Thursday, April 29, 2010

"[...] fashion still represents a fairly extraordinary diversity of female beauty."

Yes, yes, men saying nasty things about women's looks is offensive. That's all I can agree with in this bizarre Jezebel post. Defending women's right to be taken seriously regardless of physical allure is a noble goal, but doing so by taking up the cause of some of the world's most beautiful women who some guys on the Internet have dared deem not to their liking is not the path I'd take.* "Modeling is just one of the many areas of the fashion industry that does not give much consideration to men and their alleged needs." Here we go! "[Despite fashion-industry unfairness] I have always felt that fashion still represents a fairly extraordinary diversity of female beauty." What what what?

Imagine for a moment if women of this physical type were what men found most attractive. Where would that leave those of us under 5'10", with curves that range from the Gisele sure-let's-call-her-curvy to the curves-that-are-a-euphemism-for-heft? Do we really want to start a campaign for men to appreciate runway models more than they do currently? Is this what we're going to spend our time on?

It's good for straight women that straight men do not by and large want women as bony as runway models. But it's not as though the runway models (who, let's not forget, are paid because people want to see pictures of them) are considered anything but conventionally attractive. What photographs as 'unusual' is some microscopic tilt of the nose or a teensy freckle, but in person, these women are conventionally stunning, and do not (someone correct me if I'm mistaken) want for male attention in the fashion capitals where they spend their time. (As in: if Lara Stone, one of the models the Jezebel poster sees as unconventional-looking, is not the most conventionally-beautiful woman alive today, then we can safely announce that no such thing as conventional beauty exists.) Sure, no one wanted to date them at 14, but the same was true of a lot of us at 14, for reasons that were not all quite so glamorous as 'I was such a string-bean!' translated into the Slavic language of your choice. Men like models, men like good-looking 'real' women, end of story. If anyone's suffering, it's the truly plain. Not the "unconventional" runway models.

What really gets to me about this, though, is the idea that women (girls) who fit the model mold embody a more sophisticated and refined, chic and avant-garde, aesthetic. As though for a man to find a woman who does not resemble an emaciated preadolescent but rather a woman is somehow evidence that his taste runs to the trashy. Or, to cut to the chase: there is nothing honorable about a straight man being unmoved, as it were, by breasts. Not "breasts" in the sense of post-op Heidi Montag, but in the sense of the typical range of adult female appearance.

That fashion defines the vast majority of women's bodies - including women everyone but a model scout would call thin - as inherently unfashionable is a far greater problem than some men having possibly hurt the feelings of a group of young women who (do I repeat myself?) are paid for being beautiful.

*And really, the no-makeup-as-heroism brigade must stop. Let's say men saw the Louis Vuitton ad featuring the barefaced models and exclaimed how fabulous these women looked in their natural state - better, even, than all done up. This is what we expect would raise the self-esteem of ordinary women?


Britta said...

hmm...maybe I'm a horrible person, but I agreed with the "looking like aliens" comment about runway models. (I also thought that Dutch model had a pretty weird nose, but again, it may be because I am a horrible person). I also think that runway models on the whole have weird faces and it's pretty much completely the body that matters. I guess that most models have fairly sunken cheeks, so maybe that makes their faces beautiful to you? I do agree about no diversity in runway model types though.

One thing I found really ridiculous in the article was the comment about how both runway models and Marilyn Monroe's body types were unavailable to the average woman, but at least we can identify with model's faces. I mean, really??? Average height, weight, and an hourglass figure (or some close proximity) are pretty available to most women, especially with the help of a corset, wonderbra, and full skirt. I mean, most women (regardless of weight) can create at least the illusion of a waist thinner than breasts and hips, but few women can create the illusion of growing half a foot or more and losing 30-50 lbs.

Also, I read somewhere body shape has been changing in the past 60 years, in addition to all over weight increase, women are getting bodies more like men's--more rectangular, bigger feet, etc., so in Monroe's age, I bet the women who said, "I look a bit like her" were far more than the women who nowadays think that about Kate Moss.

Matt said...

To me, the single most important thing about a person's looks for making them attractive is their face. That's not to say that the other parts don't matter- they surely do- but that the face is the most important thing. I don't know, nor do I really care, how common this is. But that Laura Stone woman's face, it's more than a bit weird. Not weird, it's true, in a birth-defect or horrible accident way. Some might even find the weirdness attractive. (I've been known to find "interesting" faces more attractive than more stereotypically beautiful ones, too.) But her cheeks are sunken in, she's got odd teeth, and she looks exhausted in most of the photos. It gives her a bit of a strung-out-on-junk look that, frankly, isn't that attractive but is not too unusual among models. Plus, her odd teeth. Given all that, I feel modestly confident saying that she's not the peak of traditional beauty. I do agree with several other things in the post, though, especially the models who random guys say mean things about should be awfully far down our lists of people to feel sorry for.

Anonymous said...

