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The Essential truth about ‘real’ models

Essentials magazine in Britain has announced that from this month on, they will be eschewing models and celebrities on their covers and in their fashion pages in favour of real women. And by real, they don't mean plus-size models, or inspirational women, they mean their own readers.

According to their research, readers would prefer to see women similar to themselves in magazines and fashion features, and Essentials' editor has said: "In our recent reader survey 70pc told us that they would rather see a real woman on the cover of a magazine and in fashion pages than a celebrity, so we're excited to be the first magazine in the UK to do this every month."

Are they? I certainly am not. If I wanted to see everyday women modelling clothes I would just find a shop with a communal changing room. What started as a backlash against painfully thin models seems to have evolved into a new trend for so-called 'real' women.

This term is beginning to be as offensive as size zero ever was. What is a 'real woman'? If a woman is slim or tall, is she not real? The greater irony is that on the inaugural of these new covers, the so-called real women are still airbrushed to within an inch of their real lives, which was supposedly one of readers' biggest irks in the first place. Ordinary woman airbrushed, good; models airbrushed, bad. Got that Orwellians?

The difficulty here is that what women discuss in focus groups, or the boxes they tick in surveys, is often quite different to what they actually want. Not unlike making up a number to put in the box beside 'units of alcohol consumed per week' on medical forms. Most of us, if we're honest, shave a couple off, and come up with a number that we think sounds reasonable rather than the actual total. Similarly, if a terribly earnest clipboard-wielding girl stopped you in the street and asked if you would like to see more real women used in magazines and advertising, I suspect many people would say yes, but then walk straight into a shop and pick up a copy of Grazia. Surveys like this often make us feel that our integrity is under scrutiny rather than our opinions.

Essentials magazine was one of the big climbers in the women's monthly market in the first half of this year, and if their research proves to be accurate, this trend should continue. I'm going to put my neck on the line and say it won't. It will be interesting to see the effect on their sales over the next six months, because despite what 70pc of those surveyed said, I think they will get pretty bored with paying to look at ordinary folk after a couple of issues.

If they wanted to break away from beauty and fame, why couldn't they have put inspirational women on the cover? Writers, designers, politicians or sportswomen, or are there only three kinds of woman these days -- model, celebrity or ordinary?

Well I am going to be completely honest. I like seeing gorgeous women on the front of magazines. Fashion pages look better using professional models, and they don't make me feel inferior or dreadful that I don't look the same. It's a little patronising to assume that all women dislike seeing models. We don't.

There is a very big difference between using painfully thin or worryingly young models in features and campaigns, and seeing professional models doing their job. Let's not forget there are plenty of older models and curvier ones. By all means, magazines should choose models appropriate to the campaign, be they plus-size or more mature (Marks & Spencer have applied this concept with great success), but there's no need to use Linda from down the road just to make the rest of us feel better.

Who is to say models don't feel inferior because they can't do certain things that other people can? Everyone has their strengths, and women have to learn that they don't have to be all things to all people. Some women run businesses, some are stay-at-home mums, CEOs of multinational companies, writers, teachers, accountants . . . they don't need to be cover girls on top of everything else for validation. Is this not just another part of the growing cult of celebrity? I would question why any woman would want to be on the cover of a magazine just for being deemed to be real.

Not a single one of my friends would have any interest in celebrating her 'realness' by having her face plastered on the cover of a monthly mag, and most whom I asked said they thought the whole idea was a little condescending.

Place your bets now as to how long it will last, but I don't see it catching on. It's another incarnation of everyone's 15 minutes of fame. So all you models out there needn't start climbing up buildings bearing "models4justice" banners. It'll blow over, like size zero when you think about it.

Celia Holman-Lee:

"It could be argued that 'real' women who want to be on the cover of a magazine are as opportunistic as people who enter the X Factor! A lot of this trend filters down from the likes of Trinny and Susannah and Gok Wan telling women they can be everything, which is unfair. Women don't need to prove they can do everything. And when it comes to the ongoing debate on models, there are changes out there in this new climate; New York fashion week opened for the first time ever with a plus-size fashion show, which was wonderful. There are lots of different types of models, all professional, and all doing their job, which is usually to sell a product. I don't see a time when that stops being the case"