Wednesday 26 October 2016

That YSL advert tells us more about ourselves...

The woman's weight didn't turn me off my breakfast - a group of men judging it did, writes Niamh Horan

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

SIZE MATTERS: Sue Tilley poses for pictures in front of a painting of herself by British artist Lucian Freud
SIZE MATTERS: Sue Tilley poses for pictures in front of a painting of herself by British artist Lucian Freud

'Do you find that offensive?" my news editor asked as he plonked the Yves Saint Laurent photograph on my desk.

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My knee-jerk reaction was 'no' because - instead of ad campaigns and fashion photography - I like to save my ire for things that really matter like, oh, I don't know, freedom of speech, the gender pay gap and the fact that our politicians still won't let women have a say over their own bodies.

But I took a closer look because the image was interesting. It shook me awake after my bowl of cornflakes and a dreary walk to work in the rain - and it made me think. And if it checks all those boxes, then I'm pretty sure we are getting into the realm of 'art'.

Art, as someone once said, is the only way you can run away without leaving home. It is escapism. It pulls you out of yourself for a few moments, from the monotony of life, and makes you feel something.

So let me see: she's lying on the ground, skirt hitched up, legs akimbo, it looks like she could have just been assaulted. Was she raped? Did people find that thought offensive? Otherwise are they saying the photo is too promiscuous? Provocative, unladylike? Nope. That's not it either. OK then, that light dust on the floor beside her - is that sunlight or spilled cocaine?

I eventually give up and I am told the issue is her weight.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that the model was "unhealthily thin" and banned the image.

I wonder how the model feels after being publicly shamed over her weight. Is she naturally that size? Regardless, how did it sit with her, that a group of people - mostly older men in suits - got together to judge her body and deem her unfit for public consumption?

Last month when the furore took off surrounding the 'Are you beach body ready?' advertising campaign, women began targeting the woman on the poster, defacing her image and humorously posting it to their social networking sites, rather than hit out at the male-dominated industry that decided it would be a smart idea to fix that tag line beside her head.

The woman, Renee Somerfield, spoke afterwards and reminded us: "I am a real person behind the image". It was her body that was open for discussion. If she had curves, rather than an athletic-looking body, would people have reacted in the same way?

After Lucian Freud's portrait of an obese woman lounging across a couch broke all records at Christie's auction house last month, not one person defaced the image or called her body "unhealthily fat". And rightly so.

But she was called "flabby" by the media and we were informed of her exact weight on the scales in every piece: 280lbs to be precise. You see the problem is this: we are obsessed with weight.

Too fat, too thin, too perfect; somebody will always have something to say about women's bodies. And, as one of America's leading photographers, Judy Dater, once said when asked why she photographs people: "Because it is the best way to show somebody [looking at the image] something about themselves."

We are so fixated with weight that we can't get past the woman on the floor to see the bigger picture. And, who knows, maybe that's the very statement the photographer was trying to make.

Sunday Independent

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