Tag Archives: anorexia

Return of the Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses!

Fashion is, in its shiny haute couture forms, about art.  Designers often go for the bizarre in order to startle and dazzle with thought provoking and often controversial  images rather than wearable clothes. So when designers and their photographers go in for having stick aliens as that image, it’s not the same thing as when advertisers and the magazines working with them use stick aliens images to sell products like purses, perfume, or even casual wear that would not seem to benefit from a stick alien image. It’s a game of strange expressionism that does actually keep people interested in fashion and what it might produce and thus, has a more clear rationale. However, sometimes the stick alien image of high fashion is so apropos about stick alien mentality in general that the bizarre image becomes a different sort of social art — an art that invites us to comment on the back-handed nastiness towards women that seems to run through the fashion and advertising industries. Such an image is the current cover picture for the Italian edition of Vogue Magazine, Vogue Italia. The cover, with the headline Avant- Garde, is apparently a tribute to a woman named Ethel Granger who loved to cinch herself up in corsets and have facial piercings and held the Guiness Book of Records record for tiniest waist. Why this would require a tribute is anybody’s guess.

The image isn’t actually photo-shopped, at least not much. Instead, famous photographer Steven Meisel cinched British model Stella Tennant into a special corset to make her waist 13 inches (and probably do permanent damage to her insides.) They turned her into a literal, real life stick alien. The image is meant to be daring, shocking and stir up lots of chatter and magazine sales,  and it’s done all that. It’s art. It’s art that shows the hatred and control fashion has towards the women they use as a tool of art, and does it by invoking both a time period in which women were restricted and lacking power and Edward Scissorhands. It’s a big middle finger from fashion and Vogue towards all the criticism of their stick alien photoshopping and anorexic model servitude of the last few years, criticism that has forced them to make changes they don’t like. It’s an image that says, “We can do whatever we want.”

And of course, they can. And we can blast that image all over for them while pointing out the hatred that they are showing for the women to whom they are supposedly selling clothes and fashion art. We can talk about it, we can talk about it to young women, even if they don’t want to hear it and don’t care right now. And that talking has had an effect, slow but steady. And in the end, the stick alien is not really any better at selling haute couture and fashion magazines than it is at selling perfume, purses and casual wear. (Well, unless you’re Lady Gaga playing around in a music video.) All of the sales rates and the ad rates for all of the fashion magazines are falling and digital sales are underwhelming and still highly disadvantaged for picture heavy mags like fashion. Fashion sales are falling as well, thanks to the economy. If they keep up with the misogyny as their favorite advertising technique, that’s unlikely to change.

So here it is, an actual stick alien, Sid Vicious/American Gothic style:

Edward Scissorhands would be sad.

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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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The Return of Stick Aliens for Fall T.V.

I was more amused than freaked out at a promotional artistic photo of Mary-Louise Parker for her television show Weeds. Parker is nude (sort of) in the shot and draped with a big snake. The picture isn’t supposed to be realistic — witness the butt that looks like a store mannequin’s rather than a person’s and Parker placed in a romantic dream haze oblivious to her being in her mid-forties — but apparently the photo editor didn’t think voluptuous curves go with a Edenistic snake. Instead, they went for a stick alien look (without the pretty dress,) and not only nipped in Parker’s waist to Barbie-like proportions but check out her wrist and forearm. It’s spooky.

Of course, they aren’t counting on you to be looking at her wrist, nor can I say that Parker looks ugly exactly in the picture as a stick alien. But she would have looked just as sexy with the snake without the impossible waist or the frighteningly skinny wrist, so again, why do that? Is it just sloppy airbrushing technique? Did someone actually say, you know her wrist looks too fat, let’s just make it look like a bone there so her proportions seem all weird? Just the latest in my puzzlement over this strange advertising technique. I wonder if they’ve done marketing research studies that women respond well to anorexic features unevenly visited on the female body. Anyway, here’s the picture:

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Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses Return!

