New York Times reveals hidden truth: modelling industry makes women feel bad, treats them like objects

Screenshot: The New York Times/Models Talk: Racism, Abuse, Feeling Old at 25

The New York Times published a revelatory exposé of the modelling industry today, revealing that young models are are valued solely for their appearance and treated like (often sexualized) objects that exist to be looked at and sell products.

It took three journalists to uncover the Shocking Truth about an industry that fuels and profits from women’s insecurities and has successfully convinced us that it is acceptable to charge thousands of dollars for an ugly af handbag.

I just returned from Tokyo/Japan, where Louis Vuitton held a beautiful cruise show in Kyoto, I just never made it to Kyoto cause I was canceled for the show due to being ‘too big’. (I’m a size 34-36) Ashley Brokaw’s caster Alexia had said that there had been some problems during the fitting. According to her I had “a very bloated stomach”, “bloated face”, and urged me to starve myself with this statement “Ulrikke needs to drink only water for the next 24 hours”. I was shocked when I heard it. I woke up at 2am and was extremely hungry. The breakfast started at 6:30am – I had the absolute minimum. I was afraid to meet Alexia so my luck she didn’t arrive until 8am, when my plate was taken off the table. She said good morning to me and the other girls and looked at me, then down on my non-existent plate and up at me again. She was checking if I had been eating food. At 7pm my mother agent from Denmark called my to tell the sad news that Louis Vuitton had chosen to cancel me from the show without the refitting and that I was going to be sent back home. Not only did I have a belly, my face was puffy now also my back was a problem. I am glad I’m 20 years old with an elite sports background and not a 15 year old girl, who are new to this and unsure about herself, because I have no doubt that I would then have ended up very sick and scarred long into my adult life. TO READ THE FULL STORY CLICK IN MY BIO!!!!!!! #LVCruise2018 #mistreatmentofmodels #AshleyBrokaw #thefutureisfemale #sowhyeatingdisorders #youknowitstrue #shareifyoucare #jamespscully

A post shared by Ulrikke Hoyer (@ulrikkehoyer) on

Silent no more! explain that, thanks to social media, the young women who are working in an industry that could not exist to the magnitude it does (if at all) in a society that was not patriarchal and capitalist are speaking out about the fact that “the modeling industry remains overrun with problems that include labour exploitation, sexual harassment, and body shaming.”

While I agree all of this is terrible, I am also wondering what planet these models, journalists, and shocked liberals are living on? Have they ever seen a model? Opened up a women’s magazine? Heard of the fashion industry? It’s not exactly news that this multi TRILLION dollar industry (yes, trillion) is and has always been disgustingly, unapologetically sexist, favoring very young, very thin women who look child-like in their appearance. The fashion industry aims to profit, at the end of the day, and will do whatever it takes to accomplish that. Modelling, of course, is entirely and only focused on women’s appearances — how could it be anything but harmful and objectifying?

The journalists spoke to a number of women who have worked (or still work) in the modelling industry, who detailed the racism and sexism they experienced.

Precious Lee, 28, says:

“People aren’t seeing different types of beauty because the publications, the designers, the people that are actually in the power to make it happen, aren’t making it happen. Fashion was always supposed to be the next new thing, the next trend. What’s more out of the box and progressive then having a size 14 or a size 16 woman on a cover of a magazine when there’s been a million straight-size women that have been on it?”

Hmm… I can think of a few things that are more “out of the box and progressive” than naively believing that objectifying a wider variety of women will resolve the issue of treating women like objects… For one, we could get rid of fashion magazines entirely, which are completely and utterly useless, unless you believe that teaching women to hate themselves and that they must consume endlessly to resolve that self-hatred is purposeful… At what point does a publication that exists solely to sell products that women don’t need, to fix invented flaws, and to perpetuate the notion that women are valuable only if they are beautiful (and wealthy) stop being inherently harmful?

Ebonee Lee, 24, told the reporters that, despite modelling agencies discouraging her from wearing her hair natural, she booked a huge campaign with Calvin Klein, which I’m sure convinced thousands of girls and young women around the world to go on a diet, then drop hundreds on bras.

“Silence is violence,” she says.

“Models who decide not to speak up are participating in that same system of oppression that’s harming other people, and just because it doesn’t affect you directly, or you benefit from the privileges of it, doesn’t mean that you get a pass and that you should remain silent on those issues.”

