"Vogue" protocol on use of models seems pretty slim
LAST WEEK brought the Orwellian headline: “Vogue pledges to use models without eating disorders.” It was one of those “What kind of world are we living in?” moments that slip by you every now and then.
On this occasion you were left wondering, just how grateful is Vogue expecting us to be? But there was a more disturbing headline on the same subject, and it came from the Guardian on Friday when it announced: “Vogue promises to ban underage or ill models.”
Yes, it’s all go at Vogue. Presumably these measures are designed to reassure us, the Great Unwashed. Instead they expose the most sordid aspects of the fashion industry, even at what it likes to call the top end.
Vogue magazine is published in 19 countries and the editor of each edition has signed something Vogue is rather pompously calling “The Health Initiative”. The name of the editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, comes at the top of the list of signatories; the name of the editor of British Vogue comes next, and so on, right down to Seda Domanic, of Turkish Vogue. In fashion there is no such thing as alphabetical order; in fashion only the power is naked. Kind of makes you love it, actually. The fashion industry is also extremely conservative. It does not like to be surprised. This month Kate Moss appears on the cover of Vogue for the 32nd time; her dress isn’t the greatest. However, the fashion industry really does possess global reach, something other industries idly boast of. The first headline quoted here came from the New Zealand website, Stuff.
Anyway, the “health initiative” is a six-point plan in which Vogue editors undertake not to “knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder”. This first point is made so proudly that we can only assume that Vogue regards it as significant progress; it does make you tremble at the thought of what has been going on up to this.
The “health initiative” continues, saying that it is going to institute mentoring programmes, whereby older models will advise younger ones.
But it is point four that is really disturbing: “We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.”
Well, that is the gentlest shot – a zephyr breeze – across the bows of scuzz-ball fashion executives and dirty old man photographers. We are obviously expected to take point four for the best, instead of alerting social services – in the fortunate countries where there are social services that work after hours and at weekends – or sending in our crack team of feminist stormtroopers to break up all late- night photo shoots which exploit anorexic 14-year-olds. “Not to keep models unreasonably late” indeed. Those guys should be in jail. Those girls should be in school.
Point five is about encouraging designers to send larger sample sizes of their products to magazines, so that they can be worn by bigger models. (In a separate article in the same issue, the preternaturally thin model, Stella Tennant, explains that a sample skirt by Balenciaga would only fit her 11-year-old daughter.) And point six is about how the Vogue editors will be “vocal ambassadors for the message of a healthy body image, both within the magazine and outside”. Hmm.
All of this sounds great, but context is everything, and a great excuse to rush out and buy the June issue of Vogue. It cost €6.03 and it has to be said, even by a magazine fan, that it was so not worth it. The whole of the health initiative is contained within – not a proper article but – the Editor’s Letter, in the British edition. Surprisingly the initiative is not even granted a headline within its own publication; it is the subdued final item in the letter.
Maybe Vogue was afraid of upsetting its advertisers – the initiative appears between a full-page advertisement for Sublimage face cream by Chanel, and a full-page advertisement for Fendi sunglasses.
The placing of this simple plan is so peculiar that it seems positively Jesuitical; and fashion magazines specialise in presentation above all else. Instead of leading with this piece of fashion news, something that it is portraying as a humanitarian step, Vogue relies on the mainstream press to spread the word on how wonderful it is. This roars of an ambiguity about the health initiative that is coming from the very people who produced it.
Meanwhile the 14-year-olds continue to arrive, from eastern Europe presumably. Dieting is still portrayed to all our teenage girls – and not only those working or trying to get work in fashion – as a vital life skill. Fashion itself peddles an image of womanhood that is more and more infantile. There are no modern equivalents of adult beauties like Ava Gardner, or the great 1950s fashion model Lisa Fonssagrives.
This edition of British Vogue also contains a photo spread on Olympic athletes. Here are young people at the peak of fitness; yet in these strange pages they look oddly large, their muscles breaking through the fashion barrier. Vogue seems to have become the home of the mixed message. And you don’t have to be a teenage model to be left feeling very confused.