Less about the ‘hero’, let’s talk about the fashion ‘villains’.

Huffington Post misses the point about what’s important. Fashion and Hollywood are not supportive of diversity.

Leslie Joneshttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/leslie-jones-christian-siriano_us_5773b663e4b0eb90355cde7d?ir=Black+Voices&section=us_black-voices&utm_hp_ref=black-voices&

In this article and many others in circulation today, we are told about how Leslie Jones couldn’t get any offers from designers to dress her for her movie premiere.  That is where the depth of discussion ended before a hero was made of the one person prepared to help her out.  What a champ.

The suggestion was that she was ignored by all other designers, who would normally rush to get a garment on the red carpet for such a high profile event, and that this was due to either Jones’ race or size (her celebrity status here is sufficient to attract positive media attention).  We know there is a race issue in Hollywood no matter how much denial seems to get tweeted, but this time I don’t think it was the primary problem.  Instead the problem was her size.  Just as her co-star Melissa McCarthy found, the designers didn’t come forward with any offers to lend something they had knocking around at their studio.

But surely that’s not the designers’ fault. Mother Hubbard’s fashion cupboard was bare of anything not of size zero proportions; we all know they make clothes to sample size (tall and skinny) for ease and consistency in production.  Some will even argue that the clothes look better on a model’s frame, so why should they go to the extra effort of making a larger size for this one occasion?

Well, if it really is just the one occasion then this does flag up a huge problem.  The unhealthy cycle of promotion between celebrities and fame and fashion and women’s body image ideals is perpetuated by just that; being a cog in an existing, well oiled machine that has to fit right, or nothing works.  Casting directors employ stars to promote their films, and they’ll only get the best gowns if they fit the sample sizes.  The fashion houses want to  promote their brand by using model like celebrities as one spoke of their media wheel, it is very little effort for a high return in brand exposure and profile.  This has all worked very well for both sides of the agreement so far, if the celebrities are model size.  The movie-goers, and fashion consumers want to see these images of ‘Hollywood Beauties’ because we are conditioned to see them as the one type of beauty that holds any real value in our aspiration-led society.

Also, in this instance, let’s remember that no-one is obliged to dress women for free in return for advertising, especially if it’s not the image they wish to convey.

But why don’t designers want to stray from the white and skinny norm that has become the fashion convention over the decades? I understand that luxury brands aim to put their garments on an elevated plane, out of reach for most people; exclusive, desirable.  This helps to justify the luxury price tags of the real designer-label deal.  But would making the fashion accessible to other sizes do damage to that brand?  Do they fear being seen to encourage obesity or unhealthy lifestyles?  Do they fear that the female body detracts from the art?  Do they fear being laughed at by fashion insiders if they break away alone?

And while this whole affair seems like a #firstworldproblem on the surface, ‘oh no, A-lister celeb can’t find anyone to give her a vitally needed freebie for an night at the flix’, it is however indicative of the wider problem; that there is very little diversity in the fashion industry, and this has a direct impact on the self-image aspirations and beauty ideals of women and men across the world.  It is horrifying to think that the presence of a bigger body could cause such upset in global media without everyone affected also trying to address this outrageous root cause.

So who is to blame for this?  Is it a problem of the people, that we should cast out to ‘society’ telling them they’ve got it wrong, then sit back and see what happens?  Should we give the responsibility to the consumers to tell the power houses in fashion and film what we really want?  Or should we insist that Designers and model agents, while proud of their strange art in their tiny, niche, fabulous world, should take full responsibility for pushing one body type (that is unattainable for around 90% of women) as the one that is beautiful.

I know about the high end fashion scene; it is a bubble within which everyone involved validates its culture and ideals and objectives, but still I feel the initial excuse of only making garments to sample size, seems thin, and again points to all the issues outlined so far.

So here’s the answer. Designers should book models in advance, before designing a new collection.  They should be obliged to show how one collection can work for different skin tones and shapes.  The skill and craftsmanship of the elite within fashion is such that they can create excellent quality and beautifully made garments to suit all.  In shows, hair and make-up teams can create a unified look easily.  The real objective for designers should be to create a unity within diversity.  It’s more of a challenge, but I think it would drive creativity.  We’ve seen the same old thing over and over again.  A pre-used aesthetic with an updated twist, a nod to this or that from yester-year.  But no-one really uses women’s bodies as the base structure to the clothes.  So far the clothes have provided all the structure themselves, merely resting upon the ‘walking clothes hangars’.

