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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fashion industy as death camp

The excellent zine, G Spot, formerly published in the Valley, has posted online several great articles from their most recent issue. Home to some solid political critique, with a focus on feminist analysis, I recommend their content.

In particular, I was struck by a piece deconstructing the fashion business and it's wide-ranging effects on women both inside and outside the industry. Delivered from both a personal and political perspective, the industry's use of imagery is highlighted and even the author's particular favorite, Vogue, isn't spared the author's sharp criticism.
Unfortunately, my disappointment with Vogue is not limited to the April issue. I was shocked by the picture of Jennifer Hudson on the cover of the March issue. The choice of Jennifer Hudson is to be applauded. She is only the third African American woman to grace the cover and her recent rise to success can account for the selection. This was Vogue’s chance to show that full figured women are a more realistic ideal of beauty. Sadly, Hudson’ picture was airbrushed and she was posed so that her collar bones would stick out so that she would appear thinner. She also has her mouth wide open, like she is waiting to taking a bite out of a cheeseburger. The red Carolina Herrera dress might be glamorous, but the cover shot is far from it.

Despite Wintour’s claims to the contrary, the connection between fashion and self-image has been well documented. According to a 1990 study of 162 college women, exposure to thin models was related to lower self-evaluations, regardless of the level of self-reported bulimic symptoms. (Turner, et al, Adolescence, Fall 1997) In a later study, Turner found that “although the two groups of women . . . did not differ significantly in height or weight, those who read fashion magazines prior to completing a body image satisfaction survey desired to weigh less and perceived themselves more negatively than did those who read news magazines. Exposure to fashion magazines was related to women's greater preoccupation with being thin, dissatisfaction with their bodies, frustration about weight, and fear about deviating from the thin standard.”
For many, the effects on the female workers who produce the clothes is safely hidden from view, but this article reminds us that the fashion industry's toll on the minds and self-images of women is often likewise obscured. Ad agencies and fashion designers trot out unattainable standards of beauty, style and femininity for broad consumption, further adding to the already deafening assault of the industry's sales pitches that both manufacture and then feed off women's insecurities, opening up opportunities that other industries can exploit for profit.

But, once we realize it, we are no longer surprised to see fashion standing hand in hand with the status quo, reinforcing the dominant order even as it pretends to subvert it. We see this in many downtown art districts, including Phoenix, as hip designers and artists crowd out older residents and cry foul whenever police act as anything but their willing executioners (which the police usually do). As a prime example of this, consider last year's infamous "State Of Emergency" fashion spread from Vogue Italy, in which models were pictured being manhandled and generally abused by riot cops and other officials of the state, generally male. Irony or fitting tribute? Is the system really at war with fashion? Have you ever seen the way the Italian police dress?

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