Thursday, October 15, 2009

Models of what?

In case you missed it, there's been a bizarre controversy involving designer Ralph Lauren and one of the company's models playing out in the blogosphere and mainstream media. It all started with a poorly Photoshopped ad in which model Filippa Hamilton's face appeared atop a body that was, well, let's just say physically impossible. As the blog Boing Boing so delightfully put it when it first posted the photo: "Dude, her head's bigger than her pelvis."

Ralph Lauren's legal team then went after the blog, claiming copyright infringement. The blog responded by mocking Ralph Lauren even further. The company eventually admitted that it had altered the photo, apologized and pulled the ad, which had run only in Japan.

Now, according to Hamilton, the company has fired her for being too heavy. Ralph Lauren acknowledged that it had ended its relationship with the model, citing her inability to meet contractual obligations.

Hamilton, 23, expressed her disappointment at the message that the ad sent to young women about weight. Hamilton told the New York Daily News, "I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy." However, Hamilton is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds, which means that she would be classified as "underweight" by most accepted standards.

I've long been disturbed by the images that advertisers try to pass off as "normal" or "desirable" female bodies. One need only look at the number of young girls on diets, at a time when proper nutrition is so crucial, to realize that the advertising world is damaging our youth. The 13-year-old daughter of a family friend recently told me that she does 300 sit-ups a day. She is a perfectly healthy-looking teen, but thinks she is fat.

The feminist in me has to believe the trend toward smaller sizes is about power: It is as though women are held in higher esteem by practically disappearing. Keep them thin, weak and vulnerable.

A group in San Francisco called About-Face is fighting back against what it calls "the media circus" using some pretty interesting tactics, such as putting decals with positive messages about body image on fitting-room mirrors. On its Web site, About-Face says its mission "is to imbue girls and women with the power to free themselves from the burden of body-image problems so they will be capable of fulfilling their varied and wondrous potentials."

We can all do our part by thinking critically about just what it is advertisers are trying to sell us. I, for one, am not buying it.


  1. That ad is just so... insanely obvious that it was altered. I mean... wow.

    As if the problems society has with self-image wasn't bad enough.

  2. Hi BG. Yeah, "wow" pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? On a number of levels.

  3. You might appreciate this response to this idiocy.