While I agree that representation is important and that it is valuable for black women to see themselves in the media with natural hair styles (because, yes, black women’s hair is political), there are a number of other systems of oppression that are also violent, that are fully wrapped up in the fashion and beauty industries. It’s not difficult to turn Lee’s argument right back around on her, and say: Just because you benefit personally (i.e. financially) from these industries doesn’t mean that you get a pass or that you should remain silent about that. Capitalism is incredibly harmful and is responsible for the oppression of women around the world. And I’m afraid that better representation won’t resolve that.

Twenty-year-old Stella Duval complains that she was called “pudgy” at 14-years-old and pressured her to go on a 700 calorie per day diet. (For context, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion says the average adult needs somewhere between 1,600 to 3,000 calories per day. Even a sedentary two-year-old needs a minimum of 1,000 calories per day to meet their nutritional needs.) Duval quit, returning to the industry as a young adult. She says:

“I think 13 is way too young and 14 is way too young and 15 is way too young. You’re just not developed and you’re not ready. I see models who are 13, 14, 15. I’ve had someone tell me that she hadn’t eaten for two days because she didn’t know where to go to eat. I saw girls doing lingerie at 14.”

I mean, yeah. Teenage girls should not be modelling lingerie and dieting. Obviously. But should 19-year-old girls be doing it? We’re skirting around the fact that the industry itself is a problem, and that the problem won’t be resolved by objectifying slightly older girls.

Kelly Mittendorf, 23, was scouted at 11-years-old and was working full time as a model by the time she was 16. One job she did at 16 was “S-and-M-inspired.” Mittendorf showed up to find a “table of whips and cuffs and various balls for various activities.” She explained:

“They put me in these shoes that were your typical dominatrix-inspired pointy-toed stilettos. They were so tall, and I didn’t have enough experience in heels and I couldn’t stand in them. I would get in the shoes and then get dressed by the wardrobe, and then I would have to, like, cinch my elbows on my side and this hairdresser would pick me up in my outfit by my elbows and then put me where my mark was.”

Mittendorf ended up going into a lot of debt with her agencies as an independent contractor in the industry. She retired from modelling two years ago (so, at 21 — ancient). “You get sick of people touching you,” Mittendorf said. “I wanted to be able to not feel spread thin and anxious and like I was constantly waiting on something else.” It is truly ridiculous that a person would end up in debt because of their work, and it is terrible to have an unstable income. But it is also ridiculous that women are expected to wear shoes they can’t stand or walk in, wear clothing that immobilizes them, and that all this is considered attractive and sexy. At this point, neither the journalists nor the models speaking out against exploitation, sexism, and racism have mentioned that misogyny is ingrained in women’s fashion or criticized the fact that sexualized abuse is used to sell products to women (and men, for that matter).

Renee Peters, 28, developed anorexia and bulimia (this is not uncommon in the industry, of course). She explains that the pressure to lose weight is “inherent to the industry because sample sizes are so small, and because the thinner you are, the more celebrated you are.” More interesting, though, is that Peters manages to acknowledge the most basic point we should be discussing, when criticizing the modelling industry:

“Every day that you’re working as a model, you’re objectified somehow. You know, if it’s just a simple term of you being a ‘mannequin’ or a ‘model,’ like you’re not actually a person and you’re just a vehicle for the clothing or the makeup or the hair.”

In other words, women and girls are treated like objects because their entire purpose, as models, is to be objects.

The stories go on and on, as various young women detail racism, pressure to be thin, and generally being treated like bodies, rather than human beings. No matter who you are and what you look like, the industry teaches women, both the models and those on the other side of those images, reading the magazines or watching the fashion shows, to hate their bodies.

Julia Geier, 32, explains:

“Playing on women’s insecurities has become so extremely pervasive in our society and it’s so damaging and so unhealthy for the models, of course, but also for the women — especially for the women that see the images of the models because they don’t know how much time we spend trying to look good.”

She points out that the final product, after all the work that goes into makeup, skincare, dieting, hair, plus the editing and photoshopping, is not even close to realistic. “Women are seeing these images that literally are not real,” Geier says.

