Scene one: Overture
Young girl opens magazine. Does she react to the airbrushed cheeks or the accentuated cleavage? Does the model’s wardrobe or her tiny wrists make her feel inadequate? You would certainly think about it If you’ve been bombarded with Feminist theories in opposition to the media’s portrayal of a woman. But I think the bigger question is WHY do women see themselves inferior, why is it that people see a model and perfection synonymously?
Is the model to blame for this? Shall we gather our torch and pitchforks and burn her at the stake? Are the photographers and the makeup artists the ones who at blame? The true witches and warlocks of the fashion industry must be tried and subject to cruel and unusual treatment for the objectification of women everywhere.
Before we do anything drastic, let’s be civil and employ some logic to this situation. But don’t take my word for it. I asked these very questions to people new to and experienced in the industry, and as you read forward, you shall read their side of the story.
Scene two: ESA Model Search:
Toronto Casting Call November 22, 2009
Red Rose Convention Centre
Approximately 3 pm
Hot off the press release, their statement reads:
“What sets us apart is our professional ethics, fresh approach and our commitment to the success of our models. While striving to become one of North America’s finest and leading modelling agencies, our mission is to have South Asian talent prevail and be brought to the mainstream across North America.”
Such high expectations for an up-and-coming model agency, after attending the event myself as spectator and guest, I hope they stay true to this. It is a fresh sight to see South Asia (or that which represents South Asia) rising up to potentially lead the mainstream.
Scene 3: Kabir
I looked at the man who had sat next to me. He was probably five-nine (or taller) with broad shoulders, a trimmed beard and side burns and a well-defined jawbone. A male model? Perfect–But inaccurate.
Kabir is a twenty five-year old Real Estate agent who has been sponsoring this event in collaboration with all the artists who have pulled together to make this day happen. Kabir has a love for the industry of modelling and fashion. It was he that I was in corespondence with proir to the event and although admitting that his role was tedious, maintains that love for what he does on the side.
A busy man, he needed to pick up a call on his Black Berry Bold and I moved on.
Scene 4: Serena
Serena walked in with her parents and headed straight for the runway coach before I could get her. In six-inch stillettos and a fitting black dress held together with a black leather belt. As she walked I could hear the Cutty Ranks music playing in my head (Murder she wrote… ) According to her glowing mother, Serena had been free lancing since she was 13 years of age. She had performed in events like Dilwale Mela (Fiesta) 2008. and Dreams Wedding Show. She clearly had a shot for the casting call with ESA. Serena eventually came to speak to me herself. Serena is a young one. Only in her last year of high school, she has already been accepted into Psycholinguistics at the University of Toronto. A Dancer as well, Serena loves the rush of the performance and being on stage. But throughout our conversation that star potential gleams in her eyes and manifests itself in a love for what she does as expressive art.
Scene 5: Aanchal
Aanchal spoke proudly as an artist. Makeup is not fakeness, it is art. And for her, being a makeup artist, an expensive hobby and profession, has it’s rewards in the sharing of others’ joy. Makeup artists need to know the chemistry of colour combinations, which are not so much rules as they are possibilities. And Aanchal believes that Makeup, like art, has no guidelines. What distinguishes South Asian artistry from others? That is a matter of influence. Aanchal herself is quite abstract with her art, avoiding basic colours and playing with neons for the South Asian face.
Scene 6: Sharjeel and Hussain
A considerable amount of onus is on the photographer to get the picture right and they are usually the ones blamed for airbrushing. But Photographers like Sharjeel and Hussain, as photographers and artists synonymously, are offended by feminist theorists who accuse them of objectifying women. They do not deny that there are those photographers that would place female and male models in compromising positions, and those that are exclusive to one kind of model. These kind of photographers may be conniving villains bent out on keeping women in the bedroom and kitchen, but they may also just be trying to make a living. Hussian, a photographer who was considering applying as a model, says that a good model needs to have the right attitude. This may vary depending on the angle of the shot and the concept that needs to be conveyed.
It’s a big performance not just for the model, who is a part of the art, not as object, but as subject. Those of you who are familiar with the concept of performance art, will recognize the parallel. It is a big performance for the Makeup Artist and the Photographers who need to capture the moment. The whole teamwork process is tedious, but the saisfaction comes more from the result of the shot rather than the payment. Again, the theme of love and passion, surfaces. From the mouths of people in the industry themselves, the many facets of Fashion has much to do with Art and Love: Colour, Performance, and the art of encapsulating that single moment you may never see again.
Sharjeel emphasizes the element of perception. Why is it that when we see a model on the front cover we say “fake” and think “inadequacy”? Because the our first impulse on viewing an image is to put ourselves in there and if we don’t “Fit” that image, the assumption is that there is something wrong with ourselves.
But THIS is the problem. We only see ourselves and nothing else. We are entirely blind to all the hard work and dedication that goes into this “Industry”, founded so deeply in passion and unbridled love. We don’t see the Model who is more than we are willing to see nor do we see the liberation in performance. We don’t see the liberal make up artist who plays with colours and lines the way great artists like Monet and Warhol always have. We don’t see the Photographers who have spent tireless nights working on a concept, setting up the studio, working with the model only to have a 50% chance of selling it to the “big guy”.
We know this is not how it is across the board in the Fashion Industry. But the only reason why certain images of “female oppression” haven’t died is because they still sell. There ARE people that still believe that “thinner is better” no matter how attainable absolute thinness is. We need to change how we see ourselves and how we see others, before the fashion industry (and the subsequent advertising industry) as a whole even considers changing how they portray women.
The fashion industry has made several attempts to change how they sell things. Perceptions have been changing in the fashion industry. The Dove Campaign on “Real Beauty” is one avenue (but if you go too far down it you might as well burn your bra) another symptom of change are stores like Laura plus and Voluptuous that are gaining popularity. ESA Models is another example of that change happening. There’s no height requirement, you can be up to a size 10 and still make it. The only requirement is personality.
If only personality was our requirement for acceptance.