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FWIW | Manolo for the Big Girl

FWIW

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:

Nordstrom1 Nordstrom2

(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!

Sincerely, etc.

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!

xoxo

UPDATE:

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?

19 Responses to “FWIW”

  1. ? December 30, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    she doesn’t look skeletal or unhealthy, i’d rather complain about nordstrom’s plus size offerings, which are increasingly casual and downmarket, than about some girl’s looks.

  2. klee December 30, 2009 at 11:25 am #

    Brava, Francesca!

    This trend has gone beyond silly into dangerous. Many moons ago (ok, the 80’s), I did a bit of modeling to pay for college. I was a size 8. Yes, that was for ‘regular’ models. Claudia Shiffer was just starting and she was a size 6. Anything less than that was designated ‘petite’. Today, Ralph Lauren fires it’s model for being ‘too big’ at a size 4, and plus models are 8s.
    Let them know! I have written to RL, and will vote with my wallet, too. Thank you for spurring us on and setting an example.

  3. Chiken December 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    I take issue with your post, Francesca. You do not know anything about that model’s health. She may be perfectly healthy, or she may not be — just as a woman who weighs 250 lbs may be perfectly healthy, or not.

    Your complaint is very similar (perhaps identical?) to someone looking at a plus size model and asking that she no longer be featured in advertisements because “OMG I’m just so worried about her health!” Advocates for decent treatment of (and excellent clothes for) larger women need to move beyond this sort of complaint.

  4. teteatete December 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

    I have to say that as models go, she isn’t really that skinny. She has meat on her arms and legs and you can’t see her sternum (always a good sign). Her eyes aren’t sunken nor are her cheeks gaunt. I think that she is just a tall, thin woman.

    I fully support ridding runway fashion of it’s Skeletor ways, but I just don’t think that Nordstrom is pushing anything too extreme with these two pictures.

  5. Holls December 30, 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    I love your fabulosity, I love your site, I believe in HAES, and I’m entirely with Chiken.
    I expect more gracious manners from you, Francesca.

  6. Debs December 30, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    It seems like clothing advertisers often use very slender models so that the clothes can “drape” in the pictures. If the clothes don’t fit, they can be pinned in the back (hard to do without excess material). There are no curves or “normal” flesh to fill out the dress or alter its lines. This can be aesthetically displeasing, but it doesn’t means the models are unhealthy.

    A savvy marketer woud use a variety of models and target their customers. Thus, a customer with a record of plus-sized clothing purchases could get an ad for plus-sizedy party dresses using a pretty plus-size model. This would be good for both customer and retailer.

  7. Jessica December 30, 2009 at 7:32 pm #

    I am with Chicken and Holls; while I would LOVE to see more diversity in body shapes, I don’t think that making comments about a model’s perceived health is making a step in the right direction. I know plenty of very skinny people who are, in fact, perfectly healthy and have good eating habits.

  8. SusanC December 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    Well, looking at her, I first thought “how nice of Nordstrom to use a cancer survivor.” In addition to what Francesca noticed, the lady seems extremely pale, and her hair is styled in such a way that suggests she’s recovering from chemo. Oh, and the pink dress probably helped – alas, whenever I see that shade now, I think “breast cancer awareness.”

    At least she’s smiling and has a sparkle in her eye.

  9. Lisa December 30, 2009 at 9:18 pm #

    Maybe some of you who aren’t up there in years the way I am won’t remember what Klee is talking about, but back when dinosaurs covered the earth and there was no interwebs for people like me to procrastinate on, models could be a size 6 or 8 and it was PERFECTLY FINE. Normal wasn’t a 00 to 0. I offer as evidence some of the comments here to suggest that our images ARE so distorted. If this model is over a 2, I’d be very very very surprised, and the fact that this seems “normal” or “not that skinny” speaks volumes. This model is very thin. Does she look unhealthy? I don’t know, it’s a loaded word. But I think it’s legitimate to tell Nordie’s that these images aren’t particularly appealing.

    I really hate it when people make comments about fat OR skinny people OR other people’s bodies in general. I don’t like it when people say “She needs to eat a cheeseburger” about somebody quite slender. If somebody DOES really have an eating disorder, she needs friendship and care, not criticism and put-downs and judgment. That said, the Nordstrom model is paid for her looks and if she can’t deal with both positive and negative responses to her image, she’s in the wrong biz.

    Francesca, next time you write them, tell them that they should put some money in hairstyling because what is going on up there is not flattering this child in any way, shape, or form (which may be one reason Francesca isn’t on board with how healthy she looks; she looks a little like she’s lost hair because of her high forehead and the fact it’s pulled back in uneven bumps and lumps).

  10. All Women Stalker December 30, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

    She does look like she’ll blow away if a strong gust of wind blew by her. It also does irk me if I see things like this. Maybe that’ll be one of things I need to work on this year: speaking up. There are a lot of ads in the Philippines that border on being insensitive. I’ll work on speaking up more.