A 25-year-old “plus size” model named Paloma Elsesser, says:

“There’s the worst things every single day. It’s these tiny microaggressions — ‘Oh, you’re a real girl.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, but I’m also a model.’ Sometimes it’s just people blaming, saying, ‘Nothing fits.’ As if I just don’t exist. Some days everything fits and I love what I’m wearing, and I feel that I’m on an even playing field with a straight-size model.”

The expectation that modelling should somehow make you feel good about yourself reveals something so important. Despite the complete opposite being true, women are convinced that being looked at and viewed or validated as attractive will bring confidence. This is why we are told by liberals and third wavers that self-objectification is harmless, because it is chosen. And not only that it is not harmless, but is a means to feel “empowered.” We are not even permitted to criticize sexualized imagery if the woman in the image claims she feels good about the sexualization, as this constitutes “judgement” and “shaming.”

What this report reveals is nothing at all. How many months and how many interviews does it take to know that objectifying women hurts women? And that an industry that profits from women’s pain and insecurities (whether by selling women shoes they can’t walk in and that wreck their bodies or by simply creating clothing that can only be worn by women with the body type of a 13-year-old boy) does not care about women’s pain and insecurities. I mean, anything that puts profit first is going to be harmful. This is why capitalism is such an abusive, exploitative, violent system — because it doesn’t care about people, animals, or the earth. It cares only about the bottom line.

Covering the Times report, Jezebel writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd concludes that the problem is “exclusion,” and the solution, therefore, is inclusion. The fashion industry needs to simply “include” and cast models “who don’t fit the stereotype.” But what was made clear to me, based on this investigation, was that “inclusion” has resolved nothing, and will never solve the problems that objectification and capitalism create — because objectification and capitalism are the problem.

The arguments made by the Times report and the liberal feminists up in arms about the lack of diversity and body positive messaging in the modeling industry are, as far as I’m concerned, making the same argument as those who claim the sex industry will somehow become less abusive and harmful if the industry is better regulated and if diverse ethnicities and body-types are featured in porn.

While of course I do believe that models should be treated and paid fairly, that we should reject the notion that only white, thin, young women are beautiful, and that’s it’s acceptable for underage girls to work in the industry, I also think we’re missing the point.

Poking at the surface and strategically avoiding the root is a great way to ensure nothing really changes, but that those who benefit from harmful systems can sleep at night.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Tobysgirl

    It is relevant to speak directly to the use of underage girls as models. Unlike the acting profession, which has some requirements for underage actors, there are NO protections for underage models who are often invited to adult parties with drugs and undoubtedly predatory males. And speaking of drugs, models are often encouraged to use them to lose or maintain weight.
    Another great essay, Meghan. Back in the day, radical feminists lumped modeling in with prostitution as exploitative of women. If anyone disagrees, I would love to read your arguments.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m criticizing what the modelling industry has decided females should look like, the result of which indeed is extreme and unhealthy dieting. I’m not criticizing women who happen to have non-curvy bodies. I had the body of a 13-year-old boy until I was, like, 20. I was just a naturally thin woman with no hips, butt, or breasts, nor any notable difference in the circumference of my waist and hips, and who was super bony. I still don’t really have much of a waist.

    Women have very different bodies. But the fact that the modelling/fashion industry *only* uses models who not only are very young and extremely thin, but who LOOK very young (younger than they are) is notable, as it clearly fetishizes prepubescent bodies.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I agree that it is important and valuable to hear from the women themselves. Of course. But when the response is only that we need to diversify and be more inclusive, I’m not sure how productive that is.

    • Unree

      Yes. Inclusivity and body-positivity as the solutions = epic fail.

    • dandelionseed

      It also plays into the notion that criticism from inside has greater legitimacy — the Sam argument used against feminists who criticize prostitution. As if, in fact, all women aren’t on way or another inside both these industries, given that we all have to somehow negotiate our commodification.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yes! This is exactly what I thought as well. That argument (“listen to _____”) is constantly used against us. While, yes, we need to listen to women (all women), that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best arbiters of the way forward. We need to analyze and use our critical thinking skills, as well as “listening.”

  • Meghan Murphy

    It was probably this podcast?

    Lindsay Kite is great.

