Catharsis: Real is a perception

Jezebel, a member of the Gawker network, is a site written and populated by intelligent, witty feminists of both sexes. I read it every day and often enjoy the comments as much as their posts. One of their recurring features is analysis of current clothing catalogues which I used as partial inspiration for EA’s Stream of Consciousness posts.

Today there was a post on Anthropologie’s latest catalogue. Most of the commentary by Jezebel staff is pretty funny (the Simply Red comment in particular is a hit). There is also a recurring theme that the “real people” used in the catalogue are still not really real enough. Read through the comments and it’s sometimes much more blunt — just blatant hateatude towards the women posing in some cases (not all).

I think that Jezebel’s criticisms raise valid points. These “real people” still reflect a small subset of women, especially when it comes to age and size. Note to retailers — sizes go higher than a 6! And lower than a 4! Taking a picture of said people will not break cameras. I know through experience! Also the shoot is pretty derivative of The Satorialist which itself is derivative.

But my main takeaway from the gallery was that Anthropologie deserved fault for using “real people” yet not using people that are real enough. And that’s a sentiment I have trouble getting on board with. I’m completely biased since Anthro is my favorite store and I know that. However I’ve felt that in the scheme of catalogues Anthro has been great about using models with curves. Especially compared to their own sister brands Urban Outfitters and Free People. In the August Anthropologie shoot, whether staged or not, they again went out of their way to pick people that break the model mold. These women (and men) do not represent the homogenous waify, disaffected, whitewashed, underfed look that is currently so popular for models. I see people with wordly looks, unique features and wonderful imperfections that make them more accessible to me.

Would I have died of happiness to see someone in a size 12? Or a size 18, which I don’t even know that Anthro carries? You bet. But if this is the baby step I will totally take it and continue applauding moves in the right direction. We shouldn’t have to reward clothing retailers for showing normal and presenting it as extraordinary but if a pat on the back will motivate them to keep moving them this way then I will pat away! The comments on the Jezebel post take it a step further implying that these “real people” were not good enough to represent real. I understand the sentiment but it also leads me to ask: What will it take? When are you satisfied that these real people are real? Perhaps it is not until I see me, as in Roxy, posing in one of those pics myself. Maybe that’s how the commenters feel? I don’t want to put words in their mouths but that is what I get reading between the lines. That’s not really fair. If no one is real but you that is discounting anyone else’s human experience.

It’s an interesting contrast of studies when matched against another insightful Jezebel post from today about Lauren Luke, a self-made makeup maven whose star is about to explode from YouTube to a Sephora near you. The post also cites recent Dove ads showing women of all shapes, sizes and ages. My main takeaway from that article was that the beauty industry should not be so shocked that we normal folk can sell beauty products just as well as celebs. And many (not all) of the comments seem to say this is a good thing. So is it really fair to then fault models who are not models for breaking the mold but not enough? I’d say no. Setting the standard for real as equally small as the standard for perfect just defeats the purpose to me.


  1. Anonymous
    August 7, 2009 / 12:59 am

    wow. great post. really insightful comments. And thanks for introducing me to Jezebel

  2. August 7, 2009 / 1:39 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. August 7, 2009 / 2:55 am

    Thanks for posting this Roxy!The fact that Anthro took the effort to find and style real people is great, its part of their unique appeal but I don't think they should be slammed for not using real enough people. The fact of the matter is that catalogs are put out by clothing retailers trying to sell a product to the public. I am bothered by anorexic/sickly looking models but most catalogs have models who are pretty normal looking if a bit thinner than the general population.

  4. August 7, 2009 / 5:20 am

    I can't even get my thoughts together to post on this one. And then I ended up getting lost on that site about the pageant dad.s I watched that last nite!Great topic. Overall I don't think it's as easy as hiring 'real' people because they embody different figure types and facial features. There is something endearing, vulnerable, etc… about the Susan Boyles and Lauren Lukes who have seen success in the media. I would say they aren't exactly average when all is said and done.

  5. Caro
    August 7, 2009 / 7:04 pm

    Something interesting about the commentors' complaints is that they are implicitly saying that they *want* advertisers to target them. They want to be targeted exactly, as you say in your post–a size 14 person might not be happy until they see a size 14 in the catalog, and I won't be happy until I see someone in the catalog who is 5'2" and hasn't a waist. But actually, I was thinking about it, and I am much happier not being the target of most of advertisements. I'd rather leave advertisers to focus on rich skinny people, so that I can make my buying choices without so much influence from marketing. I guess my question is, why do people want to be targeted by advertising? Why do they want to be parted with their money so badly? I see most marketing as a pernicious influence that necessarily has to create artificial needs to sell products, and I'm not sure why people desire that influence so much.

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