of make up." Yes, this is exactly what women will think when they see a clear-skinned, rosy-cheeked 18-year-old.

But this above-average UK teen has been majorly outclassed on the looks-privilege-gaffe front. Natalia Vodianova, the startlingly beautiful Russian model, a woman who exists for the express purpose of reminding us that some high-fashion models aren't merely skeletal and vacant-looking but are in fact better-looking than the rest of us and even though they're 30 they look like a girl who peaked at 14 did at 14, which is why they're paid the big bucks, the very same Natalia Vodianova explains that we could all look the way she does, if only we didn't eat so much, oink oink. And so, we are meant to believe, the former fruit-peddler launched a hundred thousand eating disorders.

Meanwhile, as far as I'm concerned, Vodianova is inspiration for us normal women not to go on a diet for vanity reasons (to be distinguished from: doctor's orders, or an attempt to avoid being subject to anti-heavy-person discrimination). I look at a picture of Vodianova and think, the fact that she's thinner than I am is absolutely the least of it. If I were as thin as Vodianova, I'd still be much shorter, and would be a gaunt and cranky version of myself, not a Slavic supermodel. Far from being depressed by this knowledge, it frees me up to not worry about it.


Britta said...

...natural beauty with obvious roots and hair that looks obviously dyed. I guess hair color isn't included in natural??

But...yeah. Not sure how her 'natural' beauty (plus hair dye!) is supposed to make anyone who doesn't already conform to the Aryan beauty ideal feel good about themselves.

On the model...maybe I am missing something, but she looks completely like a space alien to me. Runway models never make me feel bad about myself, because they are so odd looking to me, and they all appear to have walleye. Of course, I probably conform to general beauty norms more than the average person, so I probably should shut up now about my relative lack of insecurities.

Phoebe said...


I couldn't tell if the British girl's hair had been dyed lighter, or eyebrows and eyelashes made darker. Either way, artifice.

And yes, as a rule, runway models' faces are not envy-inspiring, either alien-ish or nothing-unusual-but-happen-to-be-paired-with-a-very-unusual-build. Vodianova makes heaps of money not only for being tall and thin (and by model standards, it seems she's not that tall), but also because a close-up of her face sells... just about anything. If you see her and think, 'nothing special,' you're the exception, thus her job.

As for insecurities, there's certainly nothing wrong with both not finding NV gorgeous andbeing happy with one's own appearance. My (tongue-in-cheek) point was that it's possible to find NV gorgeous, and for that to make you less concerned with your own flaws. Whereas, you know, popular assumption is that a woman sees an NV and heads straight to the cosmetic-surgeon's office. I was reacting to the fuss being made over NV's remarks about thinness being superior, remarks that were imagined to be sending women over the cliffs of eating-disorder-dom.

Britta said...


If you click on the link, there's a photo of the girl with several inches (?) of obvious dark roots showing. Not even an attempt to hide the artifice! (Also, the hair looks dyed...not 100% possible to tell, but dyed hair has a different look often from naturally blonde hair, just like dyed black hair has a different sort of look than naturally black hair.)

But yeah...I know this sounds weird, but I feel like models get affirmative action for being attractive, simply because they're paid to have nice (by someone's standards) bodies, so people assume they must have nice faces as well. If NV's face were on a non model, no one would think it was attractive. Kind of like how Prince William is stunningly hot, because the requirements for being hot as royalty are "no obvious physical deformities." In any case, it seems as long as a model doesn't have a harelip, she can sell cosmetics with her face.

Phoebe said...

I suppose I wasn't too concerned with the naturalness or lack thereof of the winner's hair color, because I think the point was that her facial features/proportions fit some ideal. She might have had blue hair and yellow contact lenses. Although it's odd to say "natural" and then have a woman with dyed hair and makeup.

Anyway, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree re: Vodianova. A model is different from a prince, unless we're talking the kind of 'models' who just happen to be the daughters of rock stars. If Estee Lauder or whatever chooses a face to represent its product, and the person behind the face is a blank slate, they're looking for someone other women want to look like.

PG said...

The thinness point is interesting in terms of what are considered "good bones," though, because there are a lot of women whose faces would probably meet model standards if they were thinner and the bones more evident. One of my friends from college (who was never very overweight to begin with) lost a lot of weight, and the combination of aging and weight loss made her facial structure much more obvious.