    I, too, stopped buying fashion magazines some time ago, after realizing literally all they did was, 1) make me feel bad about my appearance and body and 2) convince me I need to buy a bunch of new makeup, products, etc

    • radwonka

      ia, youtube and instagram/snapchat is the same: gender conforming models use (or are used) this space to promote and sell insecurities and “feminine” products (tea detox, make up, ~~fitness program~~, wigs, etc).
      but in the end what do they do with all this money? they don’t help women, and the huge majority of women are still poor/dependant on men.

      Another proof that feminine roles are truly toxic. Only a few women get something, the others lose everything (self esteem, economical independance, no social status, etc)

  • Meghan Murphy

    I don’t believe I argued capitalism is our most basic problem? I believe patriarchy is our most basic problem, but that capitalism is just as harmful. Both these systems work in congruence.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Ha. Exactly.

  • radwonka

    ” Still mindblown that libfem’s answer to objectification is to objectify a wider variety of people”

    because they see objectification as the only way to “express yourself”.

  • radwonka

    Instagram is a real mess. People have no imagination so they constantly objectify women. And all the 10000000 pictures of objectified automatically become tools for social pressure.

    What a boring society.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Totally. It’s weird. I think we’ve had this convo elsewhere on the site, but rarely can I get shirt or dresses done up over my chest (which is not remarkably large).

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yeah that interview was soooo strange to me. She’s not dumb, but that interview made her sound fairly unintelligent. I wondered if whoever edited it totally mucked it up.

    (And yes, considering how much sexual exploitation and objectification goes on in the modelling industry, I don’t think the comparison to prostitution is an enormous stretch…)

  • radwonka

    yep. take away all the objectification and all the music, films, “selfies”, etc would be just… empty literally.
    Objectification has always been the main message, the rest (plot, lyrics, quotes about “feeling good/sexy”, etc) is just decoration.

    it’s unbelievable how hard it is for people to create something that doesn’t involve objectification.

    and then the same people talk about “art” and “creativity” lmao

  • radwonka

    and not any kind of fuckability: the one that is degrading and deeply gendered is the most needed! the more your partner hurts you, the more powerful you are! and men SHOULD hurt you! (but if you hurt men, you are a {insert negative ad hominems})

    LOGIC! 😉

  • Cassandra

    Trust me when I say that QJ is a piece of shit.

  • Liz

    Ouch, that Rashida Jones interview…

  • Marla

    In college I worked at a posing sketch model (clothed) for about a year. The money was great but it wasn’t worth it by the way in which I was treated. I had to wear these gaudy swimsuits that looked like they were dug up from a landfill in the mid-1970’s and no one ever called me by my name. I was given a number and referred to only by that number. It wasn’t for me to complain – it was a job after all.

    When I see ads of young girls and I mean young @13 being dolled up in bondage wear and fetishized to an industry that sees this a normative in media culture then do I cringe. Dressing up teenage girls to look like they are 25 is goes to show just how far off the fucking map this industry has fallen. What they are promoting is an ideal and not a reality.

  • Sashimi73

    This is why I’m convinced that the people who build and support the fashion industry hate women. Disappointingly, many are gay men who have no issue with hating women. That’s why all the women look like skinny boys.

  • melissa

    Oh man, I’m so disappointment in that interview. 🙁

  • Cassandra

    I hear what you’re saying about poor young girls and it is completely true, but I don’t agree that big time models always “want to keep working with the industry without being exploited and objectified…” I think many of them know perfectly well that they’re being exploited and objectified — that that IS the work. I think many of them get caught up in it in very young, because that’s kind of the point you know—preying on young girls to make young girls more easy to prey on—and by the time they realize what’s going on it’s too late to take it back — the damage done to them personally and the damage for which patriarchy has used them to inflict on others.

    And “fantasizing about being rich and famous…” sounds a little like victim blaming. That’s all we are told we should want, no? We’re told that that is where our value lies, that being a model is the ULTIMATE proof of our worth. None of us live in a vacuum. None of us are impervious to the RELENTLESS conditioning and grooming of females in our culture. There’s a reason why modeling is so well paid at the top; these exploitative and abusive industries MUST thrive.

    And, well, if models/actresses do speak out against it, the brain donors quickly crawl out of the muck to silence them, saying things like “You’re making the money, why don’t you STFU and stop complaining you stupid **** I wish I could make money for just standing there like a stupid ***! Or “You only got your job (insert any job) because of what you LOOK like!” and on and on, as if a woman being given a job because of what she LOOKS like is her fault. As if that’s a nice way to be thought of. As if never having your brain count for anything and knowing that people say shit like that about you doesn’t cut you to the bone and really make you think that your only value is what you LOOK like. It’s just the other side of the coin, and the result is the same. And anyway, who does the hiring again? LOL!

