On The Map: Capitalism + Feminism = True Luv 4Eva

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2009, the women’s magazine with the highest circulation in Germany, Brigitte, will no longer use models on their cover or their editorial pages. Instead they will use “real” women (whatever that means).

While this could be construed as an intentionally political move, editor-in-chief Andreas Lebert explains the decision by saying the shift will occur as a result of reader complaints about depictions of über-thin women with “protruding bones.” Coupled with Lebert’s additional clarification that using women who aren’t professional models is an investment and that the magazine is “not going to become a magazine for plus-size,” I get the feeling that Brigitte is less concerned about representing “real” women and more concerned with turning around its dwindling readership, which Melissa Eddy reports has been decreasing steadily for the past 20 years. We have seen this strategy before, and it exudes a desire for money, not feminism.

In August the US edition of Glamour received an enormous amount of media attention when it ran photos of plus-size model Lizzie Miller in the buff with an article on women’s body confidence. Women–readers or not–were overjoyed before the magazine even hit the newsstands, and the outpouring of positive feedback prompted editor Cindi Leive to publicly ponder, “Will it change our approach? I think it will.” True to her word, next month’s issue of Glamour is slated to feature more fat and fabulous models.

Maybe the media is starting to catch on to what Dove found out during its “Campaign for Real Beauty.” Appreciative, happy women equals loads of free publicity–not to mention increased sales. (Damn you for snagging us social criticism types in your capitalist trap!) Sounds like a good marketing strategy to me.

What goes by the wayside when we give uncritical praise? And does our necessary criticism undermine equally necessary baby steps toward change? Perhaps. But I’d rather have all the cards on the table.

by Mandy Van Deven
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10 Comments Have Been Posted

Plus size models in Print

saw the recent Glamour magazine, good for them. The women were beautiful. I am still stunned by the fact that a so-called "plus sized model" is merely more than a size 2 or 4.... we may be moving in the right direction toward honesty, real women, and a perception of beauty that doesn't begin with starvation and eating disorders. There is still only slow change and a lot more improvement is necessary.


This is just a simple PR-Gag. Since this magazine is loosing readers, they are thrying anything to get publicity. But at least it's a pretty nice way, to get it.

But for example the "Missy Magazine" (http://missy-magazine.de/) has done this always since it started. (And it has also the better texts)

But what about

I hope Brigitte's call for "ordinary " models moves beyond just size and into other realms, like ableism, age, or sexuality ...

I Second That Hope

I second your hopes for more diversity in future modeling. Your comment captures the for having the essence something I managed to garble in my earlier comment on the 2002 post by Annie Tomlin entitled
"Sex, Dreads, and Rock 'n' Roll" ( http://bitchmagazine.org/article/suicide-girls ). The recent decisions by Brigitt and Glamour magazines to use "real" women" are a very welcome start in the right direction. I too hope it goes further than that.

I'm always a bit surprised

I'm always a bit surprised when feminism is cast in particularly capitalist neoliberal terms. I'm referring in particular to the ascendance of choice as the prime means by which feminism is expressed. Feminism is a woman (an individual) choosing a career, a lover, the right pair of pants. While the choices women make can be an important part of being a feminist or how we gauge the progress of feminism, these are largely consumer choices. And therein lies the rub. Feminism was born of women's ambivalence about being consumers. One major idea in “The Feminist Mystique” is women's ambivalence about being the sum total of one's home, appliances, clothes and husband. Granted, advertisers and their "you've come a long way babe" campaigns have had a lot of influence in co-opting feminism in a consumer habit. And, most people can’t avoid buying stuff and many perfectly feminist women end up watching or reading quite a few advertisements and reading a few mainstream fashion magazines (which are long-format advertisements). Turning away isn’t the only response.

I think we can feel good about a beauty magazine using women like us to sell stuff to women like us. I think it's a win that advertisers speak to women in terms of things women value, rather than in terms of things society thinks women should value. But, I will still argue that Freidan wasn't trying to convince advertisers to represent a larger cross section of women. I think she was warning us against the hollowness of living one's life as a consumer.

Concern with capitalism ain't doing much for self-esteem

While I'm not a fan of obscured capitalist agenda, I think the more important issue here is women seeing themselves, in all their myriad, amazing forms, honestly represented in media. Advertising, and modelling by association, should have room for women of size, women of color, differently abled women, and women of all varieties of sexual orientation.

Is this being used to sell magazines? Oh hell yeah! Do I as a plus sized woman who is happy with myself but sick to death of being told that a size zero is what is "beautiful" (and, um, In Style, thanks for the slam, that's the last time my fat, allegedly non-beautiful ass is buying your magazine!) really care why these images of women are making it into the mainstream at last? No.

I don't want to assume an issue that's not mine, but I'd be willing to believe that even though people of color may be included in advertising in part as a way to boost sales to those groups, they are happy to see representations of themselves in film, televisions, and print advertising. A world where you don't see yourself relfected anywhere other than in the mirror can become a world where you feel as though you don't exist.

Am I foolish enough to believe that the "Real Women" in Dove's ad campaigns are there only in response to the company's benevolence and concern with social issues? No, but I'm happy to see you ladies, nonetheless.

Here's what I wonder...

The way I see it, capitalism is so ingrained in US society that it is scarcely seen as a problem by feminists. Yet, it is the cause of a number of social and political (not to mention economic) inequities. So if we skew the lens and replace capitalism with, say, racism, do we get a different result? I think we do, and this speaks to our priorities, as feminists, that most feminists think it's okay to ignore the ills of capitalism if it is bolstering the goals of feminism. But most of us wouldn't feel the same way if it were another social ill being ignored (racism, ablism, homophobia). Why is capitalism consistently at the bottom of the f*ed up shit that needs to change heap, particularly when economics plays such a huge role in the maintenance of oppressions?

Getting Rid of Pressure to Look Emaciated would be Positive

Thank you, Mandy, for a post that at least gives me some hope that people in the fashion industry will stop advocating the use of those horribly emaciated looking models. It's modeling season on Plum TV in the Hamptons and it's getting much more media attention because of the International Film Festival going on there (in the Hamptons) at the same time. Unfortunately most of what I'm seeing on the runway are the kind of models Brigitt and Glamour are hopefully going to stop using. You are right about the capitalism aspect of it, but I'd like to think that if we can get the super rich crowd to change their ideas about what constitutes beauty that would help. If only they were more cognizant of the fact that even from a capitalist perspective more diversity in modeling will result in the attraction of more diversity amongst their buyers.

I've always been a fan of

I've always been a fan of plus-size models! There's a great site with many images of plus-size models here:

<a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/">http://www.judgmentofparis.com/</a>

They're all gorgeous.

The site's forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.

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