Analysis

Thursday 31 July 2014

Fashion magazines are an escape from reality so keep giving us perfection, please

Lorraine Courtney

Published 25/03/2014|02:30

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Fashion models.

'Vogue' editor Alexandra Shulman said in a recent BBC Radio 2 interview with Lily Allen that she really doesn't believe that readers want to look at "real" people in the pages of her magazine. "People don't want to buy a magazine like 'Vogue' to see what they see when they look in the mirror. They can do that for free." She pointed out that women buy magazines like 'Vogue' for escapism: "I think 'Vogue' is a magazine that's all about fantasy to some extent and dreams, and an escape from real life."

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It's true. Everyone on television looks smooth and perfect, even if they're just there to read the news. Fashion magazines are even more picture-perfect. Glossy magazines present an impossibly beautiful world where everyone's flawless.

Every photograph is basically a female forgery. The gawky beanpole undergoes heavy computer-aided airbrushing with waists whittled down to the size of a normal neck, a benevolent mouse contouring and readjusting to make hips look narrower, faces smothered in thick make-up and eyes altered to an otherworldly cerulean blaze. This isn't what a woman looks like, it's what a magazine model looks like.

But we're so used to the lies, the fakeness, that how could we possibly try to handle it if they started to tell us the truth? Is it a revolution, publicity stunt or just good common marketing sense when magazines try to reflect reality? 'Brigitte', a German fashion and lifestyle magazine, started featuring regular women in its fashion pages a few years back. At the time the editor claimed the change was "in response to complaints by readers who said they had no connection with the women depicted in fashion features and no longer wanted to see protruding bones".

The magazine abandoned the no models policy after just two years. The reason? Sales had dropped. The magazine claimed that reader feedback showed that normal women in the photo shoots were "distracting" and so they went back to shooting perfection. In fact, the entire publishing industry consistently sees reader focus groups choose thin models over larger women.

There's lots written about how women want to be able to relate to what they see in magazines but these models don't actually make us feel bad about ourselves. They don't lower our self-esteem.

Looking at those emaciated spectacles stalk the catwalk doesn't make me want to try a breatharian diet. Actually it has the opposite effect. It makes me happy that I don't have to live a life of food deprivation, unable to concentrate on anything apart from the calorific content of a stick of chewing gum.

But there's a part of me that loves fashion, really, really adores the artistry of the designs and my heart will beat faster just looking at an unusual hemline or a new colour. Once you're aware of the trickery of it all, you can be a woman, read fashion magazines and not end up self-hating.

Besides, today's audiences are sophisticated enough to know the score and understand that we are buying a dream, not reality.

I know that images are manipulated, so it really doesn't matter. If I want to see a normal person I can look in the mirror.

Magazines and movies shouldn't be an expression of normal life. They give us an escape from it. These images take us to a beautiful place, that's way better than reality, preferably starring Kate Moss. Are we so foolish that we think we should have to look like a supermodel ourselves? Of course not. That whole debate should have been crushed under a Louboutin-clad foot seasons ago.

What is damaging is the lower-end magazines that regularly shame celebrities for daring to step outside without make-up and look, well, normal. An all-too-stark reality check is available in magazines that specialise in pho-tographs of stars caught unawares. Peek inside and gaze at lumpy bodies, pasty faces and furry armpits of actors and models.

Let's keep the veneer of perfection. Judging by the well-defined eyes and suspiciously glossy lips on the "no make-up" selfies all last week, most women agree.

Irish Independent

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