Something that is almost impossible not to notice about the fashion industry, especially once you start looking at it from a more professional point of view, is that it can have a strongly objectifying view of the body and it sometimes glamourises sexist behaviour and way of thinking. I know, breaking news! This has been observed in advertising for decades now and it never quite seems to decrease, it only transforms, adapting to the taste of the times.
As someone who considers herself a feminist this has been somewhat of an issue for me as I decided to embark on a fashion-related degree. In a way, it was my very own elephant in the room: at first I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about entering an industry that could be so destructive to a cause I firmly and enthusiastically believed in. But I am an optimist at heart, and my conclusion for now is that fashion is a tool, and that it isn’t inherently good or bad by its nature, but just like with any other tools it depends on how it’s being used. And I thought, hey, what better way to change things for the better than to actually work in the industry and find a way to improve what I feel doesn’t work? Hammers are great to nail pretty pictures to the wall, but they would make a great deal of damage if smashed on someone’s head. You get my point.
Something I find most people struggle with (myself included) is drawing the fine line between expressing art through a naked body and sexualising it. I know there is plenty of art out there which features nudity and I absolutely adore (off the top of my head I can think of classics such as Schiele and Klimt, but the honour isn’t reserved to 19th-century Austrian painters). Personally I believe there is a difference between celebrating the body and sexualising it. This is also why I named my Pinterest board “sex sells” and not “nudity in fashion”, because I do not think that nudity in itself is a bad, dirty thing.
The problem arises when the advertisements begin objectifying the female (or male!) body. Women’s bodies are dismembered in ads for all kinds of products, effectively turning their body parts into props, embellishments, objects to sell a product. Those pair of boobs, that leg, those lips belong to a woman who was stripped away of her identity and turned into a thing. From Wikipedia:
Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity.
The body language of women and girls in almost all of these remains passive, vulnerable, submissive, whereas the man (when featured) assumes the dominating role. Also, he is usually fully clothed.
I mean… when an ad for a Menswear Spring/Summer collection doesn’t feature any pieces of clothing, not even a scrap of fabric on the floor, maybe it is time to rethink what we are really trying to sell here (I’m looking at you, Tom Ford).
I have a great deal to say about the portrayal of women (and men) in media as it’s something that I care deeply about, so stay tuned if you want to read more about this topic in the future!