"Do we really want to start a campaign for men to appreciate runway models more than they do currently? Is this what we're going to spend our time on? "

They starved for our sins.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Britta and Matt,

It's entirely possible that neither of you find that model particularly attractive. She's not my favorite, either, but I don't find the vast majority of conventionally-attractive women (or men) especially alluring. But seriously. This is a woman whose claim to fame is either that she's this generation's Brigitte Bardot or that she looks like all the other models, except with prettier hair and perfect breasts. The gap in her teeth is just the kind of itsy-bitsy 'imperfection' that makes her 'real.' It seems obvious to me that if she were in a class ('meet the new TA'), at a regular workplace ('meet your new boss'), out at a bar, wherever, 99.999% of the time, she's the one who'd turn heads.

Matt said...

She certainly has a nice figure. And she's not ugly. I just don't really like her face, and think it's a bit weird looking. (It might partly be the weird way she's made up in some of those photos.) There are just a lot of women I find more attractive. I don't see why that should be hard to believe.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I fully believe (and said so, I thought, in my last comment) that you don't find this particular model terribly attractive. But there's a difference between what one person happens to find attractive and what we can agree would be generally considered attractive - I can't tell whether your point is that she's not your favorite, or that you think this would be the general consensus, or if you're looking at these as two separate questions. (I think they do have to be looked at separately - not just in terms of your take on this particular model, but in terms of all assessments based on looks.) As I see it, she and nearly all models are category-two beautiful. As in, their beauty would register even for people who don't find models (or a given model) so special, but plenty of people - most, perhaps - wouldn't be attracted to them/find them subjectively beautiful. As in, women are intimidated, men assume out-of-leagueness, even if individual women don't actually want to switch appearances with these women, and even if individual men are not remotely bothered by models' theoretical unavailability to them.

Britta said...

I looked at more photos of the Dutch model. She does photograph well in magazine shoots (though I mean, with photoshop almost anyone can look good). I agree with Matt, she is very pretty, but I wouldn't say an amazing beauty. It's funny, but I think the traits she is apparently famous for according to the page (breasts and teeth) are some of her worst features. Her teeth are objectively bad (too big, with a weird gap), and she looks prettier when she doesn't smile. In real life of course, if you go around pouty though, people find it unattractive, so I could see her actually looking less pretty in person rather than more. Also, her breasts are really saggy, and kind of weirdly undefined--again, they're fine, but not great by any "objective" standard of beauty.
I feel a little bitchy taking someone apart like this, but I guess if she gets paid based on her looks, then I feel a little less bad.

I mean, I don't think I'm saying "by my weird unconventional standard of beauty, she's not pretty," I feel more like I'm saying, "yeah, she's fine, but by conventional standards, she's not stunning"

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I doubt if Lara Stone's reading this and crying in a corner, but I'm left wondering who would be a woman (celebrity? model? well-known academic?) you would consider to be conventionally attractive.

As for her teeth, I thought this was sort of a US-versus-everywhere-else thing, and that the expectation of perfect evenness and whiteness didn't extent beyond our borders.

Britta said...

Hmm...I mean, of course she's conventionally attractive. She's just not the epitome of beauty. I think that's part of beauty standards--they're impossible to actually achieve, so no woman can completely meet up with them. I also feel like except for her teeth, her pretty traits are generic Northern European ones (angular face, prominent cheekbones). I mean, I feel like you can walk around Sweden or probably the Netherlands and see dozens of girls who look like that. I mean, yes, she is very pretty, but she wouldn't necessarily stand out in a crowd.

Of course, I think it is horribly flawed that a pretty Dutch girl gets hailed as the epitome of beauty mainly because she looks Northern European, as it reveals exactly how much beauty standards are based on one particular region of the world's conception of beauty.
Looking very Swedish, I get the same thing--I think I'm pretty though not at all a knock out, but I get about 100 extra beauty points for being really blonde, and having an angular face, and a nose of a certain shape, etc. I don't thinking being of a certain background should automatically add or subtract to whether people are predisposed to find you beautiful or not. Maybe my fairly extreme negative reaction to this model is that I feel racism is so much behind why people find her beautiful.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I'd be the first to agree that it sucks that Northern European, as you say, adds beauty points. But it is the standard, and these features are what's conventionally attractive in our society. Lucky for those like me, they're not what absolutely every last person finds attractive. Even us 'ethnics' realize that our own appeal often enough comes from the aspects of our appearances that don't betray our origins. But I think we have to acknowledge what conventional beauty is (whether or not we decide this particular model epitomizes it) in order to challenge it.

Matt said...

My guess would be that you could take any random woman from any recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition or most of the recent Maxim cover models and most guys (not me, necessary, but most guys- that's who those things are pitched at, after all) would find the swimsuit model more attractive than this woman. But the Sports Illustrated models would probably not get a job as a runway model, or even be considered for it. (Neither is really to my taste, but that's not important.)