When junior Amanda Lee shops for clothing, models have often made the task more difficult. As a swimmer, Lee has a body type very different from the typical woman walking down the runway.
“When I see a really skinny … woman in a magazine, I don’t want to buy that clothing,” Lee said. “No matter what, it won’t look good on me, because it’s on a skinny body type and I’m muscular.”
“Usually I think that [models] look weird,” senior Sam Lewis said. “It doesn’t look realistic to me.”
Despite these sentiments, magazines such as Elle, Vogue and Cosmopolitan are all featuring photos of extremely thin women and are also all thriving. Vogue, which put out a 758-page issue this past Sept., has a circulation of over 1.2 million monthly in the United States alone; Cosmopolitan is sold in over 100 countries and has a circulation greater than any other magazine of its type.
However, images in popular magazines often depict body types that are unrealistic or even ones that have been digitally manipulated.
“I cannot think of the last time I saw a woman in a glossy magazine who looked like anyone I know,” Assistant Professor of History Catherine Denial said.
Junior Sarah Zagotta felt images were so distorted that she openly mistrusted fashion photography.
“The clothing on their bodies is tailored to their bodies or pinned,” she said. “Clothes on the rack don’t come like that.”
The effect is one that varies sharply from photographic styles such as photojournalism, which aim to capture a representational picture of their subject.
“I think … a really good photojournalism piece is something that makes the subject look interesting but also is true to the story,” freshman Kate Hovda said, a photographer for Knox Public Relations. “You want a picture of the person being themselves.”
However, even photojournalists have to edit their photos before sending them to print. In Hovda’s eyes, though, the amount of editing done was significantly different from the amount of editing used in fashion or beauty photography.
“You don’t want to make it look edited, but you want to make it more interesting to the eye,” Hovda said.
Senior Sara Koehnke, who has modeled previously, preferred photos of herself that were hardly altered at all.
“I liked having the raw pictures,” she said. “One photographer … just cropped them.”
Although fashion and beauty photography sometimes rely heavily on Photoshop, arguments have been made for their being a form of art. Denial, although agreeing that they could technically fall under such a definition, “[didn’t] think that defining it as art is a good defense.”
“There’s plenty of art that is dangerous,” she said.
Denial pointed out the hugely negative effect such photographs can have on a person’s standard of beauty.
“It’s kind of a crazy system that we manipulate our bodies to feed our emotions,” she said.
A shifting standard
However, Denial also saw a potential for the standard of beauty to change, a movement helped along by the Internet and blogosphere.
“I don’t think it’s that the fashion industry is changing,” Denial said. “It’s that people are finding more ways to critique it.”
She pointed to a contest run by American Apparel, who claimed to be searching for an “XL” model. One woman, in an effort to point out that the contest still was not including ‘average’ woman, entered pictures of herself eating chicken wings and with her face covered in pizza sauce. She won, thanks to the blogosphere advertising the photos (although American Apparel did not award her the prize).
Knox has its own efforts to change popular conceptions of body image. In past years, the “Love Your Body” photoshoot, which allows students to be photographed in the nude, worked to celebrate bodies of every type. Just this past week, Delta Delta Delta sorority has been hosting “Fat Talk Free Week,” part of an effort to end “fat talk” and improve body image.
“I want to do this because I want all women everywhere to feel like they’re beautiful, no matter what the media says,” sophomore and Delta Delta Delta member Jess Ranard said.
“I’ve already felt changes in the way I perceive my beauty,” senior Kelly Grant said.
Denial noted that some clothing websites now present the option of seeing outfits on different models.
“I like seeing women of all shapes and sizes,” she said.