A photographer’s flash went off nearby as I walked down Wellington’s Lambton Quay yesterday. I soon discovered why. It’s Fashion Week, and the streets are filled with models on outdoor photo shoots, out in the crowds.
I had no idea it was happening. Of course, you’re talking here to a Kiwi bloke. I randomly purchase clothes, then randomly pluck them from the closet. She Who Must Be Obeyed occasionally points out which shirt goes with what trousers, as opposed to conglomerations of jeans and t-shirts, or odd shoes
What’s more, my favourite model is Thunderbird 2. I am not kidding (hey, every bloke of A Certain Age knows exactly what I am talking about…)
But I digress. It got me thinking about the fashion industry with its curious images of what constitutes ‘normal’ and ‘overweight’ for women. it seems to me this tells us an awful lot about what is wrong with western society in general.
Go back half a century and look at Marilyn Monroe, who symbolised western ideals for one and maybe two generations. She was a Size 16, which I believe is known as ‘plus’ size today.
Today? Apparently Size 0 is obese and models are required to survive on cotton wool balls soaked in orange juice, protein shakes and still have to dehydrate themselves for two days in order to get ‘the look’ (hmnn… lots of protein, starvation stress response, no water…’kidney failure’…).
What’s more, both men and women are relentlessly conditioned to think this is normal for women. I still recall someone informing me, years ago, that any woman who didn’t look like the ‘supermodel de jour’ was a ‘blimp’.
The science is clear; people come in all shapes and sizes, and somebody who’s an endomorph (round), under no circumstance, is going to look thin. No matter how little they eat. No matter how much they exercise.
In a way it isn’t surprising. History is rife with examples of social trends, fashion and otherwise, that deny the human condition one way or another. And today the image is also driven at us with all the force of mass media and the power of industrial-age marketing.
Yet there is something else. For 99.99% of all human history, the human condition has involved a struggle to find food. Being fat was a sign of wealth – status. Also fertility; look at the neolithic Venus figures, for instance. Or the paintings of Pieter Paul Rubens.
Today, industrialised society – the same industrialisation that is leading us inexorably down the path of global climate change – has also solved the problem of finding enough food to eat. So what does society do? We create a social ideal for women of being unhealthily skinny, instead.
What, as a society, have we lost perspective of here? What do you figure?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013