February 12, 2010 § 2 Comments

I was watching Diane von Furstenberg on Christiane Amanpour’s talk show on CNN and was somewhat taken aback, and rather charmed, by her loud, argumentative, in-your-face style of discussion/conversation. I’ve only seen von Furstenberg’s face before, but I’ve never heard her speak. The other guest, however, Joe Zee, Creative Director of ELLE magazine, was clearly a typical by-product of the consumerist beauty industry – shallow, vain, and narcissistic. He was just like, “Oh me!” “Oh, in my magazine… we would NEVER… put someone on the cover who looks like she’s dying!” Or some similar crap.

The program topic was on unattainable beauty, and Amanpour had brought up the sticky issue of photo retouching/airbrushing. She talked about the recent French legislative push for retouched photographs or advertisements in magazines to be visibly labelled as such.

Joe Zee’s argument was that photos have been retouched from the 50’s, bla bla bla. Yes, slavery was also the done thing in the past, let’s continue with it now! Moron. Von Furstenberg’s argument was that everyone retouched photographs, both for public and private consumption, which was harder to argue with. I’ve retouched colour on vacation photographs as well, to make it look artsy, and used the black-and-white effect on close-ups of a photograph of my face to hide a visible red pimple. I suppose the issue is complex simply for the reasons behind the retouching. Photographs are retouched all the time for artistic effect. But let’s not insult everyone’s intelligence and pretend that fashion magazine editors retouch for artistic effect. The point is: are people always consciously aware that these photographs of seemingly perfect-looking people have been expressly manipulated to create an unrealistic image of perfection?

I’m sure we all KNOW this, but it’s harder to keep in mind when you’re actually looking at the picture. And what about younger children and teenagers, supposedly more impressionable than adults? I think the label warnings/reminders might then actually serve a purpose. It’s that constant voice telling you, “No one can look like that, silly! Get a grip.” A useful warning sticker, really.

There was a comment that Zee made, which apparently Karl Lagerfeld also shared, is that “we all need something to aspire to.” Well, I hate to say “big, fat DUH” but… big, fat DUH. The need to aspire to beauty is fairly common, although I would hardly say it’s universal. Many men, I’m sure, could not give a damn that they’re butt ugly but will gladly hit on Megan Fox without aiming for some sort of personal aesthetic improvement beforehand. I digress. This could be a whole other post.

But for the sake of a simple argument, let’s say that a whole bunch of people aspire to beauty.  This is the part that gives me trouble. Do fashion magazine editors believe in a Platonic sense of beauty? The very essence of beauty? Achieving one’s OWN sense of beauty and extraordinariness is VERY different from being forced to adhere to unrealistic models of beauty that glut the market (eg. white, blonde, bony, gamine, whatever’s the ‘in’ look).

In a sense I do believe in Furstenberg, in the sense that when I hear von Furstenberg speak, I know where she’s coming from and I believe her intentions to be sincere. Furstenberg got pretty animated and voluble at one point, because she objected to Amanpour saying that she designed clothes for the woman on the street, “the ordinary woman.”

“I don’t design for ordinary women! Women don’t want to be thought of as ‘ordinary.’ I believe that all women are special!” I’m paraphrasing here, but that was von Furstenberg’s response. I’m sorry to reduce myself to clichés to describe her, but with her mane of uncontrolled hair and her flashing eyes, well, yes! I’m sold. I’m special, hell yes. I love you, Diane!

Anyhow. It just angers me to no end that in the hands of editors like that Zee guy, beauty is rigid and codified and stripped of every essence of its unique elements. The fashion industry (as opposed to the creators, who form a miniscule portion of the industry) says, “Every person should aspire to beauty, and THIS is the type of beauty to aspire to. We show you what beauty is, and you’d better conform to it or be prepared to face our ridicule.”

Better yet, be prepared for their non-interest. They don’t give a shit for people who aren’t as pretty as pretty is meant to be.

Sod off Joe Zee, you couldn’t even defend your job or your magazine very well.


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§ 2 Responses to Snort

  • sharanya says:

    there’s a great profile by…larissa mcfaquhar? in the new yorker on von furstenberg. i personally think it rides a bit high on the designer’s wild wild side to make it work, but it’s really in-depth and is one of the few pieces to do her justice (as opposed to a long! interview! with a mad! designer!) i won’t link here because wordpress gets funny with links, but check it out if you’re still into her, what, 4 years later :/

    (sorry, i’m procrastinating and reading your archives.)

    • Subashini says:

      nooooo don’t read my archives no no no 😦 it’s a public catalogue of atrocious opinions and politics that makes me think i should delete. but then i think deleting feels dishonest, or rather, acknowledges my shame at my past selves, and shame is useless. if years ago i was raving about mark fisher, and now post-vampire’s castle and i’ve no use for fisher anymore, i feel like i can look back and say, ok, it’s possible for ppl to change by thinking about things and it’s possible to be less of a dipshit than you were in the past by thinking/living.

      sorry, i went off on a tangent there, i’ve been thinking abt this a lot and your comment triggered some feelings. 🙂 thank you for mentioning the interview, i’ll look it up!

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