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Beauty has always been an inspiration to art and creation. And human's pursuit of perfection has never stopped, whether it is attainable. The classical tale of Zeuxis Selection Models is one of the West's most enduring myths of artistic creation (Mansfield, 2006). The legend recounts the famous artist's seeking for an ideal model for painting the image of Helen of Troy. Unable to find the perfect features in one single model, Zeuxis chose the best features of five female models to create a perfect image of beauty. The similarity of how human beings pursue the ideal beauty can be found in the Ancient Greece of 400 B.C. and in contemporary society, when digital technicians and plastic surgeons use airbrush and surgery to create perfect model images out of less than perfect bodies.
Over the past two decades, there has been extensive critique about the use of models in advertising. The unrealistic images of perception and nearly attainable body shape, models seem to only reflect a singular ideal of beauty - thin, tall, and young - which is dramatically different from the average female consumer. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the images of fashion models and how they have been use in advertising and the relation with consumer perception.
The first part of literature review introduces the history of modeling and the trends in different times, then moves on to three distinct angles of examining fashion model body and image, of the first looks at model body as an problematic body, the second inverts the negativity into positivity, and the last sees fashion body as an ideal image integrated with clothes and setting. What follows then, is to test and verify the theories and findings in the literature on designer company, Mark Fast, who used a mix of size-zero models and plus-size models on his runway show, and model agency, and Dove brand's Campaign for Real Beauty, which featured normal women of different shapes and sizes. The last task is to investigate consumer perception through a survey of their attitudes toward model images and desire of purchase.
The profession of the model was established in the 18th century (Quick, 1997), but not until in the late 19th century did the fashion model was born. Marie Vernet is considered the first professional model, who was hired by Charles Frederick Worth to appear at social gatherings dressed in his clothes. In early 20th century, full-time in-house fit models became a standard for designers. Modeling back then was more about helping garment makers to drape and perfect a garment. As photography improved, titled and wealthy society women, soubrettes, and millionaire wives were the first photographic subjects.
For couturiers, these women were an all year round walking advertisement. Later on, with the influence of Hollywood grew over fashion in the 1930's, magazines turned to dancers, actresses, and cinema stars. Due to the boom of magazine industry, the appetite for fashion increased. Modeling then became fashionable. Thus the professional model was soon demand. In 1946, Eileen Ford, a former model, set up a model agency, Ford Models, which later became the most famous agency (Quick, 1997). It offered career training and professional advice. Next year, Christian Dior introduced his legendary collection, The New Look. In this period, the professional model presented as a celebrated personality with a distinctive identity (Koda and Yohannan, 2009). Ballard (1960) notes that the models were twitching with a provocative swinging movement. It was like a polished theatrical performance. Dior made his ultra-sophisticated models perform, live the image of the clothes rather than just show the cuts and fabrics. In the 1960's, diversity of fashion body was introduced. Givenchy's Chinese and South American descent, China Machado and Pierre Cardin's Japanese Hiroko Matsumoto showed a more global conception of feminine beauty. In 1964, Donyale Luna made the first black model that appears on the cover of Bristish Vogue. Also, the arrival of Twiggy, who stands five-foot-six-inch tall, shattered the pre-existing standards of feminine beauty with her flat chest and pre-adolescent look (Koda and Yohannan, 2009; Quick, 1997). In the 1980's, the rise of the popularity of fashion magazines and globalization of fashion and cosmetics brands created a demand for internationally recognizable women who can sell clothing and merchandise on the strength of their beauty and personalities - supermodels. Modeling moved toward the cultivation of an individualized beauty and personality. Model's commercial career turned into their endorsement deals, and models became the international spokespersons and the faces of companies. In the 1990's, their popularity began to wane, as pop singers, actresses, and other entertainers gradually replaced professional models on fashion magazine covers and in advertising campaigns. This trend continues today. Supermodels still exist, but behaving like one is considered old fashioned. Gestures of modeling now are more subtle. Every effort is made to blend in. Through out the history, model, the icon of beauty, transformed from the faceless salon girl to society girl; from the woman of the world to supermodel, and back to seeming herself.
What is the public perception of the fashion body? Plenty of the literatures and studies regard the fashion model body as a case and a cause of disorder, especially to young women and adolescent girls in contemporary society (Botta, 1999; Fay and Price, 1994; Martin and Gentry, 1997). A research conducted by Brown and Dittmar indicated that the average body size of the idealized model is often more than 20% underweight (Brown and Dittmar, 2005). This unhealthy image is often associated with eating disorder, such as anorexia, a syndrome of self-imposed starvation and relentless pursuit of thinness to the point of emaciation (Polivy, Garner, and Garfinkle, 1986). The negativity to fashion model body can also be found in feminism and psychological research. Feminist researchers insist on the disorderly nature of the fashion model body, starved to attain the idealistic feminine standards demanded by Western patriarchal culture (Bordo, 1990; Wolf, 1990). It is a body oppressed and subjected to considerable pain and suffering for the sake of ideal femininity. Owing to that fashion model body is elevated as a cultural icon, it can cause impressionable young girls evaluate their own bodies according to the unhealthy thinness that an individual with a normal diet could not emulate (Santonastaso et al., 2002). Richins (1991) confirmed that it is usual for young women to compare themselves with models in advertisements. This may bring a false value, dissatisfaction, even self-hatred to them by living up to an ideal image and imitating the unrealistic thin proportions of the fashion model body that is unattainable.
