23
Jun
08

Making Waves?

For those who know me well, and even a few who don’t, the fact that I am even aware of this may come as a shock. After all, I care nothing about fashion of any kind unless it comes from a thrift store or is a pair of converses. But I must say when this came up on my news feed I just couldn’t help myself. Apparently Vogue Italia’s July issueis a special one. It features Black women only, and issues related to Black women. (Side note: I haven’t read the issue, ergo, I have no clue what said issues are. I am always suspicious of blanket statements such as this one, but I am only the messenger). I never know what to think when confronted with things like this. But I  must say, the editor of Vogue Italia really surprised me with some of the interviews I have been reading. For instance:

I thought, it’s ridiculous, this discrimination,” said Mr. Meisel, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race — every kind of prejudice.”

…Mr. Meisel has his own theories about why black models, save for the token few, have disappeared from runways. “Perhaps the designers, perhaps the magazine editors,” he said. “They are the powerful people. And the advertisers. I have asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say no.” The concern is that consumers will resist the product, he said. “It all comes down to money.”

Basically, Meisel (a fashion photographer) has decided to tackle every issue of racial and size discrimination in the fashion industry in one neat little issue. Apparently, it’s just that simple. Put an issue with black women and a spread with Tocarra (America’s Next Top Model’s original plus size poster child) and all is right with the world. I suppose having an all-black issue fudges the stats in terms of how diverse Vogue Italia might be, but dedicating a specialized issue in this way regardless of the statement it makes still leaves black women or plus size models in the margins. This is something that frustrates me, especially with fat women who statistically make up the majority.

Ok. Here’s my thing. I am all for exposing discrimination and fostering dialogue about potential prejudices, whatever they maybe. But one aspect of the fashion industry that really burns me up is the fact that designers, magazine editors and models are all willing to criticize an industry while participating it all at the same time. So it seems almost hypocritical to me for this editor to vent frustrations with the lack of black models and the refusal of advertisers to use black models. It seems hypocritical when you think about how much money this person makes by participating in this system.

I do think it’s important to criticize our own communities and change things from the inside out. But it’s awfully pretentious to climb on that high horse and act like you have not contributed in some way.

But what is really frustrating to me is the fact that I can’t decide for myself the best way to go about this. I do think it’s important to change the mainstream ideology but can that be done from the inside? I want to say yes but I just don’t buy into this all the way. Is it possible to be a part of the system and criticize it or does it always have to come from the outside? Which way os more effective? I wish I had answers.

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7 Responses to “Making Waves?”


  1. June 24, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Is it possible to be a part of the system and criticize it or does it always have to come from the outside?

    I think it’s a combination of both. I believe that the consumers need to take a stand concerning the lack of diversity in advertising and fashion. However, that’s just a part of the equation. Once the Powers that Be Of Fashion see that people want ads to reflect the clientele, then it is up to them to actually take the time to seek out these women and men of color (color not just meaning Black here; other ethnicities are vastly absent as well). Essentially, we need more than just this magazine issue to tackle this; we need many magazines, many outlets, many venues finally taking the time to expand their advertising, because more than just thin, White women buy beautiful things. Thin, Asian women do, fat African women do, and so on and so forth.

    When I really started focusing on issues pertaining to fat and race, I wondered exactly how many places I would shop from if I boycotted the places that didn’t have fat women or people of color as models. And then I decided to see how many places I’d have to shop if I wanted a combination of the above.

    There weren’t many.

  2. 2 nuckingfutz
    June 24, 2008 at 2:47 am

    Color me ignorant, but I wasn’t aware of this.

    Not just because I’m white, but because I’m not much into the “fashion” scene in regards to the “big, important” designers. I don’t read things like Vogue – never have – and if I want to know what the latest fashions are, I just look around. I pay attention to what other women are wearing more than what the “experts” tell me I’m supposed to be wearing. Of course, that’s mainly because, as a fat woman, those “experts” aren’t talking about me anyway.

    I DO think it’s a step in the right direction for someone within the industry to take a stand, though. Not that I’m naive enough to think that it’s going to suddenly make all the difference in the world, but it’s certainly better than the alternative.

    The key here is to have another person make the next step. Will that happen? I don’t know. And call me a cynic, but somehow I doubt it. I sure hope someone does, though. It’d be nice to be wrong once in a while.