    No matter *what* women do or say about being woman in patriarchy (or even if we don’t speak in public *specifically* on being women in patriarchy), what we look like MUST be discussed, and there is no greater display of wretched male entitlement you’ll ever behold then a man commenting on a woman’s looks or staring at a woman in public—they honestly believe that their desire to assess and consume women trumps all. You want to see a man go from 0 to 60 on the aggrieved male entitlement speedometer? Question his “right” to look at and comment on a woman’s beauty/sexual appeal (or lack thereof); it’s at the root of male supremacy and dominance and it is so ugly.

    Anything and everything we say is NEGATED by what we look like:

    If a pretty, thin and/or young woman who dresses femininely says anything about objectification or beauty standards or sexism or any of it, all you hear is “HYPOCRITE! YOU WANT YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT! WHY DO YOU WEAR A SKIRT OR HEELS? JUST GET MARRIED AND SIT ON YOUR ASS, BIMBO! And STFU!”

    If a woman *doesn’t* comply with patriarchy’s women-are-fucktoilet standards—have long hair, dress in patriarchy-approved fucktoilet attire, etc., and says anything about objectification or beauty standards or sexism or any of it, what you hear is “Ugly dyke fat ass bitch feminazi old hag! Ever notice how it’s never pretty women complaining about this?! Why aren’t pretty women ever feminists? And STFU!”

    That’s when you point up to A). Rinse and repeat.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m with you. The interview seemed very badly done, both in terms of the interviewer/questions and the editing. Odd to see the NYT produce something so crappy, eh? This is what we see when people who don’t understand feminism try to cover feminist issue, though, I find. I speak to journalists a lot, and often find the way their stories turn out and the way they quote me are totally muddled and confusing.

    I have faith in Jones. I do think she’s trying to hard to play nice with the ‘sex positive’ end of the porn debate, though.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I think it’s possible she is trying to learn and trying to please everyone… It is, of course, purposeless to try to please everyone and was as annoyed as you by this interview, but I’ve engaged with Rashida, and she is intelligent and critical and hope she figures out that trying to placate the pro industry folks and liberals isn’t worth it.

  • Kris

    Why would a woman call attention to her physical beauty in a society where her value wasn’t dependent on it? What would be the motivation?

    Even if only *some* but not her *entire* value was dependent on it, wouldn’t calling attention to it still be a form of emphasizing the physical part over other qualities to gain value? How is that any different from what we have now?

    I can’t even imagine what the definition or role of physical beauty would be outside of patriarchy and capitalism because it is so ingrained.

  • Cassandra

    I wasn’t ranting at you, personally, Littona. I just get so frustrated by the notion that we have a lot of choice in this. I was chewed up and spit out as a teenager because of what I looked like. I never stood a chance. Young girls are so naive, so hunted, and the fact that our looks are what’s valued about us and valued most about us when we have no judgment is the most nefarious, predatory, fucking disgusting thing there is. That predation—what was done to me and what is done to so many of us as teenagers—makes me sick with rage. What I looked like was a curse and I hate men with the passion of a thousand fiery suns because of it.

  • OldPolarBear

    This reply also pertains to some of the things in your reply to my comment above.

    I believe the interviewer was asking her “what changed?” about Jones chastising women for dressing like “whores”, etc., which Jones regrets, and should.

    Fair enough. I have not seen the Glamour article and it was appropriate for Cox to question Jones’s use of the word “whore” that way. Maybe Cox could have made it less ambiguous, or maybe it was OK.

    In my reply to you above, I did sort of wave off a lot of the stuff Jones said. I guess it’s because I am really wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt. She definitely is distinguishing between “good” and “bad” porn. I wish people did not do that, but I am somewhat sympathetic to it because it reflects my own learning and change over time WRT porn. In my late teens and early twenties, I used porn and was clueless about any of the implications.* Then I recognized the really “bad” porn, but rationalized continuing to watch “good” (or at least “better”) porn. It wasn’t until I discovered Andrea Dworkin in my late twenties/early thirties and read her Pornography that I actually got it (reading that book and her others was an amazing experience). Some people see porn for what it is and are against it right away and others are more like I was. I hope Jones will continue in the direction of being more critical.

