Tag Archives: models

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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I Should Probably Be Offended By This

But mostly I’m amused. I haven’t been able to do much with my blog for the last few months because of life stuff. Consequently, view counts of my blog have varied depending on the day, if I’ve posted other places on the Net, etc. (Spambots do not find your blog unless you post new entries, you see.) 🙂 But they’ve still been in the average range for my little fledgling blog. Today, however, I discovered that the number of views of my blog had increased 5 times over. Why?

Well, awhile back, talking about the disturbing trend of having photos of women in fashion advertising appearing like stick aliens, including bizarre photoshopping airbrushing,  mostly in terms of puzzling about what exactly is the advertising philosophy behind it, I put up, among other things, a photo of a Victoria’s Secrets model (as an example of the type of modelling today that is still not stick alienish yet.) And Victoria’s Secrets had a “fashion show” infomercial special on U.S. network t.v. last night. And apparently, in the wake of that, there are a lot of people searching for photos of Victoria’s Secret models. And so my blog came up in searches (I can’t imagine it’s very high on the search lists,) and some of the searches — probably mostly spambots programmed for the term Victoria’s Secret — came to my blog. And the ironic thing is that the particular, one Victoria’s Secret model photograph I had put up has been removed from the upload or virused and doesn’t even open on my blog anymore. You can’t actually see it if you come to my blog. It will not successfully gather for Google or whatever it is that is being done. (I did, however, get it originally from Google, so you can just go to Google and get some.)

But it is a very popular search term, apparently. So just for kicks, I’m going to try a little experiment. Here is a Victoria’s Secret model photograph from the 2010 fashion show:


I like this one because I like peacock feathers. Also, she has actual thighs. Let’s see if I can get 8 times more views than my usual average! I’ll keep you posted.



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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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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 2

Actress Gabourey Sidibe wowed people during the awards season, including at the Oscars, but in typical fashion, the media has decided to treat her as another kind of alien in a pretty dress. First came shockjock Howard Stern blasting that Sidibe would never get another acting role after Precious because of her size. That Sidibe has already done another movie and has a major role in a television series was of course easily discoverable to anyone on the Internet, but Stern has made his living for decades making controversial, misogynic comments for press coverage, currently to prop up his ailing sattelite radio network. Whether he’s right or not has always been irrelevant.

Then came some rinky-dink diet company hacking acacia pills offering to make Sidibe their spokesperson and help her lose that horrid weight, which the media relayed with gleeful delight. A couple weeks later, we have rumors all over the media of insiders at Vogue Magazine saying that Sidibe will never set foot into the domain of Anna Wintour, the lady who has done more to have stick aliens in pretty dresses than perhaps anyone. Apparently they were under the impression that Sidibe had any interest in appearing in Vogue at all.

Hollywood needs and has always needed heavier actors for a variety of roles, or just because that actor is damn good in the part, but the collective culture now seems to freak out whenever someone who isn’t a size 6 takes a lead role and is actually rewarded for it. Heavier male actors have it slightly better, especially if they are comic ones like the late John Candy and Kevin James, but plus size women tend to be regarded as some kind of strange fluke when they’re the ones in the spotlight. Roseanne changing the landscape of television, Camryn Manheim winning an Emmy, Jennifer Hudson an Oscar, Queen Latifah building a multi-media empire and hawking cosmetics with her skinny colleagues — these things are often greeted in the media as if they were visitations from Mars that must be puzzled over and analyzed for the hidden conspiracy. That Sidibe works on her health and weight, but regards herself as beautiful, ambitious, and strong upends the world of Botox and bulimia that is somehow supposed to be women’s chief aspiration.

As was evident in the ads in magazines, the problem has only gotten worse with young actresses finding it lucrative publicity to hook up with the fashion world, get paid to do events, market their own rags, and destroy the muscles in their arms. The culture is turning these women into aliens, while claiming women like Sidibe are the unusual outsiders. Explain that the average size for women is size 14 and the media will dutifully report it while wondering if Sidibe shouldn’t go on a liquid diet and get her stomach stapled so that she can look like poor Heidi Montag.

Long may actresses like Gabourey Sidibe continue to confound them with their alien visitations. Perhaps one day she will be joined by her slimmer colleagues who finally stand up to movie studios, fashion designers, advertisers,  and the media to say that no, they aren’t going to starve themselves anymore so that they can look like they’re dying — and ten years later, if they make it, announce that yes, they did actually have the eating disorders they always denied, like the stars on Ally McBeal. Sidibe may horrify the Howard Sterns of the world, who make their money off of pretending to be horrified, but to millions of us on the planet, she is not the one who doesn’t belong.

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Aliens in Pretty Dresses

I’m too old to read fashion magazines, or even often women’s magazines for that matter, but when you’re stuck in a doctor’s office, they’re fun to look through and see what horrors will trickle down the pike into stores when you try to clothes shop. (Currently, it’s been amusing to watch the 1980’s be regurgitated, to my daughter’s dismay.) When I did so this time, however, I was struck by a perfume ad that featured a picture of French actress Audrey Tautou standing, arms lifted,  in what might have been a train car, wearing an evening gown, from the side. Now, Tautou is a small, waifish woman, a lot like Audrey Hepburn, with very skinny legs, but this picture had clearly been altered (or Tautou is seriously ill). From the top part of the torso up to the head and arms, it looked like Tautou, but below that, it looked like a strange, stick-like alien who had put on a dress and attempted to disguise itself as a human being but hadn’t quite managed it. 12-year-old girls don’t have a waist like Tautou was given, and her butt had been reproportioned out of sync with the pose they’d put her in.

Alterations to actresses and models in these shots is nothing new, nor the attempt to make models look as young and pedophilic as possible, including using baby models. But it’s gotten so bad and has been accompanied by so much anorexia in the real world models (and problems for teens,) that there’s a PSA guerilla campaign that hired an ad firm to essentially harass the fashion magazines over their distortions of body size with various stunts.  It’s gotten so bad that they don’t even bother to do it well anymore, like when they cut off Emma Watson’s leg in a recent coat ad. It’s gotten so bad that they make Audrey Tautou, who is supposed to be selling romance and Old World European charm so that you want that sophisticated perfume, into a scary stick-alien, and they think that’s attractive to either gender.  Which starts to make you wonder what sort of mental state the photo editors or those who order them around have ended up in. When the models in pictures look like concentration camp victims or mutated freaks, it might be startling art — and startling art can sell by attention getting — but it doesn’t seem to match the actual campaigns they are trying to do to get men and women interested in buying perfume, clothing or jewelry. You kind of wonder if the photographers are trying to pull a giant prank on the fashion industry.  Or if the fashion industry is trying to pull a giant prank on the populace by seeing just how much weirdness we’ll tolerate. (Next up — lizard scales!)

In any case, the Tautou ad did not make me want to buy the expensive perfume and made me feel sorry for the actress. And muse that SF really is taking over all the culture.

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