Vogue’s real issue with ‘real women’

Credit: Marina Burtley

By Abigail Wilson

Fashion magazine Vogue, aka the ‘Fashion Bible’, has announced that for the first time ever, it is to feature “real women” in a one-off “real issue”.

Vogue’s November issue will contain empowered and successful academics and businesswomen, with content exploring topics of ‘real’ beauty and how to have a sophisticated work wardrobe. The ‘model-free zone’ will showcase ‘real women’ including Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Jane Hutchison and Kitty Travers.

Does this mean that Vogue’s previous issues should be disregarded? Are models now not considered as ‘real women’? What does it actually mean to be classified as a ‘real woman’? Catharine MacKinnon even asks, are women human yet?

There are hundreds and thousands of successful businesswomen that deserve recognition throughout the press. But instead, we are constantly shown images of the same models, selling different brands, in different magazines. And what do all of these models have in common? Their size.

There has long been criticism of magazines and their advertisements for using models that reflect an inhumane image of the size of women.

For centuries, women have been led to believe that being beautiful, slim and confident are necessary attributes of femininity. We are bombarded with images of ridiculously skinny models and are told that in order to be accepted and considered attractive, we must conform to this. So why are Vogue now scrapping models for their November issue?

The issue follows the H&M new autumn ad campaign that redefines femininity with a group of ‘strong’ women. The ad features a plus-size model in underwear, a woman using a fork to pick her teeth and another with hairy armpits eating chips in bed. These women are juxtaposing popular notions of femininity that are associated with innocence, dependency, emotion and passivity.

In addition, women with larger body types than the norm are underrepresented and presented negatively in the press. We flick through magazines and are hounded with images of tiny models and it’s very rare that plus-size women are featured. The mass media is, in general, a world in which how women look is critically important. Thus, women’s bodies are viewed as objects to be evaluated and scrutinised. But why? The average dress size of a British woman is a size 14. So why are we made to feel abnormal if we don’t fit the model mould?

There is still a stigma attached to being plus-size and a quick search of the Internet reveals a huge trend in overweight people being ridiculed and fat-shamed. There’s definitely a segment of society that view people of a larger size not to be an acceptable member of society.

In recent years, the media has made significant strides in representing women of varying identities, with a particular emphasis on plus-size women. With the increased representation of plus-size models in the press, including Ashley Graham, Robyn Lawley and Tess Holliday, the typical notion of beauty is finally starting to be attacked.

The use of hashtags has become increasingly popular on Twitter as a tool for women to challenge the feminine ideal. #CelebrateMySize, #EffYourBeautyStandards and #PlusSizeAppreciation are just a few examples of the empowering body positive hashtag campaigns that have gone viral recently. Campaigns such as these are essential to the empowerment of women and are steps towards extinction of the instilled beauty myth.

Following a string of customer complaints about ‘disgustingly skinny’ mannequins with ‘inhuman proportions’, more and more high-street retailers, such as Debenhams and Target have introduced plus-size mannequins. This has been followed by the recent craze for a curvy figure, encouraged by celebs such as Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj.

As a result, plus-size fashion is going through the roof. One in four of us buys plus-size clothing and Britain is getting bigger. Famous faces including Geordie Shore star Holly Hagan are launching plus-size clothing ranges, reinforcing that it’s wrong to charge more for clothes in bigger sizes. The UK plus-size industry is now worth £6 billion but the modelling industry needs to catch up.

So, will it be effective to have ‘real women’ featured in Vogue’s November issue? Of course. But in order for this to be empowering, it needs to become more commonplace. We need to be informed about what female entrepreneurs are doing and how women are changing the world. There needs to be a shift from magazines full of advertisements of models, to magazines containing discussions and articles about female power.

Many have applauded Vogue for using images of ‘real’ women in the November issue. However, there is still fear that the magazine will digitally alter the images, maintaining the pressure put on women to adhere to unrealistic standards of beauty.

Though the media are taking steps in the right direction and change is in the air, there is still a long way to go until our unrealistic ideas of beauty are overthrown.

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