Tuesday, December 06, 2011

In defense of mannequins

As I've mentioned on this blog before, it's eerie, if you stop and think about it, that in this day and age, there's a profession called "model," one in which under the best of circumstances, even after whichever theoretical but never-to-happen industry reforms that would open up the field to the less-white and less-skeletal, the ideal, the point, is to be judged on the basis of one's looks. It's perhaps because of that fundamental aberration from that which would be OK in any other (licit) profession that models, of any age (even if they tend to be 17 or so) are referred to as "girls."

Yet as long as things need to be sold, and, more specifically, as long as fashion needs to be marketed, what other choice is there but the human form, and on what basis are we to be selecting these humans, if not their ability to get others to buy stuff?

I don't think the answer is to take a religious-fundamentalist approach and ban female images. Nor is it practical to expect "models" to be selected at random from the population. What interests me is that the usual (feminist, right-thinking) approach is to condemn artificiality, specifically digital alteration of the human image. Photoshop and, as friend-of-WWPD Ned Resnikoff alerts us, human forms that are entirely fictitious, but with real heads attached, because H&M is apparently that particular about how its bikini models appear.

My own take is a bit different. (Contrarian, dare I suggest, but I argue in all sincerity.) I say bring on the Photoshop, bring on the plastic-like computer-generated torsos. The closer "models" are to mannequins, to literal clotheshangers, the less personally anyone could possibly take it that they don't measure up. Isn't it better for the preposterousness of the whole thing to be upfront, than to have to look at an authentic image of a lithe 15-year-old and hear the self-righteous fools' refrain of how totally unfair it is that it's not OK to mock the obese, yet it's OK to be mean to the poor models - all of whom are, let's remember, naturally thin - by suggesting they need to eat a cheeseburger? (Paired, of course, with the simpler fools' refrain that involves suggesting a young woman who gets paid for being thin go eat a cheeseburger.)

I mean, I get that the point is that people (specifically adolescent girls) don't know what's real and what's fake, and thus strive to look like women in photos whom the women photographed don't much resemble. And I'm all for awareness campaigns that make it public knowledge how artificial these images tend to be. But rather than including in these awareness campaigns a call for an end to artifice, why don't we ask for more of it? If we're going to look at these images, better that we imagine the entire thing to be made up than that a few key zits and leg stubble are left to remind us that the 15-year-old in question really does look that way in clothes.


Britta said...

I actually also agree about mannequins and I really don't have a problem with H&M. (it's also an ethical way to cut costs, unlike paying your workers slave wages.) I also am not sure I buy the argument that seeing clothes on models lets you know what it looks like on yourself (I know this has been raised before on this blog). Besides being 6 ft tall and 3 inches wide, clothing on models is pinned and photoshopped anyways, so how they look in photos tells us nothing about how the clothes would look on them in person. I find, particularly with H&M, everything has to be tried on in person to have any clue if it would work, since sizing and cuts can vary a lot between different lines and garments.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Precisely. The alternative to this is airbrushed models. The alternative to airbrushed models is models with a zit not airbrushed out. It's never going to be the full range of non-model-looking women.

As for H&M specifically, I didn't even realize there was an online-shopping option. I haven't shopped there in a while, but my recollection (from seeing the tags when I do laundry) is that the sizing indeed varies tremendously. I think it has something to do with inexpensive and stretchy materials, or so I told myself at the time re: the striped tunic-thingy three sizes above what I normally wear.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Britta's Blogger-eaten comment:

I think you can shop online for H&M in certain countries, but not the US (at least last time I checked, which was several months ago). H&M generally runs really small (or they haven't totally caved to vanity sizing) AND it's super inconsistent, I definitely have things all over the range in sizes from there too. I'm not sure exactly why that is the case, though it's better than the GAP, where you can try on identical pants marked with identical sizes and one pair is much bigger than the other.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

H&M, GAP... I guess this is why I end up getting most things at Uniqlo. Aside from the t-shirts I got when I happened to be studying in Paris when the Petit Bateau stuff was on sale, Uniqlo's basically it. I think their behind-the-scenes model on whom sizing is based is some Japanese woman who happens to be built exactly like me. 28 years living in or at least often visiting NY, and I still haven't figured out where to buy shoes, but at least clothing is sorted out. If they go out of business in NY, it's Japan or the nudist colony.