Anna was recently invited to The London College of Fashion to participate in a lecture conducted by her close friend and LCF lecturer Andrew Tucker. Also on the panel was body activist and fashion industry expert Caryn Franklin.
Opening the lecture with observations from the past, the conversations led off by discussing how the fashion industry contributes to body image and how it can take responsibility for changing how people view the way they look. It was noted how Fashion is a powerful carrier of messages towards shaping peoples personal identity and self-esteem.
Today’s consumers are very diverse and each customer wants a different experience from each item that they buy and as such it was argued that the ideals promoted within the fashion industry need to be more diverse so that customers can relate to them. There have been many experiments conducted (article here) to prove the theory that customers are more likely to purchase an item when they can relate to the race, size, even hair colour of the model displaying the item. Caryn was quick to mention that on average we’re subjected to 1500 images daily. Our brain naturally normalises what we see, which makes us believe what we’re viewing is right and natural, which as we know isn’t always the case. This can trigger self-esteem issues and a feeling of a lack of body confidence in some people as they feel that they do not look like the images that they are led to believe are the norm. This can also put some consumers off purchasing as they feel that they have nothing in common with the image.
The topic of fashion photo shoots featured strongly in the discussion and the way they can stimulate engagement with the item or the brand by creating a desirable fantasy for the reader. Anna mentioned that she felt that photo shoots give the reader the opportunity to enter the realms of their own imagination. Whereas on the negative side some consumers can become focussed only on the body shapes that are shown in the shoots and feel that they are an ideal that they should aim for rather than celebrating their own shape and in extreme circumstances this can lead to feelings of low self-esteem related to body issues.
The power of celebrity magazines and tabloids newspapers was discussed and the ways that they can contribute to negative body thoughts. When these magazines show images of celebrities that they state either, look good or look bad they appeal to the readers want to look like the ‘ Good looking ‘ celebrity – The reader chooses a body image to aspire to without being shown a middle ground alternative showing a celebrity with a regular body shape. The magazines use these powerful ‘ Good looking ‘ images to try and establish a connection with their reader who wants to look ‘ good ‘ rather than normal. It was discussed that this can be manipulative and that these magazines and tabloids should take some responsibility and promote for acceptance of all body shapes
Caryn then took us back to the 1980’s and mentioned the brand Body Map. In 1985 this revolutionary brand shocked both press and buyers alike at London Fashion Week by using family members and models of different race and sizes on the catwalk. Caryn told us that the attitude towards bodies and women was completely different back in that decade, she felt that women and women’s bodies weren’t objectified and they weren’t asking for anyone’s approval. You could be who you wanted to be and women showed this through their personalities and their body language. It was suggested that in today’s society women are quick to feel that the fashion industry is judging them and the way they look. The fashion industry can create pressure for women to look a certain way and certainly can make them question who they really are.
The lecture went on to say that whilst the emancipation of women’s body image may not be as strong as it had been in the 1980’s , there have been glimmers of change recently. Mark Fast’s London Fashion Week show for his A/W collection in 2010, hit the headlines when he added three plus size models to the line-up. Vogue Italia featured three plus size models on the front cover with a full editorial fashion shoot for their June 2011 issue. The High Street is also making steps in trying to change the industry with Debenhams showcasing size 16 mannequins in their stores (see previous post for more info.) additionally There have certain measures implemented in the fashion industry to combat and control what we see on the catwalk, for instance some of the recommendations of The Model Health Inquiry which were implemented by the British Fashion Council and apply to every model at London Fashion week. Models under 16 were banned from the catwalk and healthy and nutritious food is mandatory for all workers backstage.
In conclusion it was felt that although there is a long way to go , some small steps have been taken to improve how the fashion industry can promote better body image.
We feel that with industry professionals like Anna, Caryn and Andrew trying to make body attitudes more positive within the fashion world , to try and change how people see and accept themselves and to detach the negative stigma of the fashion industry, we can only hope others are inspired and the people of the future in fashion can carry on these positive messages.