I would like to preface this essay by saying that I am a feminist (I have written four other articles for the FBomb), I am sixteen, and I have been model with Ford Models for two years. My opinions are based on experiences I have personally had in the fashion industry.
Mankind has always been infatuated with beauty and art has been one way humans create beauty since the beginning of history -- what pleases the eye, touches the soul after all. To me, fashion is the most intimate form of art because it becomes a part of our lives in a way other art doesn't: we experience life in clothes. People strive to see and create beauty in their lives and fashion is one way to accomplish that.
A fashion image is an explosion of artistic collaboration suspended in time and space. As a model, you are the canvas of this art. You become the incarnation of coveted beauty, which is flattering yet stressful, consuming yet superficial. Models become physical works of art that are created to inspire awe about the human body -- not to condemn the appearance of the general public, the way many feminists believe.
The idea that the entire fashion industry universally attempts “to shame” the average woman is maybe the most common misconception I have heard in feminist circles. The truth is that while this may admittedly be a dominant part of the fashion industry, it's not the goal of everybody involved in fashion (nor do I believe that it should be or that that is what the fashion inherently is). The people with whom I have worked in fashion are artistic, creative, collaborative, open, and witty. These people are not trying to make other people feel bad about themselves, but are trying to make their artistic vision a reality.
The fashion industry also doesn't inherently promote negative female body image (although certain players of the industry may have perverted it that way). The people I have met are certainly not advocates for eating disorders, thigh gaps, or unhealthy lifestyles. When I am modeling, I take pride in the fact that I am promoting a healthy body type because I believe that being healthy is beautiful. I'm a healthy weight for me and I love indulging in chocolate just as much as I revel in long distance running. While it's true that the women who are represented in fashion are most commonly tall, thin, and Caucasian, models of minority races such as Joan Smalls and Liu Wen are now becoming more popular among top designers. Plus-size models like Crystal Renn and Candice Huffine are also celebrated by many in the fashion industry. We're starting to see a shift towards accepting a variety of bodies as part of the art fashion should be -- not the narrow ideal it's often presented as.
And beyond fashion, in terms of the way individual models are viewed, I frankly don't think it's fair to judge models based solely on the images that are produced of them -- images that are the means by which those women chose to make their livelihoods. For example, if you were to look at a modeling shot of me, you would be unaware that I am a feminist, an animal's rights advocate, a certified elephant handler, a student taking advanced classes, and an avid reader. Assuming that models are only concerned with their appearance and nothing else -- blindly assuming that they're not in the fashion industry to be a part of art, or, frankly, to make a living, but rather just because they're tall and thin-- is similar to thinking that because a person is an accountant, all they care about is math and that they couldn't possibly be good at or interested in anything else. And what if models are in it for the money? Personally, I've found that being able to utilize my appearance to make money is not demeaning, but liberating.
I think feminists need to separate conversations we have about fashion as art, as a concept and ideal, and fashion as an industry, as the work of individuals who do try to profit from objectifying women. Many artists approach fashion as a way to express themselves, as a way to put art in the world and achieve that objective and it's not fair to lump them in with others who are trying to commercialize that original concept in a negative way. I don't think it's fair to lump artists in with those who do purely sexualize women and profit from making women feel bad about themselves.
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