What is a ‘REAL’ woman anyway?

I don’t know about you but quite frankly I’m bored. Bored of every size being the wrong one. Why can’t we all just accept that we’re different and, quite frankly, get over it? It appears to me – especially in terms of fashion – that whatever image brands or magazines produce, whatever model you select, she is never quite ‘right’.

If you go with a straight-size model you’re hit with suggestions she isn’t a ‘real woman’ (utter nonsense) and if you dare to use a plus-size model, then she isn’t quite ‘plus size enough’ or deemed not ‘real plus size’. It sometimes feels that even if people are trying, they just can’t do the right thing.

So who’s right? What kind of models should we be using? Or do we all need to just get over the fact that models will never really look like us?

Straight-size models are quite rightly fed up with being told they’re ‘too skinny’ and ‘unhealthy’. As someone who has worked in the fashion industry for several years I know plenty of straight-size models who eat and drink normally and it’s nothing short of insulting to call them ‘coat hangers’ and ‘ill’. Unless you know them how can you judge?

Equally I’ve seen ignorant comments written about plus-size models on various news sites that also make my blood boil. While they often come from men, it depresses me far more when women call each other out – it somehow feels like the sisterhood going up in flames.

Plus models in the UK start at a size 12 and before you all tell me that’s not ‘real plus size’, I’m simply stating a fact – I didn’t say I agreed with it. In the UK plus-size models go from a 12-16; there are the occasional size 18’s but like mermaids, they’re pretty mythical and I’ve yet to meet one.

I’m assuming that the reason the majority of UK plus size models are on average a size 14 is probably because this used to be the size that most designer brands and several high street stores stopped at and therefore this used to be a marker for moving into plus-size clothing.

While this has certainly altered over the last few years, the modelling agencies haven’t had the same demand to catch up in terms of model sizes from their commercial clients – these are the clothing brands shooting look books, campaigns and site imagery and are the ones with the cash to sway opinion; what they say goes.

For those who believe that in 2012 we should be shooting what people like to term ‘real women’ (although I have enough irritations with this phrase to turn out another article but, in a nutshell unless you’re a man, you’re a real woman in my book) there is a reason most magazines and brands go for models over non models (irrespective of size).

It’s simply because modelling is a job and championing the idea that anyone should be modelling is very much like me deciding one day that I quite fancy working for NASA or being a doctor – I’d have to have the relative skill and ability first.

At the end of the day modelling isn’t simply done on a vanity whim and is a difficult job with its own set of criteria and needs; they work hard and deserve recognition and respect for the work they do.

While some have tried to work with non models on an editorial basis, such as Brigitte magazine, who switched from shooting models to non models, they have recently given up this idea after finding it too difficult to scout for women who could get the desired results in a short space of time.

Shoots are expensive to produce and you often only have a few hours to get what you need. You’d never hire a non professional photographer or make-up artist so why would you replace the model?

The truth is models whatever size are a representation, not a mirror image, of society. While there is a case for raising the idea that models should look more like ‘us’, when the ‘us’ is so varied surely this is an argument that can never actually be solved? There will always be those who say ‘But they don’t look like me’ – and that’s because they aren’t really meant to be a direct likeness.

As someone totally unmoved by the fact that models don’t and will never look like me, I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem is with us. Do we want that social acceptance of looking like a model – so if we make models look like us have we’ve won? – It’s just a thought… Why are we so bothered by the idea that models don’t look like us?

While we can definitely argue to have models that represent a greater level of diversity they still need to embody model qualities – be great movers, photogenic and able to produce the results that brands and magazines need on the day. However good a photograph and ‘glam squad’ is, the models ultimately have to pull it out the bag, so to speak, when they get in front of the lens. That is easier said than done.

I for one have always asked agencies for larger models, but I am yet to find models that are truly above a UK 16. For those that scoff and are currently thinking ‘but I’ve seen girls that are bigger in UK catalogues or campaigns’, all I can say to you is… Photoshop can work both ways.

While there has been an influx of cases of brands photoshopping models to appear smaller, what no one tells you is that at the other end of the spectrum people are photoshopping models bigger, left, right and centre, and if Photoshop isn’t their weapon of choice, well there is always padding. Yes, that’s right, padding. I can’t blame the models or the agents for the fact that padding is used extensively across the board in plus-size shoots.

The problem with plus size modelling is that as the industry standard goes anywhere from a 12-16, in any given week a model can be expected to switch sizes three or four times depending on the client and I think you’ll hopefully agree this is not only impossible but if anyone were to try it would be pretty detrimental to their health.

Unlike straight size modelling where a 6/8 is the normal accepted size, plus models have to constantly switch it up to keep working; so more often than not some sneaky padding allows them to switch sizes and images to be produced that seem larger than life – literally.

Now of course, as an editor of a fashion magazine that tries to champion plus size we too could do the same – it would certainly get several people off my back. If we couldn’t find big enough girls we could photoshop them up, or get them to add some bulk with some excess padding.

But the truth is that while I understand why it’s done, I can’t whole-heartedly agree with it. I’d much rather shoot the girls as they are and take the flak – knowing I was trying my best to source the best plus-size models I can.

I suppose I just wonder if it’s truly possible to unite women in a way where we can have mutual respect for one another’s differing bodies and accept them; where we don’t long to look like models or really care if they look like us, and just take it all with a pinch of salt.

The rest of society polices our bodies but is the fact that we project the idiocy thrown at women about the perfect size and shape worse when we project it on each other?



-- Editor-in-Chief SLiNK Magazine