Posts Tagged ‘Elle Canada’

Why do you buy? (And no one asked you Karl Lagerfeld!)

June 13, 2012

The June issue of Elle Canada magazine features an article by Ben Barry (a modelling agent) titled “New Business Model” which basically summarizes his Ogilvy Foundation funded, Cambridge University thesis research regarding how “models-depending on their size, age, and race-influence purchasing decisions.” He notes this research differs from the majority of research into the use of extremely thin models in advertising which has traditionally focused on the impact this can have on women’s body image. As in it has already been scientifically proven that looking at gorgeous, thin, photoshopped models makes women feel crappy. Mr. Barry used a study group of more than 2 500 women aged 14 to 65 and sizes 0 to 18 from a variety of ethnic groups. He had them look at fake fashion ads all featuring the same product but with different models. The models differed in size, race, and age. He asked the women their purchase intentions when they looked at the pictures of women with similar and dissimilar sizes, ages and races as themselves. After the study, he also facilitated focus groups to discuss with the women why they may have made the decisions they did.

I think pretty much most women can guess what the results were. Women increased their purchase intentions more than 200% when the models in the mock ads were their size. When the women were over size 6 this increased to 300%. Purchase intentions also increased substantially (175%, 200% in women over 35) when women saw models their own age. Black women were 1 and a half  more likely to buy a product if the model was black. Why? In focus groups women explained that they could better imagine what the product would look like on them when the model looked like on them.  Would it look good on their body type? Would it be age appropriate? Would it look nice with their complexion?

Mr. Barry did not just do this research for his own interest’s sake. His ultimate intention is to show fashion companies that it would be fiscally wise for them to use a more diverse range of models in their ads and in their fashion shows. That it would attract a broader range of customers. As most of us are aware, most models in magazines are strikingly similar in terms of body size and shape. Even so-called “plus size” models are often smaller than the average American woman. And when was the last time you saw a woman in her late 30’s or 40’s (or older!) advertising anything fashionable? It is rare, unless it is an actress who has botoxed herself back to before she married Ashton Kutcher. Barry quotes the legendary and distasteful Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld (most recent offense being calling singer Adelle fat) “Unreachable beauty is a reminder to make an effort. But if you see something, and you can reach what you see, then you do not have to make an effort anymore.” Blech. I guess that explains his face.

Oompa Loompa

Karl Lagerfeld

While I agree that doing sit-ups with a picture of Gisele Bundchen on your ceiling may be quite motivating, I doubt most women would look at her in a bikini and want to run out and buy the same one. Watching the Victoria Secret fashion show does not make me feel like any sort of angel. The recent trend of using very young actresses to sell adult designer clothing lines, such as Dakota and Elle Fanning for Marc Jacobs or Hailee Steinfeld for Miu Miu is very perplexing to me. I don’t look at a child in an outfit and imagine myself in the same one. Most children and young adults I know could never afford designer clothing. It would only seem rational to target advertising to the middle aged women with established careers who are actually buying these clothes. On the other end of the spectrum, many ads show women my age (30ish) wearing incredibly short shorts (bum cleavage? Please!), jeggings, crop tops, or neon. I have no desire whatsoever to relive my teens. I have also seen ads  for skirts, suit jackets with bras underneath, or see-through  button-downs portrayed to be career wear. If I get fired, will Karl Lagerfeld hire me in Oompa Loompa Land? If I promise to keep reaching for that unreachable beauty?

Once and a while you will see a glimpse of a model in a magazine who doesn’t look emaciated, or who has a wrinkle on her perfect forehead. More and more fashion shows will send out 1 or 2 “plus size models” down their runway. Perhaps research such as Barry’s will help to convince fashion companies that diversity and a touch of reality in fashion is not a bad thing. I think Karl Lagerfeld is a lost cause. However the fashion world is ripe with successful female designers both established and up-and-coming who will hopefully have a better grasp on the female market and on the female psyche. Until then we will just have to rely on our own common sense, honest friends and camera phones to guide our purchase intentions. Just never trust the change room mirrors. They lie.

Calling all Feminists: Subscribe to Playboy!

April 6, 2012

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I am a loyal subscriber and fan of Playboy magazine.

Before you write off me and this blog entirely, just hear me out. I know many would argue this magazine is a media vehicle which idealizes and exploits women in the same way I speak out against in this very blog. That the message it sends to men and women about what a real woman should look like and how she wants to be viewed is contradictory to the actual diverse population of women in society. This is probably true to an extent. But let me explain how it came to be that I decided Playboy magazine is perhaps one of the best representations of “real” women around when it comes to media publications.