If it comes from the top, it will trickle down.  Instead of this guy Christian Siriano being the hero, very nobly agreeing to design for an individual that strays from the fashion norm, shouldn’t we be rising up against the villains here, the individuals within the whole of the fashion industry who are collectively culpable for the current disastrous state of women’s social self-esteem, which superficial campaign after token campaign is not getting addressed in any meaningful way.

Find out if your legs are indecent.

If you’re female and over the age of 8, then the answer is probably ‘yes’.

If you’re female and over the age of 8, then the answer is probably ‘yes’.

Recently I was drawn into a conversation about whether or not one lady’s bare legs (in a fun, kitsch stage costume) were appropriate to be seen by children.  I couldn’t quite believe that this had to be discussed.

‘What’ I asked ‘was the issue?’.

I had seen her previous performance.  Upsettingly I found myself having to relay a detailed description about this lady’s body, scrutinising her form so we could make judgements about its decency.  I won’t include my observations here, I found it uncomfortable, base, disrespectful and actually, I discovered, pointless. Running through the possible reasons people may take offence and hypothetically replacing those legs with others, I wanted to see if there was any justification for concern.

Firstly, was this a sexualised performance? No.  Given the performer’s age and the nature of the ensemble, her look was part of their schtick; fun, slightly absurd, themed, you get the picture.  They were a theatrical spectacle.  No children were in danger of corruption or put in a sexualised environment.  There was no way this lady took herself seriously, was trying to appear sexy, or was ‘flaunting’ her body in any way (if that’s even a problem).

Was it an ‘immodest’ image? The old fashioned case for moral propriety, where everyone should remain modest for modesty’s sake, is currently being broken apart.  The idea that too much flesh on show should be considered as a distraction to heterosexual men, or that it is an invitation for sexual advances, or that it implies sexual promiscuity from the barer of bare legs, is outdated and wrong.  Morally, no problem here then either.

Does age factor into how legs are viewed? Yes, and surprisingly all ages are considered inappropriate for one reason or another. Our society views old legs as obscene; who wants to see that? Young legs, however, are more like our beauty ‘ideal’ that the media has conditioned us to admire.  We want to see young legs on show, just like the images of women we objectify on a daily basis when they sell us shaving products, fashion, reality TV, pop music and porn.  But our learnt objectification of visible young legs would have made it a ‘sexualised’ performance under society’s current standards.  It would even attract the labels of attention seeker, asking for judgement, or using appeal to seduce and draw in the audience. So any age legs are a no go.

Does the size of legs matter? Yes, for a number of reasons.  And again, nowhere on the spectrum is safe from criticism.  On the larger side, the exposition of cellulite is apparently too much for some to cope with.  Any ‘overexposure’ of flesh, is seen as an ‘eyeful’.  She’s brave. Put it away love. We really don’t want to see that.  And skinny legged ladies attract jealousy, the opinion that the attached person is showing off, vying for our husbands’ attention, or ‘flaunting’ their sexuality.

The point about courage here is an eye opening one.  We are brave when we dare to bare without conforming to today’s beauty standards.  We open ourselves up to public humiliation, whispers of dissatisfaction, disgust, disbelief that we could be so bold as to look a little different.  This is the everyday body shaming that we endure, born from our own insecurities, from within our own communities, within our own muddled thoughts.

We have become accustomed to seeing size 6 mannequin legs so toned they show no sign of flesh, but so slim they show no sign of muscle.

Our Instagram feeds are flooded with ‘hotdog legs’ but none like mine, already in their buns.

Why can’t we accept legs just as legs?  Fat, thin, long, short, wobbly or athletic. Who cares?

Society’s interpretation of body image is at the point where using a factual description of my thighs; soft, rounded and uneven in contour, sounds like I’m being self deprecating.  I’m not. By the way, they’re also long, strong, fully functioning limbs.  Limbs that have carried me through life so far; that have walked me into university and places of work, that have danced, that ache after exercise,  that have helped rock my children to sleep, that hold me tall, that curl into my chest when I need comfort.