  11. Lila December 30, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    First, I love this site! Second, I’m not too happy with the way you addressed the model in your letter. As a skinny girl I’ve had people tell me that I look emaciated and need to eat more. No amount of eating will change my appearance and I don’t feel the need to do so just to please others. Unfair body expectations: everyone’s a victim.

  12. freud December 31, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    “It was not my intention to imply that extreme illness, by definition, indicates unhealth.”

    knock knock!
    who’s there?
    freud!
    freud who?
    …yeah.

  13. Francesca December 31, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Freudian slip corrected.

    Oh man, Today is not Francesca’s day.

  14. jeannemarie December 31, 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    Dear Francesca, Thanks for your additional thoughts. This is what I like about this blog – thoughtful. Even your original post had thoughtfulness in it, although it inadvertently had thoughtlessness as well. This is a tricky space we are in, and the very trickiness means that it is easy to shy away from, but still very, very valuable to try to wade into. Yes, we make so many assumptions about others because of what we see. and when we see print ads, there is no way to see how people act, we are limited by what we see. And, as with art, half of what we see is what is presented to us, and half is what is inside us. That’s why people make visual allusions – to try to push us to make connections they want us to make. But in fact we will also make connections in our brain based on our life experiences and our opinions.

    And yes, we all read this blog because we like the opinions and the fact that this is interesting to read in addition to the lovely shoes. (if we just wanted to see pictures of shoes, we’d spend all our time looking at Zappos.com, but that’s only so interesting). Liking the opinions does not mean that we agree all the time. And having readers share their opinions makes us rethink our own. That was something I never liked about G. W. Bush (OK, one of many things) – totally aside from his political opinions, I felt that he thought it was important that he never change any of his opinions, EVEN IF someone showed him evidence that he might wish to change his mind. So yes, changing your mind about things is a sign of openness and the fact that you are really listening AND thinking. And no, there is NO easy answer to this one.

    My feeling about the original ad is very similar to Debs comment – wouldn’t it be savvy marketing to see that you have ordered plus-size clothing before and send you an ad featuring a plus-sized model?? that’s what Amazon does all the time with books and music, and it’s very successful. More successful, I suspect, than Nordstroms…

    anyway, Happy New year! You make my free time fun.

  15. Lisa December 31, 2009 at 2:08 pm #

    Since I agreed to begin with, I still agree, and there’s part of me that thinks this 00 to 0 models isn’t just bad for women in general, it’s bad for fashion and style as *concepts*. The cult of thin would have us believe this young woman looks great, simply because she is thin. Well, she doesn’t look great; her hair looks like it was done with an immersion blender, somebody did a lousy job with her makeup, and whoever does her eyebrows should not just be fired, they should be shot. (I’m only kidding. Just fire them.) I don’t look at the dresses and say “wow!” I look at them and say “Meh.” So….being thin is style, end of story, and we don’t have to think any more, lucky us. Pfhooey on that.

    What I mean by “perfectly fine” with models size 6 or 8 is that, well, frankly, models at a 6 were still skinnier than pretty much all the rest of us. They were one standard deviation away from the mean size instead of–as now–two standard deviations away from the mean.

  16. Holls December 31, 2009 at 2:50 pm #

    Also, that ‘the ideal size used to be SO much bigger’ trope is as annoying as it is erroneous.
    A 6-8 in the late 70s is the same as a 4 in the late 80s and is a 0 now (And in the 50s and 60s it was a 10). Anyone who buys any sort of vintage clothes, or who’s size hasn’t changed for their adulthood can tell you this.

    Models in the 1950s were only ~slightly~ larger than models today. And no-one’s body acceptance is ultimately served by the ‘ideal’ going up or down a couple of inches. (36-23-36 vs. 34-22-34).

  17. Cat December 31, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    Holls, I was going to point out the same thing. I am the same size now that I was when I was 18 (in 1988). I wore a size 6-8 then and I wear anything from a 0 to 4 now, depending on where I buy it.

  18. Christine December 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    I think Francesca has done enough apologizing.

    Let’s wish her a Happy New Year!

  19. Ellie January 4, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    I’d have to say that the girl in the pictures looks perfectly fine, though I’d probably be criticized for being brainwashed by the media or some such thing for saying so. ::Shrug::

    She may be skinny but she seems to have muscle tone and ::gasp!:: fat tissue. Note the elbow dimple in the first picture. She also has a very long neck and very pale skin, which makes her look taller and thinner, but that doesn’t change the fact that you don’t see her skeleton and she has shapely calves. (Seeing her collarbones doesn’t count. You can see mine too, and I’m a size 8, which I’m sure all of you would agree is not skeletal. Same for wrists and ankles. Some folks just have really knobby joints.) So really, what’s with the hate? It would be nice if retailers featured models of all sizes, yes, but this seems like the wrong picture to start a campaign over. Why not transfer the ire to things like the whole Filippa Hamilton firing/photoshop incident instead?

    Also I can’t seem to find pictures of this model on their site. I found the silver dress, but there is a different model there:
    http://shop.nordstrom.com/S/3065804/0~2376776~2374327~2374331~6014133?mediumthumbnail=Y&origin=category&searchtype=&pbo=6014133&P=1