I have always looked at Playboy as a somewhat trashy men’s magazine and paid it no mind. Having the privilege of seeing a naked female body every day (my own), I saw no need to ever purchase or look at said magazine. Then, a few months ago, a silly disagreement and my stubbornness lead me to purchase my first copy of Playboy. The media was in a frenzy over the Lindsay Lohan issue, apparently a top seller. My fiancée and I happened to spot this issue in an airport newspaper stand, covered up, only the title showing. Making an offhand comment about the fuss being made about seeing a celebrity naked spiraled into a great debate:

Fiancee: “Well she wouldn’t be fully naked”

Me: “Of course she would, it’s Playboy magazine.”

Fiancee: “Not every woman is completely naked in Playboy. It’s not pornography”

Me: “Give me a break”.

It continued on for some time. I should have known better than to argue with a man about a magazine he has likely been hiding under his bed since childhood, but my obstinacy would not let me back down. The only solution was to buy the magazine to prove him wrong. He was right. (She was topless, not nude for those that actually care.)

By this time I had spent $8.99 on the magazine, and I had a whole flight ahead of me. I was going to read the thing cover to cover, regardless of the content. I was going to pull out every photo spread and look at every playmate, read about her likes and dislikes, bust, waist and hip size, perfect date spot, ambitions, turn-ons and turn-offs. But when I started reading the magazine, an unexpected thing happened. I really enjoyed it. The thing about many men’s magazines is that the content is often a lot more intelligent and less disparaging than the fashion magazines I subscribe to. While I enjoy fashion and clothing, I always feel conflicted when reading women’s magazines every month. I dislike the message the use of unrealistic tall, skinny, white models sends to women and girls. And I often hate the articles in the magazines. ‘How to please your man’; ‘How to lose 10 pounds in 10 days’; ‘5 moves to tone your tummy’; ’Where to find Mr.Right’. These magazines insult women’s intelligence and independence, and make us feel like life is all about being thin, beautiful, and in a relationship. I have to subscribe to a lot of magazines just to get a mix of fashion, book reviews, music reviews, politics, and health information: Fashion, Flare, Elle Canada, Nylon, the Economist, Harper’s, the Walrus. I have found Playboy offers a good mix of everything (minus women’s fashion-the women generally aren’t wearing much). I know, I know, it’s the classic men’s excuse: “I read Playboy for the articles”. But ladies, hear them out. The articles are really good. Notable ones: An investigation into whether there is a genetic predisposition to your political inclination, an interview with Nobel Prize winner David Cross, and a story on war tourism in Vietnam.

Of course there is no denying the naked women in the magazine. Are they exploited women of low self-esteem who have grown up in a society in which beauty is idolized and people are nonchalant towards sex? Or are they empowered women who are taking their own sexuality into their own hands? One could argue either way and I can’t answer that question. They certainly are being used as sex symbols, but they are doing so of their own volition. Women all over the world send in their pictures in the hopes of becoming the next Playmate of the month. There is no coercion here. These are not children.

But as noted before, I feel that Playboy represents women better than any other magazine I have seen before, and better than any women’s fashion magazine out there. For one, there is a lot of racial diversity in Playboy. In one issue, among the major spreads, there was 1 black, 2 white, and several Latin American models (part of a Carnival article). This is representative of most issues I have seen. In fashion magazines, racial diversity, while increasing, is rarer. When they are utilized in fashion, the non-white models often are pressured to fit into the cookie-cutter mold of the rail-thin white model, and thus may not accurately represent their race or culture. For example, culturally black and Latin embrace curvier figures. Which leads me to the second reason Playboy represents women quite well: The women look like women. Well, at least more like women than in fashion magazines. I had expected all of the models to have gigantic breasts and tiny waists, with perfectly toned stomachs, but I was happy to see that they weren’t all photoshopped to perfection. A lot of the women had meat on their bones, curves and butts, and not all of them looked like they had spent thousands of dollars on cosmetic alterations. Jaque Faria, the black brazillian model used in the March 2012 issue was beautifully curvy, with a bottom that would give Kim Kardashian a run for her money. The other Latin American models were also very voluptuous. While admittedly none of the models used were the size of the ‘average’ American woman (5’4’’, 140 pounds), but neither were they the size of the average model either, (5’11’, 117 pounds). And the women certainly look confident in their skin (and not much else). These women are imperfect but beautiful, exposed, yet proud and completely confident. So say whatever you want about any other message the magazine sends, but this resonates well with me. So I continue to subscribe.