But until we can change our inner perceptions about the beauty of a healthy pair of legs we are forced to feel that seeing them bare is indecent.  I only hope this can be addressed by us all now and that I won’t need to tell my daughter, the next generation, to cover her legs in order to protect her from any kind of degradation or harm.

Be nice, vote remain.

eu flag

Be nice, vote remain.

The EU referendum is only days away now and the battle between the leave and remain campaigns is out of control.  Both politics and journalism has got nasty over the last few weeks culminating in the shocking behaviour from The Sun, yesterday, urging their readership to vote Leave on June 23rd. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1277920/we-urge-our-readers-to-believe-in-britain-and-vote-to-leave-the-eu-in-referendum-on-june-23/

This, I’m hoping will be the lowest point from either side,  but desperation can make people do bad things, so watch this space.

So far, the debate has been fought using aggressive rhetoric,  with neither camp afraid to err on the side of hyperbole for effect.   The leave campaign in particular has used language for the purpose of instilling fear in our communities about the ‘dangers’ of Europe.  The Sun’s article states how we as a nation should be seeking control, strength and sovereignty.  Openly writing that Great Britain should be a ‘powerful nation, envied by all’.  How on earth envy can be a positive outcome in any respect is beyond me.  This is a piece about division, about supremacy and xenophobia.  These divisive words are being used with such hateful strength, and as if it’s perfectly normal to be that nasty.  It now wouldn’t surprise me if the next step for the Tories would be to promote these ideologies as ‘British Values’ through the education system.

The general bluster surrounding the whole referendum may be offensive and off-putting but it is driving the prime objective of getting bums in booths on June 23rd.  Both sides are trying to make more noise than the other in these closing stages of the campaign, and I don’t blame them.  In previous elections softness in approach has been misconstrued  as weakness of argument, which we know could be pounced upon by any number of boorish politicians or businessmen on one side or the other, persuading hoards of undecided fence-sitters to vote the other way.

For the sensible and measured among us, I want us to remember the Scotland referendum earlier this year and how we felt about it in England. I have zero pride in having been born in England, it just happened, and it’s fine.  Well actually, it’s rather nice here, but I have no sense of nationalist pride whatsoever.  But for some reason even I felt a tiny bit offended that so many Scots didn’t want to be part of ‘our’ country anymore.  I had readied myself for a ‘sod off then’ attitude if the result was for Scotland’s independence (luckily, it wasn’t – this time).   Now imagine that on the epic scale of Europe, and how the people will be watching and waiting to see if we are going to choose to reject them.  Just as we held our breath, hoping that Austria wouldn’t elect their far right candidate as president this month, so will Europe have all eyes on us.   The people will be hoping we choose friendship over hate, and co-operation over tactics of bullying and holding to ransom (which would be the only ways to proceed with negotiating new trade deals if we do leave the EU).

We cannot underestimate the stability that comes with positive diplomacy and international relations that this country has worked so tirelessly to achieve since the second world war.  Our united Europe is a testament to reason, courage, tenacity and friendship from all parties.  We are a leader within the EU, we hold a position of esteem and with that honour comes humility.  This is a value that we, as Brits should be proud of.  The notions of inclusion, empathy and raising standards should be what we’re all about.  Why wouldn’t we want as many nations as possible to be able to set their standards of workers’ rights and safety laws higher as part of the expanding European Union?  British Law has the power to set even higher standards for these things if we should wish, so I can only surmise that the Leave campaign wishes to duck out of the obligation to look after our people to this level.

The people of Britain are not going to suffer by remaining in the EU.  There is a great possibility however, that the people of Britain are going to suffer if we leave.  The suffering is obviously not physical, it may be economic, but that’s not actually what’s at stake here.   If we leave the EU it is certain that our reputation will suffer and that other nations will suffer too.  Perhaps countries will break away one by one, fragmenting Europe, complicating relations and individually vying for power, one over the other to negotiate the best trade deals.  It will lead to ugly competition, envy and hate across Europe.