So why is the pursuit of fashion model body so seductive to women? It is interesting to note that by engaging with the bodily discipline, such as exercising, dieting, and toning the body, in order to achieve the ideal image, it produces multiple pleasures and self-achievement (Kirk, 1993). This brings out a divergent perspective of the fashion model body, as a body that produces positive effects for young girls. This theory emerges particularly from post-feminism. Post-feminists are skeptical of the interpretations of the model body as wholly negative for young women and move to account for how the young girls may derive pleasure from engaging with the model body. As Hopkins (1996 p. 57) notes that femininity is playful, and to postmodern girls, femininity is like "a game, something which they manipulate in a self-aware manner." Young girls who embrace "doing girl" instead of "being girl" can gain delight in everything associated with the performance of femininity. Therefore, a female body that is subject to practices of feminine beauty is a comfortable body, a body cosseted with pleasure. In these theories, engaging with bodily practices is a display of own sexual empowerment and emancipation. It can boost women's confidence and can be seen as an investment that brings rewards. For example, in Frida's work (1996) indicates that women may gain power from feminine beauty and beautifying practices if they learn how to use it.
As noted above, the perspectives of these two groups of literatures of fashion model body are oppositional. However, both of them agree the point that the fashion model body is a body of desire, the pursuit of an ideal perfection. Many contentions agree that advertising images often are not realistic and the models used in ads are idealized. As Schudson (1984 p. 215) notes that advertising "does not claim to picture reality as it is but reality as it should be - life and lives worth emulating." Instead, it pictures the magical moments that evoke desire. It can be inferred that consumers expect advertisers to present their goods, such as garments and beauty products, in a positive or idealized setting and may even prefer ads with attractive spokespersons. Models can be seen as an unrealizable and idealized state that is carefully depicted in advertising. The image it results is an "integrated vision of clothes and body" (Hollander, 1975 p. 85), and the outcome is "a synthesis of fashion and the body - a synthetic ideal" (Perthuis, 2005 p. 409). The fashion model body is transformed into an artificial object of the fashion garment and embodied the image of fashion. Thus, the model body compromises between ideal and reality. As Barthes (1983 p. 259) puts it, "the ideal, incarnate body of the fashion model is no one's body; rather, it is a pure form".
More recently, the health issues of models are paid attention by the public, especially after the shocking news about the Uruguay model Ramos died of heart failure caused by anorexia nervosa while participating in a fashion show during Fashion Week in Montevideo, 2006. Many initiatives hence have been conducted. In Spain, organisers of Madrid Fashion Week, in cooperation with the Madrid regional government, produced a code of conduct which restricted models with a BMI less than 18.5 from participating in the catwalk fashion shows <www.munimadrid.es>. Some companies also have taken actions to promote a more realistic image of the fashion and beauty, such as Ben Barry Agency, a model agency who represents models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities for the purpose of making brands authentically reflect their target market through their "real" models in advertising, and UK department store Debenhams launched UK sizeÂ 16 (US 12) mannequins in the window of their Oxford Street store in London. On the other hand, fashion designers also start using models in different sizes for the runway shows. Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano both used plus-size models in their Spring 2006 showings in Paris.
Models on the catwalk during the Mark Fast fashion show, London, Sept 19, 2009. Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images. Access: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/20/london-fashion-week-mark-fast>
Mark Fast is a 29 year old Canadian born knitwear designer who is based in London. He used a combination of plus-size and conventional models on his catwalk in 2009 and 2010. The "plus-size" models referred here are Hayley Morley, Gwyneth Harrison and Laura Catterall, who are UK size 12 and 14 (US 8 and 10). According to Debenhams' size 16 mannequin campaign, the majority of women in the UK is either a size 14 or 16.
So, what is Mark Fast's intention of using the fuller-figured models? And what impact does it have on the collections? Answers can be found in the interviews on his website. He claimed that he wanted to show that his clothes are for all body shapes and his show is a celebration of women of all body shapes, owing to that his designs sculpt around the body and his work explores the relationship of garments to the wearers body. His managing director, Amanda May, also indicated that they wanted women to know they don't have to be a size zero to wear a Mark Fast dress. It was about product knowledge.
The biggest impact of this is probably the publicity. His choice of using plus-size models immediately made international headlines and brought him the instant fame. It is undeniable that designers regularly use shock tactics - it's all part of the show, such as when Jean-Paul Gaultier sent a size 20 model which is way beyond the average size. However, this is denied by Mark Fast as a publicity stunt. Nevertheles, the strategy is very good for business. Not only has Fast since scored a deal with Topshop, but Browns Focus, which stocks Mark Fast exclusively, has reported that, a week after the show, Fast became its second-bestselling line. In terms of advertising, the use of different shape and size models not only increase the popularity but also demonstrates that "'ordinary" people can wear the designs and that it is making fashion more accessible. Surely by appealing to women of all shapes, he has widened his demand and will increase his uptake of his designs.
Women come in different sizes and of course in different ages. Consequently, actions on model diversity of ages have been taken place in the industry of fashion and beauty. Firms like Gudrun Sjoden, a Stockholm-based fashion company, uses models in different ages for their press photo and catalogue. The most well-known one is possibly "Dove Campaign for Real Beauty", which featured normal women of different shapes and sizes.
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Access: <http://benbarry.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/dove1.jpg>
While media and organization may claim that women want to see more realistic images, many in the fashion and beauty industry simply do not believe this. Aspirational images have long underpinned the industry and, however unattainable they are, they sell.
For campaigners, concerns that the industry is merely paying lip service to the debate, without taking any real responsibility or wanting to change, remains the biggest hurdle. Magazines blame designers for sending out size zero samples, while brands say their campaigns must fit with the 'aesthetic of the editorial'.
running a special issue to feature larger women declares that this is not the norm
Designers prefer thin models because they say that's how the clothes look best. Runway models are taught to think of themselves as walking hangers, so it's the clothes that get noticed, not the bodies.