Fashion is the stuff of dreams. It promises glamour, beauty and adventure. Like a desert mirage, fashion promises to fulfil the desire for stylish uniqueness, but more frequently it leaves consumers thirsting for a self-image that is unhealthy and largely unattainable.
This merchandising of illusion is a problem that Eva Kruse, the head of the Danish Fashion Institute, and its subsidiary Copenhagen Fashion Week, is particularly aware of.
“Almost every woman I know is constantly on a diet of some form or battling her weight,” Kruse told The Copenhagen Post. “The fashion industry plays a role in how women see themselves, and we need to show people that it’s okay to have curves.”
However, glamour and dreams – not curves – sell copy. With tabloids and fashion magazines consistently promoting images of slim celebrities and diet routines, it seems that any attempt to change industry practice in this regard faces an uphill battle.
“It takes time and teamwork,” Susan Scafidi, the co-founder of Model Alliance, an NGO designed to help protect models, said. “And that’s why we, as an organisation, have chosen to work and try to help develop our own fashion agencies, rather than aggressively point the finger at others.”
But it’s not just models affected by the obsession with youth and beauty. It pervades the entire entertainment industry.
Singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis, who performs as Marina and the Diamonds, was told by her label, Warner Records, that the company had delayed the released of her video because she was “too ugly” in it.
“My ex-manager told me the video needed more ‘beauty work’,” Diamandis, who is half Greek and half Welsh, told The Copenhagen Post. “My skin tone wasn’t right, for example. And I mustn’t have shaved my armpits that morning, I guess.”
So, someone at my record label wont let me release the video bc I look ugly in it apparently + we need more $ / time to paint out ugly parts
— MARINA &THE DIAMONDS (@MarinasDiamonds) 24. sep. 2012
“The industry wants you to look a certain way, and that in turn has pushed the standards of beauty to an extraordinarily high level,” she continued. “You have to be perfect. Like a doll.”
Diamandis, who herself sported dyed blonde hair for several years, says that she is strongly against the notion of “botoxing” her own appearance to please the industry. However, she admits that the battle is a compromising one.
“The whole blonde look didn’t come out of nowhere,” the 27-year-old singer admitted. “I knew it would make me more palatable and open me up to a larger audience. And it did. Sadly.”
This superficial obsession is nothing new to Scafidi.
“Being thin and beautiful has become a real sign of wealth,” Scafidi explained. “If you look good, it indicates that you have the money to put effort into your appearance. And that’s why people strive to emulate models and celebrities.”
However, Kruse says it is not productive to scapegoat models and entertainers as the guilty culprits for society’s unhealthy obsession with image.
Hate the game. Not the player. That is the increasingly emphatic message from fashion insiders. However, is it enough to simply point the finger whilst simultaneously feeding the media machine?
“Getting people to join our cause has been very difficult,” Scafidi explained. “Models are expected to be seen and not heard, and we see our job at Model Alliance as giving those professionals a voice in the industry.”
Diamandis, on the other hand, does have a voice and has used her career as a platform to question the notions of image in modern media.
And while songs like ‘Primadonna’ and ‘Teen Idle’ are critical statements of the industry, the fact that Diamandis still allowed Warner Records to “botox” her video is proof that the war is far from over.
“The irony is that the more driven we become to achieve that ideal view of beauty, the uglier we start to feel,” she said. “But I don’t think about that anymore. I’ve grown up.”
The question remains whether society will grow out of it, too.