To put it simply, we need people to realise that it is important to do the right thing.  Strength lies in kindness and working together.  It is not a sign of weakness to remain united.

So be nice.  Vote remain.

Why the waif generation are screwed

I grew up in the era when Kate Moss was just everything.  From her normal blonde hair to her couldn’t care less attitude, she was pretty much the only message I received from anywhere I looked.  We could imagine her wisp like entity barely disturbed the air as she moved; an image of serenity mixed with attitude that we all loved.  The waif who didn’t care is the iconic life, style and fashion emblem of the ’90s that (because of this exposure to waifs and heroin chic and nothing else during my teens) I still have pinned to my internal ideas board of how I want to be.  It’s easy not to care, if you’re a waif, but this, as a natural non-waif, is the biggest dichotomy I and my generation battle to deal with.

Body image for the older generations is pretty black and white, thin or fat.  But the more pressing issue for them is about how to make the right impression image wise; fully subscribing to the notion of dressing appropriately for the occasion, caring about protocol, dreading style faux pas and generally doing the ‘done thing’ .  We end up with Jeremy Corbyn wearing a tie more often and Hilary Clinton having that hair just to ‘look the part’.

The other end of things sees the youth having access to a wider range of styles, and the lines are far more blurred about how we should wear clothes, but the bigger issue here is about what the body looks like underneath.  The social media generation see body image ‘role models’ daily on their newsfeed, that’s another story, but alongside these is a very prominent feminist and body-positive presence,  which I think is reaching young women loud and clear.  It’s impossible to hear one view on social media without getting its polar opposite rammed down your throat, battling it out to win the debate; the righteous do-gooder versus the offensive troll.

But we’re the generation of contradictions.  We are educated and we’ve lived a little, we know about breaking free from stereotypical image ideals, conformity and pleasing society, we have all the tools and the brains and the chutzpah be happy with our healthy bodies,  but still, it is ingrained in us to aspire to be a waif.  Our philosophy fluctuates.  The internal debate ensues; if we aim to lose weight we are failing as feminists, but if we neglect our bodies we are failing to achieve our own goals of how we desire to be.  We’re damned either way, it’s like being stuck between a rock and bony hip.

The battle of head and heart is a constant flip flopping of ideologies, which, long term, we generally manage to keep in check.  But day to day there is as much chance of us feeling worn down by the conflict as there is feeling in control of our sex with a goddess-like confidence.   Our mindset can even change multiple times within a day, especially if there are biscuits involved, as we struggle to make sense of who we want to be, I mean really want to be on the inside.

The culture of mixed messages is perpetuated in magazines and on TV, where one minute we see high end fashion waif advertisements and editorial shoots, then an article on how to find happiness (get this) even if you’re fat, followed by how to lose those stubborn few lbs before a big event.  We’re told how to look like we’re not wearing make-up by wearing a load of make-up, we’re empowered to make our own style choices, then ridicule those in the public eye who ‘get it wrong’.

It’s just plain broken.

Maybe we’re being provided with what we want.  Perhaps we enjoy the constant building up and tearing down of our self confidence from one side bar to the next, finding comfort in the fact that so many others feel the same.  But that doesn’t make it right.

I have no doubt that the messages we receive from the media result directly in us wanting to buy stuff to ‘better’ our appearance.  The cynic in me may feel that is the sole purpose of these media; to merrily keep the wheel of capitalism turning.  But I’ve worked in those offices, I’ve seen the woman-dominated industry from the inside, and so the human in me realises that the people producing our pop ‘culture’ images are our generation too, and they’re just as confused as we are, and that’s why we’re screwed.

What’s missing is just a little bit of strength, from all of our peers, be it those with the power, authority and heavily followed media profiles, or our circle of friends, to make the effort to get across one steady and consistent message about healthy body confidence and self worth, over fashions and unachievable body goals.

A little strength of mind is all it takes.

I should start with me.  My usual next step would have been to go and have a couple of Oreos (moderation in moderation!) then end up tonight watching 23 year old 8 stone beauties on Love Island for inspiration whilst simultaneously hula-hooping or doing squats or some such other Oreo-undoing activity.  Not tonight.  Well, let’s see.

*Husband reading over my shoulder  ‘When do we ever have Oreos in the house?’