Sunday, September 30, 2007

Degraded women has been a subject that has been explored quite viscerally during Milan fashion week. Most of the blogs covering the subject have featured the Nolita anti-anorexia advert, there is an examination of the advert at Back in Skinny Jeans that describes the problems around such an approach, including the lack of backing from any anti-anorexia campaigns. In a sense the ad is worrying, while a lot of people support Isabelle Caro for her decision to post I wonder how she will feel about it in the future, provided she manages to recover from her illness. It feels like it degrades her to an extent, she is someone suffering from something very complicated and she has made it clear, despite being used as an example of a person who is size zero that she has not been specifically influenced by the fashion industry. It has always felt to me that the criticism of the fashion industry has been a convenient ploy that allows communities to avoid discussing anorexia and other illnesses centred on eating appropriately. Food is an intensely complicated issue, most people have worries and obsessions that surround eating, sometimes compulsions arise and no one, absolutely no one can look at themselves in a mirror, photograph or film and see what everyone else can, it is simply too shocking to be confronted by your own physicality when you live only inside your own body. I doubt that this advertising campaign is ultimately going to come to anything when I think about the fashion culture, which is so rarely touched by anything except money and its internal politics.

Then there's the photo shoot that has featured in Italian Vogue. Is it a photo discussion of women as degraded by circumstance or is it a jeering account of how weak they are? It is in parts beautiful but also horrific because it is so reminiscent of how very degrading the actions in Iraq have been. If the women were substituted with men you would have, at times, a celebrated war movie and that's a very telling reading of the culture that we live in because this is a glamorous and degrading war story. It isn't automatically less so because it's a fashion shoot featuring beautiful bodies and clothes. Stories of war must degrade and you can never adequately bring the tale across to people who have always lived comfortably, no matter how horrible moments on film are. So do we command everyone to stop making images and telling stories because there isn't a clear and vocal moral message inherent in pictures or do we let all artists, even fashion photographers explore events that are happening now? The images can be read in so many ways, are these about rape or about women left behind, are they about pain or degradation? It's impossible to tell what the motivation is and even what the story is but it does bring across discomfort, horror and glamour so to an extent it has worked. Finally and importantly this is to an extent a criticism, the photographer Steven Meisel is American, the men are portrayed negatively and are clearly meant to be of US origin.

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