Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses Persist

I haven’t had to do an aliens in pretty dresses post in awhile, for which I’ve been very glad. But I guess spring is likely to bring the stick aliens out in full force as clothing advertisers continue to use a skeletal starvation victim approach in selling their wares. The latest controversy occurred in Britain, when the Prada division Miu Miu did a handbag ad with model Kasia Struss, a 5′ 10″ very slim, pale model seen sitting in a mirror:

Complaints were made about the model’s diseased appearance, and the British Advertising Standards Authority reviewed the ad re the new rules there about anorexic models. The Authority ruled that lighting, the dress and make-up made the model look overly skinny and so the ad was okay.  If you think okay is using a model who resembles a concentration camp victim with elongated limbs to sell a handbag. It does make you look at the ad, but does it really make you want to get the handbag? Or worry that she will not be able to lift it? I’m hoping that they are right and it is just airbrusing, photoshopping, special effects and 1980’s lipstick that give the model her stick alien appearance. But lighting, clothes and make-up did not give her that collarbone and shoulders that scream anorexia, so I’ve really got my fingers crossed for photoshop.

This new controversy seems to have brought up again an infamous older stick alien controversy from two years ago, involving Ralph Lauren and model Countess Filippa Hamilton. A regular model for Ralph Lauren ads, Hamilton looked like this:

At 5′ 11″ and a Size 4 U.S., there’s not a lot of meat on her, but she’s purty and clearly human. In a Ralph Lauren ad that was over photoshopped, however, she looked like this:

(Yes, her pelvis is smaller than her head.) The stick alien ad appeared, mistakenly, in advertising for a Japanese department store carrying Lauren’s line of clothing before being pulled. Apparently, the Japanese didn’t notice anything was wrong with it.  But of course in the age of the Net, the photo spread round the globe, causing Ralph Lauren to throw a brief and useless legal tantrum, and to announce that no one was supposed to see the messed up photo. Towards the end of that year, however, Ralph Lauren dumped Hamilton as one of their models. Hamilton claims this is because Ralph Lauren saw her as too fat for their clothes.

What’s disturbing about this on top of the usual disturbing  is that Ralph Lauren, two years ago, at least understood that their stick alien picture went too far and was unattractive — even if they decided that somewhere between stick alien Hamilton and human Hamilton was where they wanted to be — whereas Miu Miu thinks their ad of a model who looks as if she needs to be hospitalized is a-okay, so much so that they are willing to defend it to British regulatory agencies.  This seems to indicate that the stick alien approach is becoming more prevalent, not less as hoped.

What also seems to come out of this in my puzzlement over the logic of advertising is that it shows it’s not the advertising companies driving it and conning the companies into it or the magazines, but the companies themselves. Clearly companies like Ralph Lauren and Miu Miu think that this look is a stylish lure for their clothing ads. They presumably have demographic research on this, which would be interesting to see, as my anecdotal reaction to such images is “oh wow, that’s totally gross.” I might not mind quite as much if they didn’t have the stick alien arms all the time. Those give me the willies.

In any case, please join me in sending good wishes for Ms. Struss to survive into middle age. Isabell Caro, the model who developed anorexia and became a prominent activist about this issue in the fashion world, did not. She died this last December at the age of 28.

Even if the laws she worked for are passed in countries to prevent companies from exploiting anorexic models and exacerbating their condition, there will still be the issue of this desire to photoshop alter models and actresses into stick aliens for ads. Which is why I didn’t put a Warning: disturbing image before Ms. Caro’s picture. Because according to companies like Miu Miu/Prada, Caro’s image isn’t disturbing at all.

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