“Our mission in Vogue’s fashion pictures is to inspire and entertain…not to represent reality”.
This defensive statement was made recently by Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of British Vogue and one of the most powerful women in the fashion industry. Shulman has never been one to avoid voicing her own opinions, and frequently comments on themes and debates well outside the fashion industry.
The aim is to advocate a healthy and more realistic image within the fashion industry.
Since her tenure at Vogue began, she has become known for her pragmatic view of the often hedonistic world of fashion, and her no nonsense approach is widely credited for the magazine’s continued success. It comes as little surprise therefore, that this year Shulman launched a campaign targeting not just the fashion industry itself, but those who admire it from the outside, aiming to alter the way in which fashion is both created and received.
Shulman is aiming to change the image projected by the multi-billion dollar industry of fashion
With the short film ‘It’s a Look’, Shulman is aiming to change the image projected by the multi-billion dollar fashion industry. This short film is targeted at school girls from age thirteen onwards and hopes to explain the complex realities of creating a fashion image. In an effort to promote healthy body image and positive self-image, the film is being shown in classrooms and will form part of the curriculum for select schools around the country.
Narrated by model Jade Parfitt, the film shows behind the scenes footage from a shoot and looks at before and after images of the models, revealing the intricacies of the processes behind the photo, emphasising the extent of visual alteration that takes place, even showing elements of the post-production edit where collar bones are softened to create a less emaciated look.
The film is the next step in The Health Initiative, inaugurated last year by 19 editions of Vogue worldwide. This pledge intends to dissuade the use of emaciated models, using only those models considered by set standards to be healthy. The aim is to advocate a healthy and more realistic image within the fashion industry. Shulman’s film shifts the focus away from the health of the models onto those viewing them, aiming to combat difficult issues of negative self-image.
However, despite the initial appearance of good intentions, the film and its message have faced wide criticism, both from outside commentators and some within the industry itself. The Telegraph reports critics accusing Vogue of “conveniently shirking the blame for a poisonous culture by telling us all what we knew already.”
“I think it’s about time people stopped judging women on their appearance and more on their intellect” Alexa Chung
The public announcement of ‘It’s a Look’, coincided with the launch Vogue’s October issue, which featured Alexa Chung as the cover star. As a celebrity who has frequently faced questions and concern over her extremely slim frame, this decision sparked fierce questions from journalists. After being interrogated on her choice of cover girl, Shulman said that her choice was based on Alexa’s ‘shrewd’ and ‘witty’ personality, as well as her skills as a writer. Alexa herself has often hit back at such criticisms, saying “I think it’s about time people stopped judging women on their appearance and more on their intellect”.
Alexa Chung’s statement highlights the precise problems Vogue is aiming to combat through its campaign. Indirectly, the vision of flawless models on every page can often instil the belief in young girls that appearance is the most important thing, catalysing an overall sense of inadequacy, simply because they will never look like the girls on the page.
Former Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell addresses issues such as this and highlights the need for change, in a campaign presented on Ted Ed talks. Onstage, she changes from a form fitting mini dress and platforms into a polo neck, maxi skirt and flats to demonstrate the subconscious assumptions that are so easy to make in everyday life, and cause such a problem in the perception of personal value.
In her discussion, she criticises the industry she works in, claiming she simply won a “genetic lottery”, pointedly commenting on the difficulties of the industry, emphasising that despite what you see in magazines: “looks aren’t everything”. With almost 2.5 million views, Cameron Russell’s message is certainly being heard.
Without changes at the starting points of designer and model, an unrealistic female image will continue to be presented to teenage girls.
It is undeniable that fashion’s image is changing rapidly, more and more plus sized and minority models are appearing in prominent campaigns, but issues such as eating disorders, and body dysmorphia will continue to haunt the industry. The importance of the ‘It’s a Look’ campaign cannot be denied, but without changes at the starting points of designer and model, an unrealistic female image will continue to be presented to teenage girls. Although campaigns such as this are a step in the right direction, it will be a long and tiresome struggle to eradicate the themes that have characterised the industry for decades.
Zorcha Dean and Harriet Brown
Images: msn.lilianpacce.com.br, fanpop.com