UPDATE: Oh, dear, Francesca has struck a bad chord with this post. Please see the bottom for some new, additional thoughts.
Do not worry, this will not be a “Gawd, can you believe how awful some of these clothing stores are?” post, nor a “Don’t we hate when people hate on fat people?” post. Rather, it is a post reminding that we all have a voice, and if we use it, bit by bit we might effect change.
Last week, amid the many pre-Christmas sales emails, Francesca received a “happy holidays” message from Nordstrom, linking to their page of holiday dresses. Included in the pictorial ad/message were these photos:
(The second, of the model in the pink dress, must have been uploaded by Nordstrom as two separate images, because this is how it saved to Francesca’s computer. It was originally of the whole dress.)
Francesca sent them the following email, which she thinks is quite polite under the circumstances:
I’m writing in response to this email you sent out about your dresses.
As you may know, we at Manolo for the Big Girl (www.manolobig.com) often link to your ecommerce site, and encourage our readers to shop your plus-size collection. So I have no complaints about the attention you pay to plus-size consumers (although more merchandise for our audience is always appreciated).
I’m writing because the model in the pictures here, in this email, goes beyond thin, into the emaciated territory. She looks skeletal, really unhealthy. I’m frankly worried about her.
I’m not demanding that you use plus-size models (though that would be terrific), but could you at least use models who look healthy?
Just my two cents!
Of course Francesca received the stock reply of “Thank you for your comments about our models, we use lots of agencies, we strive for diversity, we’ll pass along your message for review, blah blah blah.”
The point is that Francesca took a few moments to speak up, and she hopes that, under similar circumstances, you will too!
Francesca never enjoys negative criticism, because who does? but negative criticism from readers here feels especially bad because you are an intelligent, thoughtful bunch whose opinions are worth serious consideration.
So, Francesca will certainly mull over this more, but for now she wishes to add a few points:
1- Those of you who pointed out that one cannot tell just from looking at someone whether that person is healthy … are correct (except under extreme circumstances, such as those involving oxygen tanks or blood-soaked bandages… unless one is on a movie set, in which case all bets are off).
2- Correct: Just as one cannot tell from looking at a fat girl whether she has diabetes or heart disease, one cannot tell from looking at a very thin girl whether she has cancer or anorexia. Francesca apologizes to the many very thin girls who read this blog, who were insulted by the post. It was not my intention to imply that extreme thinness, by definition, indicates unhealth.
3- Correct: Girls with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and/or anorexia deserve as much love and acceptance as anyone else.
4- Even if the model’s health is of any concern, perhaps this model looks pale and wan because of bad lighting and makeup. Who knows?
5- In an ideal world, there would be such a variety of body shapes and styles among working models, and everyone consuming the media would be so non-judgemental, that we’d all be represented and considered gorgeous and marketable.
6- In such an ideal world, perhaps putting clothing on a model and publishing her picture would be, for everyone viewing the photo, just about the clothes and whether to buy them, and not at all about the statement this photo is making about what is considered beautiful and marketable.
7- In the world as it is, I think we all agree here that the choices made about who models clothing make statements about what is considered beautiful, and by extension, what is not considered beautiful — and that those choices impact our society, changing what people-on-the-street consider beautiful and not beautiful.
8- I think all of us here would like to live in a world where women who look like they MIGHT have diabetes, or heart disease, or any other illness associated with obesity – whether that association is backed up by science or not — are considered beautiful and worthy of modeling.
9- Logically, then, a girl who looks like she MIGHT have anorexia or cancer — whether she does or not, whether the possibility is backed up by science or not — should also be considered beautiful and worthy of modeling.
10- Francesca does not know how to reconcile #7 with #9 IN THE WORLD THE WAY IT IS, which is that people make judgements about others, and models affect purchases, and the media has a lot of power in establishing “ideals of beauty.” If we want ALL women, including those of any “extremes” (extreme fatness, extreme thinness, extreme paleness or oldness or blackness, women with disabilities, etc) to be represented, then how is it logical for women to complain that the fashion industry hires too many models who are extremely thin, who look like they MIGHT be sick (moreso than anyone not at the extremes, who may also be sick but who do not look, in our non-ideal world, a way that makes people think “oh, dear, maybe that person is sick” just because of how they look) — or whose thinness, whether they are sick or not, might be contributing to the spread of eating disorders?
In other words, if we say that the fashion industry should hire models who, right or wrong, make some people (hi, Meme Roth) think “diabetes,” because NOT everyone fat is diabetic, and even if they were, what is wrong with diabetes?, then are we also willing to say “it’s OK to hire models who make some people (including, it appears, Francesca) think “cancer,” because NOT everyone very thin and pale has cancer, and even if they did, what is wrong with cancer?
Francesca is taking all these thoughts about beauty and media and people’s perceptions, and taking them to their logical conclusions, and does not see how we can have our cake and eat it too. Your thoughts?