    Finally, in my remark about close reading, etc., I certainly did not want to come off as implying that your or others were not capable of it or not willing to do it. I sincerely apologize if it came off that way. I have become extremely jaded and skeptical of interviewers, reporters, etc., especially the more mainstream ones. There is so much manipulation going on

    * All that time, I really wanted gay porn, but seldom got it for reasons too numerous to go into. Now, I realize gay porn is just as bad as any other, although it perhaps needs a somewhat different critical framework to analyze why.

    • Wren

      Thanks for your post, OldPolarBear. I really, really admired Jones for HGW and I don’t think I would have been so upset and reactionary otherwise. She must have taken huge risks with her career and possibly her safety to create it. It’s such a letdown to see people you admire kowtow, but it happens.

      I’m saying this because I wouldn’t react the same way to someone like yourself when you were you young and first becoming aware. To me that’s a completely different learning trajectory (it’s the unlearning that upsets me, lol). Regardless, it all makes me wonder what’s going on behind the scenes, if Jones caved to pressure, or felt her career sliding and wanted to appease, or maybe she got sick of being associated with the project, maybe she’s in love with man who loves porn, who knows?

      • Meghan Murphy

        They (Jones and the producers of HGW) were viciously attacked over HGW by the sex industry. It was quite brutal and all these liberal writers got fully on board with it. That maybe had something to do with it? (Not that I think that excuses caving taking a pro-industry position…)

      • radwonka

        “maybe she’s in love with man who loves porn”

        maybe but I don’t understand how someone can denounce abuse (aka what is painful and violent) and then openly… say that it is a turn on?

        It’s not like her ITW was nuanced either. I mean I can already hear her saying: “yeah many people are abused but some like it!!”.

        Imho it has nothing to do with her boyfriend (if she has one), or social pressure. 99% of “feminists” are not passionate or convinced by feminism, since their position is superficial (violence is banalized, and I don’t believe that people are truly shocked/sad when they pretend to be outraged), then their hypocrisy is also predictable.

        Both men and women have no morals. That’s all. If they had some morals, they wouldn’t be so unstable.

  • Kris

    “physical presentation is a form of personal expression”. Expression of what exactly, specifically when emphasizing physical beauty?

    I ask that question sincerely, and not as a hypothetical.

    My view is that most forms of expression are ways of gaining validation according to whatever set of rules are in place for the society you are “expressing yourself” to. It’s always an appeal to a group, whether that group is the culture/society at large or a smaller subculture, thus why you are choosing to express it openly instead of keeping it to yourself.
    Maybe it’s even a new idea you are trying to push the group into accepting, but it doesn’t just exist in some vacuum for no reason or without consequence just because you are calling it “personal”. Even expressing some form of personal, unique, individuality is ultimately asking for validation/showing your value to the group on the basis of being “special”. Otherwise, what is the point of standing out?

    External/physical forms of expression are typically used as a quick signaling to others that you belong and understand what the values are for the group/society/subcultures etc you are signaling to. If you are emphasizing physical beauty in your expression, whose definition? And what is that definition?

    I personally can’t imagine a reason for a woman to advocate emphasizing their own physical beauty for any reason that wouldn’t be a harmful precedent to set or reinforce. “Beautiful” as a term can only exist and be coherent if there is also an ugly, or at least a NOT beautiful version to compare against. If everyone is beautiful, then no one is beautiful. If everyone is “beautiful in their own way”, than beautiful doesn’t actually mean anything. If everyone is unique, then no one is unique. If there is no common language, rules, norms to reference in the first place, you are expressing nothing. So absent of patriarchy or capitalism, what would the context be for a woman to emphasize physical beauty? Can a society where it’s normal to emphasize physical beauty also allow for ugliness not to be a detriment?

  • unfashionable

    ” Beauty practices have specific aims : they lead to women being hyper-aware of themselves, vulnerable and physically weakened (through high heels, unpractical clothing), losing precious amounts of time (make-up routines, shaving), endangering their health (again high heels, shaving, toxic chemicals in beauty products, dieting…), not to mention the financial cost of all these accessories, clothing, the lack of space it brings in the house, the fact you’re not enjoying yourself as much because you are constantly worried of looking “unsexy”…”

    I agree with this statement of yours, which describes patriarchal norms for women, which tend to produce continuous absorption with physical appearance.

