Thursday, 1 February 2018

nudity in fashion magazines

British Vogue's March issue has already been met with divided opinion. Firstly, there is still no sign of the diversity we hoped for under new editor, Edward Enninful. The Hadid sisters are the most predictable Vogue cover stars imaginable. Many of the magazine's best covers have featured actual models and the Hadids have been impactful cover stars of other publications before, so, in theory, under Enninful’s editorship, the covers could be really interesting. Sadly, this is not the case. The sisters are styled the same, which is supposed to be a comment about how British Vogue has “reuinted” them by letting them work together, but it just comes across as too sentimental for fashion and lazy. Furthermore, the covers are so heavily photo shopped that Bella is hardly recognisable. Both sisters have had strong Vogue covers before. Bella's Vogue Italia cover shot by Inez and Vinoodh stands out. In comparison, this cover is very dull.

The covers were met with an eye-roll reaction from most- more skinny white models in the supposedly “new” Vogue. However, the nude photo of the sisters from inside the magazine is what sparked an internet debate that has stretched beyond conversation between fashion fans. The argument tends to fall into one or two camps; "why are they naked when Vogue is supposed to be a fashion magazine?" and "it's 2018, aren't women allowed to be naked?"

There are issues with both of these points. Of course, Vogue is a fashion magazine, but it also an arts and culture magazine. The editorials are not there just to show clothes; if they were, every editorial would be a boring studio shoot. The joy of Vogue is its engagement with wider culture, and the narrative angle its editorials often have. Besides, there is a long history of nudity in fashion magazines. Horst P. Horst was taking nude photographs for Vogue as far back as the 1930s. Nudity and fashion should not be mutually exclusive. Some of the most iconic and, yes, empowering editorials feature nudity. The most recent one that comes to mind is Serena Williams' pregnant Vanity Fair cover shot by Annie Leibovitz. It was powerful as well as being feminine. Gigi herself posed nude for her first Vogue Paris cover in February 2016 it was beautiful. Fashion magazines are a place for women to reclaim ownership of their bodies in a predominantly feminine space. In 2018 magazines can make powerful statements about body positivity and feminism through nudity. However, the Hadid Vogue image does neither of these things.

In theory, the Hadids embracing in an expression of sisterly love is a nice and innocent idea. It could have been executed well, if the shoot had gone in a more ethereal/Virgin Suicides kind of direction. Or even if they were both posed in more powerful stances, reflecting their status as two of the most powerful women in fashion. What we are left with is something that rests uncomfortably inbetween. The pose is awkward and that makes it look unnatural.

We shouldn't live in a society where women's naked bodies are automatically sexualised, but many people have pointed out the potential creepy readings of the image of two naked sisters posed in that way. The image has been called "incestuous and disgusted." I would never go as far as to call it disgusting. There is nothing "disgusting" about the female body. It has been pointed out that the photograph was taken by a gay man for a women's magazine edited by a gay man, but that doesn't remove the sexual undertones of the image. The image is still taken through the male gaze, even if it is not the heterosexual male gaze.

The nudity doesn't bring anything new to the magazine. No one is more natural than when they are naked, but the blatant, heavy photoshopping conflicts with that. What fashion magazine readers want from nudity has changed. We want honesty. Vogue Italia have the right idea with their Gisele cover for their March 2018 issue; natural hair, no makeup, no photoshop.

What individual women choose to do with their hair/makeup/clothes is completely up to them, but magazines have an audience to target and we increasingly expect them to take responsibility for their influence on young girls and women, and acknowledge that most of the time, that influence is toxic. British Vogue has repeatedly misread what it’s younger readership want.

As the second issue under Enninful’s editorship to feature models on the cover, there was scope to be more creative with it. The grey background alone is dull. Bella and Gigi are stunning, but the images don’t make the most of their potential. The Hadid image in is weak and that, more than anything, makes it a target for criticism. The Hadid sisters are beautiful and nudity very much has a place in fashion magazines, but the photograph doesn’t look like art, and it does nothing to challenge industry beauty standards.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

how can we justify the existence of luxury fashion in the world right now?

I was talking to some extended family members a few days before Christmas and the subject of Meghan Markle’s Ralph & Russo dress came up. My cousin asked me what I thought about the £56,000 dress, from an ethical perspective. How can high fashion and couture be justified when homelessness is on the rise and so many families are struggling to even afford food to eat? The conversation quickly changed topic and I was secretly glad because I couldn’t think of an appropriate answer on the spot. My political views are to the left and, for the most part, I despise the royal family and what they represent (although I have started watching ‘The Crown,’ which is very good.) So, how could I answer this question? I have been thinking about it ever since and I have come up with a few answers.

Fashion is trivialised because it is traditionally feminine.

Prince Harry’s cars will be more expensive than Meghan Markle’s dress. Yet people are far more likely to get angry about high fashion than they are about luxury cars. It’s amazing the extents people will go to to make a young woman feel bad about what makes her happy. Obviously, this case is more convoluted because what the royal family spend their money on has always been a hotly debated topic, but it is likely that Markle spent her own money on the dress, given that she already has a successful career in her own right.

We see the same attitudes about high fashion and femininity everywhere. It is rare for someone to bat an eyelid at a work of art worth millions. It might be suggested that expensive art is stupid, but people rarely get as angry about art as they do about couture. Art, which is less functional and more expensive than fashion, is taken more seriously because history’s ‘great’ artists have been predominantly male

However, this answer is largely inadequate because it skirts around the question. Expensive cars and art cannot be justified in the face of poverty either. We need to look at the way high fashion works as a global industry to properly address the issue.

