V&A Connects: Fashion, Autonomy and the Body Mass Index


I am doing fashion but don’t like fashion the word itself. It sounds unhealthy and showy. It can be a struggle not to let trends and fashion dictating how we feel about ourselves. On one of the Friday evening talks, V&A has brought forward discussion on a healthy relationship to oneself in this ‘superficial’ fashion industry. Lou Stoppard, Editor at SHOWstudio, talked with three other fashion insiders- Creative Director Le Baron and Supernova Chi Chi Menendez, Nutritionist and ex-fashion PR Eve Kalinik, Photographer and blogger Michelle Bobb-Parris

Woman’s body
Fashion is a women- 
dominant industry. Fashion model is a new aesthetic symbol. For instance, a guy can be proud to say,’I’m dating a model.’ However, women figures in fashion mostly are more masculine-liked, say comparing to those in pornography. Michelle Bobb-Parris thought that female figures in fashion have been created as samples and aspiration.

With a great open access to images in internet, street fashion photography is bringing up another style. Shooting people on the streets and tapping them give new expression of  what made them unique, what they really care about. It is completely opposite to this high fashion industry which is more thoughts on the outfits. People in fashion tend to be more self-conscious and  make sure themselves fit in. I am sure one can sense that special energy in fashion world.

Real beauty
Chi Chi Menendez believed people’s personalities like what they do, where they are from are the real factors that embraced and celebrated women’s beauty. Whether the rise of individualism is subsiding ‘trend-ism’, the most important thing is to know where your energy is. A lot of commercials and public imagery are advertising on issue of ‘real beauty’—for example, Dove’s commercial campaign. However, Chi Chi thought they were still focusing on looks but not the personality. She has previously been to Morocco which is a less trendy-commerce place. But she found it surprisingly liberal with those covering up dresses. Women were less conscious about body shapes and could be an even more liberal expression.

Fashion design business
Fashion is a business after all. People spend money to feel pretty and secured. Fashion has aspirational quality. However, it is rather twisted for a designer to make beautiful thing with use of your weakness – making beneficial use of one’s insecurity. Fashion usually creates concepts not for mental one.

Fashion has a trend and seasonal-ism quality. Fashion models are not always super skinny throughout the generations. Chi Chi has recalled the aerobic culture during the 80s. Fashion models were toned and fit. Then 90s was about Kate Moss, drugs, illness looking. But something is forever— models are expected to be youthful. Wrinkles are bad? Why is there a barbie- culture? Ageless? Why can’t campaign with or for what the real consumers?

Woman bodies are seen as part of fashion. The physical and the emotion are related. In the past, high street brand American Apparel has even claimed that they were not making larger sizes because they did not look good.  And recently, Adele who is not seen as typical celebrities body figure, appeared on the cover of the Gentlewoman magazine. Not only designers but media is also making significant influence. Dose a magazine look better with a variety on female sizes? Why clothes look better hanging on skinny models?

Regarding the film culture, though women are depicted as multi- dimension in personalities and abilities, a dull fact of the way men seeing women remains. Michelle has given example of super heroine. She wittily said at the end men think the heroines are hot but will never astonished exclaiming, ‘she is so powerful!’

Not only on men seeing women, more often in fashion is about women seeing women. There is competitiveness between women. Is women dressing for women a good or bad thing? After all, fashion industry is mostly female.

It is interesting to think about where the ‘taste culture’ comes from? Who are the taste-makers? However, I do not think the blame is on those ‘taste-makers’. It is ultimately about self esteem.

Beauty / Fashion
Beauty is about perception. Beauty and fashion seem to be similar but can be hugely different. Fashion is definitely not an aspiration. Changes can also be bubble up —from bottom upward– from everyone. Don’t expect changes from ‘these fashion minority’.  Don’t conform with the rules set. 

So, towards the end of the talk, Michelle has mentioned a documentary ‘Miss Representation‘. It is an American film in 2011 about how media is shaping women. …if you haven’t seen it… you should watch it. …



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