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What does it mean to be beautiful? This is a question that the world of fashion seems to have been trying to answer for us since time began – whether we go back fifty years or five hundred years – there has always been something that is in vogue. People spend millions trying to attain these supposed images of perfection, and it isn’t just money that gets spent; some people forfeit their health as well.
Fashion is a beautiful thing; whether it be the sumptuous couture dresses you see from Dior, or the faces that grace the covers of various magazines every month; but at what cost do others try to attain this? By the time a girl is eighteen she will have seen, consciously or not, millions and millions of images pertaining to tell her how she should look. Whether it’s in an overt way, such as an article declaring a size 12 celebrity has been called overweight, or whether it’s more subtle such as the gorgeous ad campaigns for Ralph Lauren showing ladies with waists so tiny you could put your hands around them; there is always some image of perfection.
This ideal of perfection affects both women inside and outside of the industry. Inside, models supposedly have a shelf life of about five years – they’re considered old if they’re over twenty-five. Some do make it further, such as Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell, but they are a rarity – it seems that youth is everything. As well as age being a factor, of course the other major issue is weight, with sample sizes from designers being in UK sizes 2,4, and 6, there is little room for anything close to a curvaceous model. There have been plenty of stories fly about of models who are already scarily thin, being told to lose weight otherwise they would be dropped from their management label. It’s almost terrifying that it’s gotten to that stage – at what point does one step back, within the industry and say; that’s too thin/unhealthy?
Of course outside the industry it’s different but we are obviously influenced by what happens; the ideals of perfection trickle down the adverts, catwalk shows, clothing sizes (which never seem to be the same from month to month). When do we draw the line and realize that not only is it impossible to look perfect all the time, but that the pursuit of it can lead to an unhealthy and stressful lifestyle?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make fashion into some kind of demon that should be avoided at all costs; as I mentioned before, the beauty of it is something I love. I have an intense appreciation of the designs and the hard work that goes into them; the way I feel when I’ve saved up for a designer jacket and knowing that it’s going to last me years; or even just looking at photographs of shoots done in far off regions. Fashion is a unique industry and it does have a lot of perils and pitfalls. To a certain extent the industry should have a sense of social responsibility – for example, lots of modeling agencies won’t hire anybody under the age of sixteen for adult clothing shoots, – but also we, as consumers of fashion, should be aware of what is trying to be sold; it isn’t called an industry for nothing. Fashion can change people’s sense of perspective on the world; so much so that we are now delighted and equally horrified when a magazine pertains to show celebrities ‘sans make-up’.
Maybe we should take a step back and wonder why we are so drawn in by this, why it is necessary to hanker after perfection, and at what point we are going to draw our own line on what is healthy and right for ourselves as individuals.
What does it mean to be beautiful? What does it mean to be desirable? These are the two questions that the fashion industry raises not only for women but men also. The female side of the industry is the one that steals the headlines and the public’s imagination who regard the industry’s image as being negative upon the minds of women, but what about the impact on men?
In this century we live in the age of the metrosexual; a time where men are just as concerned with their appearance than women are. The male fashion industry has grown exponentially in the past decade; a little research illuminating the fact that male beauty products have leapt thirty percent in this timeframe. With such a leap comes more exposure and advertising ‘dictating’ what the modern man should look like and with this, the inevitable side effects that haunt the female fashion industry.
For women, the main issues at hand are the idealised weight and body image the fashion industry demands and the airbrushing, both of which provide a portrayal of a near unattainable modern woman. Both of these issues can also be found in the male industry. Whoever reads this, picture a recent fragrance campaign featuring a man. The most ubiquitous is Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue starring David Gandy. It is not difficult to see in your mind’s eye his long, lean, perfectly muscular body which looks like it has been carved out of marble by a Roman sculptor as an offering to the Gods. Its apparent flawlessness is burned into our memories. Now, think of how many men you know who look like that. Hardly any. This is just one example amongst many and an example of what men the world over are subjected to. I, being a slender male with a high metabolism will most likely never achieve this ‘physical pinnacle’ and such a realization could be a daunting one. If this is what men look like and what is desirable for women, where does that leave me?
It is not difficult to pre-empt the backlash that will come with this comparison and the struggles that women have, but it is an issue that needs to be brought to attention. In the fashion industry, the truth of it is, males are just as objectified as women. In Versace’s 2013 A/W campaign, the men in the image are all scantily clad to showcase their impeccably chiselled torsos; their faces are beautiful in their softness and symmetry. This is hardly an accurate representation of men today, yet the numbers show that men are trying desperately to emulate it; whether it be through creams and lotions or plastic surgery (roughly a twenty percent increase in the past decade). Males too suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem; issues and illnesses that dare I say can be worsened by the images that come before their eyes daily from a number of different sources.
In many ways, it is almost worse for men. We all live in world where men are still perceived to be out of touch with their emotions and feelings than women are. Maybe this is why there is such focus on the female industry; women are more open with how the industry makes them feel, whilst men suffer in silence with fear of being marginalised and mocked. I for one do not think that issues for one sex should be championed over another but rather dealt with equally. Both sexes can feel wholly inadequate by the world of images around them, not just women. Advertising for any industry preys on the insecurities of us all in order to sell us a lifestyle we believe we want.
At the end of the day, the fashion industry is what each individual perceives it to be. Personally, I see great beauty in it. I don’t allow it to make me feel inadequate or emasculated because I see it as another person’s manifestation of their imagination. It comes in many forms; the Herculean, the androgynous, the rebel. So when you buy into it as an industry, you should allow your imagination to personally tailor that vision rather than be a slave to it. One shouldn’t take the image as the sole interpretation, but one of many. Create your own interpretation. Fashion has the capacity to transform and make you feel special if you allow it to, or it can cripple your self-esteem.