High fashion is more ethical than fast fashion.

We see homelessness and poverty in our towns and cities in the UK on a daily basis. We are more alienated from from the poverty and exploitation faced by developing countries. This isn’t to say that one person’s suffering is more or less valid than another’s, but the cheaper option in fashion comes at a greater ethical cost. High street fashion, or fast fashion, is the most accessible form of fashion for the majority of the population. It relies on sweatshops and slave labour from other countries to produce it.

High fashion makes people angry, but it does not directly hurt anybody like fast fashion does. The money rich people spend on high fashion could be donated to charities fighting poverty, but if they were also left with no alternative to fast fashion, sweatshops would continue to increase globally.

I don’t think people should be shamed for continuing to shop fast fashion because it is the most affordable way to buy clothes, but I am critical of the throwaway culture of fashion. It is better to buy a few key items that will last a long time than reinvent your wardrobe every month with cheap, unethically produced clothes. This isn’t to say that designer is the only alternative, just that we should be more mindful about it.

But, back to the question of what luxury fashion, if anything, contributes to the world today.

Fashion, like art, makes the world a more beautiful place.

Perhaps this is the vapidest answer, but we will always need beauty as well as function. When I think about the purpose of art I always think back to the quote from ‘The Dead Poets’ Society’:

“The human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Art and beauty are important, and fashion is part of that. Haute couture cannot be justified, even to itself, in any way unless it is viewed as art. Couture houses themselves lose money each season. The clothes cost so much to produce and are consequently so expensive that only the richest of the rich, most of whom are royalty, can afford to buy it.

Couture still serves an important cultural purpose to everyone though. In it, we can see history, politics, technology, changing attitudes to the clothes we wear and the people wearing them. This is ultimately why I think couture deserves a place in the world today.

Monday, 15 January 2018

how to stop feeling guilty for self-care

Midwinter is when self-care is most important. Shorter days mean longer evenings. You might have deadlines and exams. It's cold outside, so you spend more time indoors. The pressure to stick to new years resolutions is setting in. Maybe you are impacted by seasonal affective disorder as well. I know that I feel the need to take more time to practice self-care in winter for all of these reasons. 

Self-care can feel like a waste of time when your to-do list is a mile long. It's not a waste of time. Besides, self-care doesn't have to be indulgent and unproductive, at least not every time. If doing housework, clearing out your email inbox or completing a task you've been putting off is the form of self-care you need on a particular day, then do that. Other days might require more conventional self-care through meditation, a face mask and a bubble bath.

Whatever you decide to do, it's important to not feel guilty about it. Here's how:

Self-care is not a waste of time

Spending a small amount of time each day/week on self-care can make the rest of your time far more productive. For example, waking up 10-minutes earlier in the morning so that you have time for a short meditation exercise before leaving for work/school/uni can make you feel much more relaxed and focused for anything you have to face that day. This saves a lot of time in the long term as it can reduce anxiety, procrastination and any other stress-related ailments.

You are laying the foundations and forming healthy habits that will benefit you for years to come

Everything is more difficult to begin with. It is important to build habits over time, especially when it comes to self-care. When I first started setting aside time for self-care to improve my mood, I found it frustrating. It felt like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. I wanted to be working on things I saw as more productive. I thought it was unfair that just because my mental health was going through a rough patch I had to dedicate chunks of my time to certain activities just to feel okay. 

As I got used to it, I began to cherish the time I set aside just to work on myself and my mood. Now I realise how important it is to find what works for you. Finding forms of self-care that work for you will benefit you in the long term by preparing you with healthy coping mechanisms to deal with virtually any situation. 

Make it a part of your routine

This is what made regular self-care click for me. It doesn't feel like a waste of time when you schedule it between more conventionally productive tasks. Add designated self-care time to your to-do list. Then you can still have the satisfaction of ticking it off, but you still would have taken some time for yourself. 

There's no one-size fits all and you need variation

I rotate through a list of self-care 'tasks' in my dedicated time for self-care. Sometimes these are proactive things like CBT and yoga. At other times, I put on a face mask and paint my nails for a more relaxing kind of self-care. The full list also includes listening to a record, making a cup of tea, watching Netflix, cooking, journalling, reading, tidying my room and drinking water.

Enjoy it

Self-care should be a part of the day that you look forward to. I often use the time to work through CBT and do some exercise, but if you find this stressful, use self-care time for something else. You could even make a box and fill it with things that make you happy, like favourite books or films, colouring books and emergency snacks. Then you can pick something from the box whenever you are feeling low or just want to take some time for yourself.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad and/or embarrassed for prioritising self-care

Self-care is literally no one else's business apart from yours. However, a lot of the shaming around self-care comes down to how gendered certain activities are. People are all too willing to trivialise things that young women enjoy. Sometimes these points are valid. Face masks are great, but they won't cure mental illness. That doesn't mean they don't help and it certainly doesn't mean people should be shamed for liking face masks, especially if they make them happy. 

On that note, never let anyone make you feel selfish about it either. Taking an holistic approach to self-care can improve your friendships and relationships. Anyone who is angry and bitter enough to judge people for what makes them happy would probably benefit from some meditation and relaxing bubble bath tbh.