I thought I was kind of done with this topic. After all, there was a rush of plus size models, multi-body size ad campaigns, etc. I didn’t think the stick aliens were gone exactly, but it did seem like there’s been a general turning away in the past few months from making women look inhuman in an attempt to sell clothes. But this just shows I don’t understand fashion. Proenza Schouler, which is apparently a fashion company, had an ad image for their new catalog campaign which has been photoshopped to present a model who has had all the flesh removed from around her spine.

The first ad I mused about was with actress Audrey Tautou in a Channel ad, whose perfectly normal if skinny waist had been shrunk and elongated into non-human proportions that made her look like an alien imitating a human in a long black dress. My question was, how does this sell a romantic, elegant image if the first response of most people is to go, “Eww, what did they do to her waist? That looks gross!” But that little airbrush trick was utterly nothing to the alien proportions Proenza Schouler decided to go with. These people are trying to sell clothes and having this picture will certainly make people look at it for shock value. But they aren’t going to be looking at the clothes or remembering the name of the company. They are looking at a woman who looks inhuman and going, “Eww, gross!” Is “eww, gross” really the image you want associated with your clothes? Maybe it is in the realm of haute couture, I don’t know. What, seriously, goes through the minds of the people in this company who put together, photoshopped and prepared this photo for the campaign? Is it just a desire to be edgy? Aren’t there other ways to be edgy that don’t involve revulsion? Are marketing consultants really claiming that revulsion is an excellent way to develop your brand? Or are they just hoping the Lady GaGa young folk will laugh and say, “They’re so weird and cool, I’ll buy their clothes”? Was it just a way of getting media attention, and if so, what’s the strategy? One day I certainly hope to sit down with a fashion marketing person and find out. Because truly, what’s your first reaction to this:

Mine was to try not to vomit.

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Coda to Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 2

If you’re on the North American continent, Saturday Night Live has as host this week actress Gabourey Sidibe, with musical guest MGMT. Her television show, The Big C, with Laura Linney and Oliver Platt will debut on Showtime Cable in August. And Betty White is hosting SNL May 8th as well. SNL has been ranging from moments of inspired brilliance to mediocre to were the writers drunk when they wrote this that they somehow thought it was funny levels, so it will be kind of interesting to see what they do with these two hosts.


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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Sort of Part 4

So there’s buzz about body size and fashion once again, only it’s kind of an interesting angle. Lane Bryant, who among other types of clothes sells plus size garments, decided to do a t.v. ad campaign for their plus size lingerie line. The key first ad (below) is pretty much shot for shot like a Victoria Secret’s ad without the wings, but with serious curves. (It actually kind of reminds me of the Charlize Theron perfume t.v. ad where she strips.) Lane Bryant claims that when they wanted to run the ad on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and Fox’s American Idol, that the networks gave them lots of flak, wanted lots of changes, and would only run a version of the ad in the last ten minutes of the shows, near ten o’clock, even though Idol showed a Victoria Secret’s ad a half hour before. So Lane Bryant is calling foul and running an Internet campaign about how the networks are big meanies who can’t deal with sexy larger women.

Now, the part that interests me is not this battle, where it is rather unclear how much actual fighting did occur over the ad and its over-sexiness. Bryant may be taking advantage to a degree for publicity’s sake, or the networks were perhaps not so much appalled at the ad’s standard of beauty as uncertain that those random and often hypocritical network censors wouldn’t hit them with a fine for having a more buxom model in underwear in a prime time commercial in the post-Nipplegate age.