    But what I attempted to describe is not about patriarchal norms. For example, androgynous lesbians with little income and one spectacular find at the Good Will have for as long as I can remember been creating personal style that is both functional and attractive to self and maybe a few other women. It is a bit self conscious, but no more than, say, an athletic young man wearing a scarf or bracelet or bright red sneakers. It doesn’t have to be painful or interfere with functioning or appear sexual to men — although it may well be sexually appealing to some people; some of us at least are moved and attracted through the visual realm, the physical realm, as well as to character. Honestly, I don’t see the harm; I do see harm in hating, despising, ignoring the body and all sensuality/sexuality.

    • will

      “But what I attempted to describe is not about patriarchal norms.”

      But patriarchal norms are the actual, real-world circumstances that we navigate every single day of our our lives. The core conceit of liberal [anti] “feminism” is that we can magically remove ourselves from that reality.

      You write “some of us at least are moved and attracted through the visual realm”. Of course some of us are attracted thorough the visual realm because we are groomed from day one to value appearance in women at all times and men sometimes, above any other trait.

      Nobody here is insisting that women cover themselves. No one. In this ongoing discussion of of effective strategies for feminist resistance, we critique beauty practices. Because in this moment in history, with the sphere of visual media dominating what people understand to be “the world”, the pressure on women to be aesthetically pleasing is more intense than ever. Resistance entails rejecting that to whatever degree you can without endangering your survival, not pretending that your creative individuality in making yourself “beautiful” is doing anything to challenge the power structure.

  • Kris

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you were bullying anyone. When I said “you”, I meant the general you, not you personally. My intent was only to explain the various ways expression as a whole is utilized within a society and my confusion over how assessing women’s bodies according to physical beauty could possibly fit in to that expression framework in a positive or even a neutral way.

    • unfashionable

      “I meant the general you, not you personally.”

      I’d have more respect for your “sorry” if you owned what you clearly meant when you wrote it, instead of claiming your plain words meant something else to save face.

      This seems essential to productive discourse among feminists.

    • will

      I thought it was patently obvious that you were using the term “you” interchangeably with “one”, as in “External/physical forms of expression are typically used as a quick signaling to others that one belongs and understands what the values are for the group/society/subcultures etc one is signaling to. If one is emphasizing physical beauty in one’s expression, whose definition? And what is that definition?”

      … which is an excellent point.

  • unfashionable

    Of course, I agree. I was using “hiding” much more literally. As in wearing long hot black robes and a wig if you’re an Hassidic Jewish woman (like some in my own biological family), if you venture out of the home at all. Actually, I’d characterize her husband’s dress as hiding his body also, but to a lesser degree, i.e., no wig, more functional pants, and freedom to be out in the world as he chooses. The physical realm is despised in the name of spirituality.

  • FierceMild

    I didn’t know that! I assumed he was gay because this was the only context I’d seen him in.

    I found his discussion of men and gender identity a sort of devistating epiphany. We (radfems) often say the we don’t have gender identity because we don’t identify with femininity and I didn’t really think about whether that would be true of men or not. His talk clearly delineated that this is not true for men.

    All men have gender identity. That is what toxic masculinity does; it forces male children to assume a gender identity. It forces female children to assume a set of roles, but male children have to be as constantly aware of their masculinity levels as perceived by other males as female children are of the danger presented by males. It’s so gross.

  • Meghan Murphy

    “Even learning to see ourselves as beautiful’ is damaging because it means we, as women, continue to believe ‘beauty’ is important in some way.”


  • will

    ^^Excellent comment^^

  • will

    “Sounds like you are politically opposed to all art?”

    Art making is not decoration. It is meaning-making. Sure, some artists strive to create work that people find beautiful, but to reduce art practice to the production of beauty is to misunderstand what artists do.

  • la scapigliata

    Models, and especially immigrants who are bamboozled into having these debts to modelling agencies (often for plastic surgery) get blackmailed by agencies to attend parties for rich men, where they are basically forced into prostitution. It’s all very well known in the circles, the two industries are deeply entertwined.