Tag Archives: fashion models

Melania Trump: The Language of Fashion Obscures the Real Story


Laurie and Debbie say:

Far too much attention has been paid to Melania Trump’s stiletto heels as  inappropriate attire for floodwater. Writing at The Cut, Rhonda Garelick makes a much more important point about the First Lady’s presentation:

The problem is not that Melania Trump wore an unsuitable, blithely out-of-touch outfit, although she did. The problem is that this administration turns every event — no matter how dire — into a kind of anesthetized luxury fashion shoot, which leads us to some disturbing political truths. …

[Fashion] photos exist to cast the fetishizing spell of the commodity over us. They create, that is, a dissociative relationship with the viewer. And while Melania Trump was known to have been somewhat stiff as a model, she has clearly mastered that squinty, middle-distance gaze, which she regularly employs as First Lady.

The camera lies, even before the Photoshop manipulation begins. The  person being photographed and the photographer have a vast array of decisions to make, decisions that can humanize or commodify, that can create intimacy or invoke power, that can equalize or separate.

Photographs of Donald Trump veer between the two. He isn’t any good at humanizing himself. Nor do his photographers often seem to have that in mind. Still, he has a certain level of wanting to be, or seem to be, Everyman, and there are pictures of him that convey that desire. But the women in his family, and the women in his administration, never cross that gap. They are always the (mythical) unavailable woman of Everyman’s dreams, the woman too desirable to be attainable, too arrogant to be the least bit interested in anything around her.

Here’s Garelick’s conclusion:

On Tuesday, this meant that instead of being a supporting presence in the president’s trip to survey flood damage, Melania became the star and the trip morphed into a simulacrum, a kind of Vogue shoot “simulating” a president’s trip. In other words, the realness of everyone and everything else (including hurricane victims) faded and the evacuated blankness of the commercial overtook the scene.

And this is how something as apparently trivial as women’s style reveals a profound truth at the heart of this administration and its relationship to America’s citizens: It is as dissociative as a fashion advertisement, brought to power by manipulating and rechanneling the electorate’s desires for wealth and possessions. This truth seeps out of every photographed occasion, including and especially those featuring the Trump women.

The Wrong Kind of Fat Body

Laurie and Debbie say:

“I was doing research. No, really.” Amanda Czerniawski, assistant professor of sociology at Temple University, spent more than two years as a plus-sized model when she was researching her new book, Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling.
plus size model pads

Writing about Czerniawski’s book for TakePart, Jessica Dollin says:

The beauty trend du jour in the plus-size industry is a thin face and a curvy body. Typically, people with a thin face will also have a slim body, but society looks to these models to achieve something that’s biologically rare. “Sometimes it goes a little bit further, where they use padding to boost their bust or hip measurements,” Czerniawski said. “Some go and put on basically full-body padding to boost a whole size.”

At Refinery29, Ben Reininga is writing about the same subject from a different perspective, with a 12-slide set of visuals (each with quotes from working plus size models) to prove his point.

Sabina, the model in the photo above, says,

I would prefer us to not have to wear pads. When I was straight-sized, I wasn’t skinny enough, and now I’m plus-sized, and I’m not curvy enough. It would be nice to be like: I’m this model, and this is me. For society to know that curvy models don’t have the same sizes…you can be curvy and a size 12.

Here’s the infuriating part: the fashion industry claims that the very existence of plus size models proves their commitment to helping us all appreciate our bodies exactly as we are. And that’s a bare-faced, padded-assed lie.

Thin is still in; we all know that. A small minority of us have come to fat acceptance, and for most of us that means most days, most ways. Everyone else is still on the “you can never be too thin” bandwagon. So plus size models are, at best, a nod to a better world that doesn’t exist yet. But what we learn from Czerniawski, and Sabina, and the other women in the Refinery29 slideshow, is that to the extent that fat is in, the rules are very, well, confining.

Most “plus size models” range from size 6 (!) to size 12. Most plus size women range from size 16 up about as far as you can imagine. So the first thing missing from plus size models is size.

The second thing missing is variety. Part of Laurie’s aesthetic inspiration that became Women En Large was her discovery that there’s so much more variation in the way fat women’s bodies are shaped than in the way thin women’s bodies are shaped.

The fashion industry wants to erase that. After all, how can they keep each and every one of us feeling insufficient, unsuccessful and ugly if they show true diversity? And how much money would their interlocking interests in diet companies, weight loss surgeries, body sculpting, etc. lose if we actually liked ourselves as we are?

The fashion industry is never going to be a body acceptance ally; whenever its minions start claiming that it is, raise your alert level. The best allies in loving how your body looks–if that’s your goal–are your mirror and the people who love you.

ETA: Thanks to Lisa Hirsch for the link to the Ben Reininga article.