What’s more interesting is that my original blog entry on this subject was about a photo ad featuring actress Audrey Tautou selling Chanel perfume in which the issue was not that her image had been photoshopped and airbrushed, but that it had been done in such a way that part of her looked inhuman, like a stick alien, and decidedly unappealing. My question was, does this really work with the ad campaigns these companies are trying to do — why are they so intent on making models look strange, inhuman, out of proportion and extreme in their skeletalness, when it does not seem to fit with trying to sell flowery dresses or romantic perfume, nor even creates fantastic art images that would draw anything more than a “ew, gross” response from both men or women on average. (Men tend to prefer the Victoria’s Secret curves at the least.) It seemed like a sabatoging approach to advertising that was becoming more and more bizarre, not to mention putting fashion increasingly on the defensive about their models.

But in counter to that now, we have Lane Bryant not only selling a plus size rack of lingerie, but aggressively doing so with t.v. ads and industry complaints, going after Victoria Secret’s share of attention even if Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell plus size garments. Bryant is clearly taking a page from Dove’s self esteem playbook for cosmetics and toiletries, a campaign that Dove has sometimes been hypocritical about, but also found useful to sell products by complaining about fashion and advertisers and offering alternate body images. Bryant may well have photoshopped and airbrushed their model for their ad, but the woman has not been turned into a parody of humaness. Will fashion advertising shift to chase after the gains Bryant and Dove are and will be making? Or will there be a continued counter-reaction of making women even more like stick aliens? What demographic research are these people actually getting from their marketing consultants? Are we going to see continued pressure on women that they have to choose between the va-voom frame of Christina Hendricks and the near death experience of Nicole Ritchie, or will it even out? Does the lure of photoshopping toys mean we’ll continue to see even buxom models in impossible stances and proportions that don’t match reality? Will it spill over on to male models, besides giving them distorted abs?

Or — and this is interesting — as we move into an environmental green craze that speaks more to Earth Mothers than concentration camps, will heroin chic disappear except for a few edgy products? WalMart has a t.v. ad running about its green products in which the handsome guy is hanging laundry on a clothesline while his admittedly svelte but Earth Mothery wife appears looking really, really pregnant. Sure, WalMart, not exactly high fashion, but decidedly influential on what masses of women buy. That’s the sort of effect that will bleed upwards to socially conscious affluent buyers too. So maybe the stick aliens won’t further invade. Or maybe they will and we’ll have to have an even more extensive talk with our daughters about reality and special effects.


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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 3

I would have been perfectly happy not to do another blog entry under the heading above, but then a friend sent me a preview spread of J. Crew’s Spring 2010 catalog that is causing some distress in the blogosphere:


Of course, the J. Crew crew are not particularly unusual now. They are models who are either perhaps 14 with make-up or who have used starvation, arresting hormones and other tools to make themselves continue to have the body shape of a 14-year-old girl, giving them that distinct stick alien look. All I can hope is that these women have indeed been airbrushed, that some art director or photographer decided that it would help if their legs looked like that, rather than that their legs actually look like that, in which case I certainly hope that they had I.V. drips at the photo shoots on stand-by.

Perhaps what we are actually witnessing is a type of model war in the fashion world. Underwear and swimsuit modeling continues to be a very big deal, seeing how it has a soft porn appeal for guys, and those models, while still quite skinny and tall, have to have more curves in the hips and breasts. So we have two groups — the ones who do Victoria’s Secret ads and the ones who do the clothes as concentration camp refugees. In the past eras of supermodels, the supermodels were the swimsuit ones, and even a model like Iman, with her bone-thin, lanky Somalian heritage, had actual thighs. And these supermodels also did the fashion and the womens’ magazine covers. But now, seriously, it’s gone beyond even Kate Moss’ heroine chic, and certainly beyond Twiggy’s leggy willowyness. We are down to the aliens and bikini bottoms.

So in the past, we had this:

And this:

And this:

And now, we have this:

And this:

But we also still have some of this:

Which is a tad better on the human side, if not exactly on a women are not just sex objects side. It’s at least visually appealing — hey, I’ll admit that. So why has it been put largely off to the side, for lingerie and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit fest? Maybe it really is a matter of aliens.


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