Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Digitally Altered Models - the Ralph Lauren ad seen 'round the world sparks talks of warning labels on photos

Ahh fashion photography. Already, it attempts to fool us with ideas of supernatural beauty and, ahem, fitness, thanks to talented teams of makeup artists, lighting specialists, hair stylists, and wardrobe stylists with clips and pins, not to mention the computer airbrush geniuses who swipe away cellulite, blemishes, and makeup lines with the click of a button. And now, though we've seen it before once or twice, for Ralph Lauren, this seems to include erasing a model's hips, indeed, her entire lower half. Now that's some crash diet.

If you haven't seen the photo yet, well, my apologies for the frequent technical difficulties which currently prohibit me from posting a picture, but see for the original ad (you might also read their very interesting article, but don't forget to come back! S'il te plais).

Appalling, no? Search me how the big wigs at Ralph Lauren thought they could pass this off as the body of a real human being. Nobody is made like that, nor should the be; I think it'd be impossible to walk, let alone, hold your torso and head up. But what is the solution? Is it a ban on such doctored photos, as Britain's leaders suggest? Or would warning labels do the trick, as suggested by the French?

It's a tricky area, especially, as the Times points out, what with free speech and freedom of expression and all that whathaveyou we have here, but I wonder too, if I suffered from an eating disorder, or worse than the normal, fleetng concerns of body image, would some words of warning be enough to keep me healthy? Or would the sight of the impossibly tiny woman, along with the thought that there are people out there - people in fashion, Hollywood, people at Ralph Lauren, chic, beautiful people - who think that this is what's beautiful, overcome any well-thought out words to warn me it's not? Quel contradiction.

The well of body image issues runs deep, and though I am fortunate never to have suffered from anorexia or bulemia, or any other such disease, I was a teenage girl once. One who once stood in a dressing room with her own, slender, lithe mother with the legs for days, trying on bikinis, in the midst of puberty, only to hear "oh, dear, I'm afraid you're going to have your father's family's thighs." I was a soccer player. I had strong legs and until that moment had never doubted them.

Luckily, I managed to escape with only occasional worryment as to my size, but I wonder sometimes how I was so lucky, what with the plentiful waifs decorating even the pages of Seventeen. Being petite and active, yet curvy did admittedly garnish me some attention from boys, so I think perhaps this helped - helped me to realize that healthy and thin was one thing, too too skinny another, not necessarily good thing. And being active, fit, and feeling strong helped me find that strength from within.

But to get back to the point, these issues lie well beyond the realm of words. As a writer, I like to believe of course in the immense power of words. But I think that in situations such as these, the idea and the image, which already hold so much power even before an ad such as this, may triumph. You can tell yourself, and others can tell you, what is real and what's not, but the fact remains that even a model's beautiful body is not tiny or perfect enough.

That speaks wonders to me; we have moved beyond holding a model as an ideal - now a literally unattainable body type is being leveraged before us.

Personally, I don't know what the solution is. I understand, from the viewpoint of the desgner, the purpose of models needing a tall, slender frame; they serve as a hanger, for the garments to drape off of. One could always argue that if the clothes are meant to be worn by real women, then they should displayed by real women. But I hate that term, "real women," because models are real women too. There are plenty of women, like my mother, with naturally thin bodies and they shouldn't be discriminated against either. But, and this is old hat now, what should be discouraged are unnaturally thin physiques.

So now we've come full-circle, with no solution still. Much of this is nothing that hasn't been said before, but, well, I suppose we can't stop the outcry until change in the opposite direction occurs. Because right now, Ralph, you're moving us in the wrong way. And, while I'm at it, please think of - if nothing else - the message you're sending to your own beautiful daughter.

The model, by the way, was fired shortly after the original hullabaloo, for failing to meet her contract. As a commenter on the Times post said, yes, she was a size 4 but contractually obligated to remain a size 2. But after seeing the alterations made to her, it seems as though a size 2, even a very tall size 2, was even viewed as too big.


  1. I think that the warning labels wouldn't do anything. Like the saying goes "Out of sight, Out of mind". So if these photos are banned then girls would see what true beauty is and maybe then girls wouldn't be dying of belumia and annorexia. These photos are looked at by young girls and women. They put a unnatural look of beauty into their heads and these girls are striving to be something that doesn't even exist. My solution to this controversy is to ban altered photos all together.

  2. I completely agree with you about banning these types of photos, and setting some regulations for digital airbrushing and retouching. The issue truly at hand is the people who view extreme - and unhealthy, unnatural, and unrealistic - thinness as beautiful, and for girls suffering from eating disorders, the fact that people do find the look beautiful, or, ideal even. And warning labels won't do a thing; I think this is a case where pictures speak louder than words.

    The issue would also be tackling the Fifth Amendment. I don't know too much about the law, but I'm assuming that banning the photos would violate freedom of expression and thought. But if they can ban the Marborlo Man, surely they can raise the health issue here? I'll try to find out.