  3. June 24, 2008 at 6:45 am

    I have a love hate with fashion. I love clothes, I love style, but I’ll look at stuff in shops and think it is disguisting. I’ll look at what people are wearing and I’m sure my face gets this ‘wtf!!!’ expression sometimes. We’ve been through 30s-80s now, I’m waiting for plaid shirts, jeans and Dr. Martins/ grunge looks to come back in for women, but some how I doubt we’ll ever have such a truly unisex fashion again.

    Wow. Tangent.

    As the fashionablenerd says – it is everyone’s responsibility. The brand has to present the clothes to a wide range of women, sell them ‘the look’. The consumer has to be able to look at ANY MODEL and see themselves wearing something. Just as someone selling a house has to be able to allow any viewer to see themselves at home there, and thus paints the walls in magnolia, puts down laminate floor and and orders a few ikea pieces – why, yes, models are the human equivelant of a bland, white box over which your imagination can be printed. Changing the industry and consumer perceptions of what that receptacle for imagination can be is a two way thing. The industry will use what works, and the consumer will never see anything different.

  4. 4 pennylane
    June 24, 2008 at 7:44 am

    This doesn’t negate your point but Meisel is not an editor at Vogue. He is a photographer. Apparently he included Toccarra against the wishes of the editor though I don’t know if it was her size or her pseudo-celebrity status that was the problem. I think photographers–because they view themselves as artists rather than marketers–tend to be more flexible in their views of what constitutes beauty.

    I don’t follow fashion but there was a big splash in the last year when suddenly almost all of the models on the runway (and most in magazines) were white. I find it very odd that an entire industry gets away with being so blatantly discriminatory. I think Vogue may also be feeling some sting from the criticism of their “King Kong” cover earlier this year.

  5. 5 Julia
    June 24, 2008 at 10:32 am

    “I don’t follow fashion but there was a big splash in the last year when suddenly almost all of the models on the runway (and most in magazines) were white.”

    That’s actaully fairly typical. I’m curious what splash you’re referring to. Open some fashion magazines, flip through and notice the lack of women of color. We show up occasionally in shoots about exotic clothing or travel shoots. But rarely in “regular” spreads.

    Vogue and other fashion magazines insist that when you put black women on the cover of the magazine, the issue doesn’t sell. Oprah, was the first black woman to be on the cover of Vogue, in 1988 (she also only scored the cover by agreeing to diet). Since then Vogue has had Halle Berry and Jennifer Hudson on covers. That’s it.

    Iman and Naomi Campbell, two well known, well paid high fashion models have talked vocally about racism in the fashion industry.

    “I suppose having an all-black issue fudges the stats in terms of how diverse Vogue Italia might be, but dedicating a specialized issue in this way regardless of the statement it makes still leaves black women or plus size models in the margins. This is something that frustrates me, especially with fat women who statistically make up the majority.”

    I think it’s not fudging the stats, so much as making the point that black models are beautiful, they can do high fashion photo shoots and there is absolutely no reason not to use them. Other than blatant racism of course.

    Steven Meisel is not a fashion editor. He’s a fashion photographer who does a fantastic job taking photos of models who aren’t white.

  6. 6 intellectualfeminist
    June 24, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Thanks Julia and Pennylane, for pointing out that Meisel is a fashion photographer. I didn’t know that and I stand corrected. I’ll be sure to fix that. I do think it’s great that this particular photographer apparently takes photos of non white women.

    I’m not at all surprised that the fashion industry gets away with blatant discriminiation, as pennylane says. There are a lot of industries that get away with this, not just in the entertainment industry. Think about the election coverage. I can’t tell you how many blatant racist and sexist things I heard while watching a number of commentators, and people were upset, but not Don Imus upset over it. So, that is another consumer versus producer issue. If people don’t boycott in large numbers things don’t usually change very quickly.

  7. June 24, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Fashion is discriminatory in ways more than one.If you do protest against it while being part of the system, I think it shows courage, not hypocrisy.

    I have been part of the fashion industry for a good part of my life, and gave up mostly because of the various forms of discrimination practiced in this industry. I wish I’d stayed and fought though, exactly like this photographer is doing.

    http://damyantiwrites.wordpress.com


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