How Much Further Are We Going To Push The Imagery In The Name of Fashion?

June 13, 2012  |  

At first glace, you might think the picture you see is some sort of domestic violence PSA, but it’s not. It’s part of a spread inside Bulgarian fashion magazine 12 that aims to depict models as a “Victim of Beauty” in a recent controversial editorial. The women certainly are victims of something, but beauty isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

After being called out my more outlets than I can name for showing women with slit throats, bruised eyes, Black Dahlia-style smiles, and models who’ve been mutilated with acid or had their facial piercings ripped out, Huben Hubenov and Slav Anastasov, the editors in chief of 12, attempted to explain the logic behind the spread in an email to Jezebel. They told the site in part:

We believe that images such as ours can be seen from various angles,

and we think that exactly that is what is beautiful about fashion and

photography in general – that anybody can understand it their own way,

and fill it with their own meaning. Where some see a brutal wound,

others see a skilful work of an artist, or an exquisite face of a

beautiful girl.

That being said, we do understand why some accuse us of promoting, in

a way, violence, but we do not agree with that, and we think that it

is very narrow-minded way of looking at the photographs.

And after all, isn’t it true that we see brutally wounded people all

the time, in real life – on television, in the news, in movies,

videogames, magazines and websites, and they are all very different,

but alike in one thing: some are real, some are not. And fashion

photography is an imitation of real life, sometimes realistic,

sometimes delicate, other times grotesque, or shocking.

In closure, we are provoking even further discussion by asking you and

your readers just two questions:

1. How would you perceive those photographs, if they were accompanying

an campaign against domestic violence? Would you still think of them

as disgusting or you would praise them as brave and thought-provoking?

Worth the think, isn’t it?

2. What would you say if those where bespoken men, carefully groomed,

but still, terribly injured? Probably nothing, and quite frankly

that’s a bit sexist.

I love how people try to throw in what if’s to deflect their own fault. What ifs are irrelevant because we’re dealing with what is, and what is, is a questionable fashion spread with imagery that’s not just uncomfortable but dangerous. To the first point of the editor’s response, if this had been a domestic violence campaign we would certainly be talking and looking at it differently and that’s the problem with maiming models for the sake of art the way they did. There’s nothing about this that’s thought provoking, and just from a marketing perspective, nothing about it would make me want to purchase the makeup being shown so I’d consider that a double fail. The problem here is not unlike the backlash against H&M for its overly tanned Brazilian swimsuit model, or Vogue Italia’s “Haute Mess,” or LadyGun’s “Chola” spread, if you want to depict a certain culture or type of women, use those actual women. Don’t dress up, dress down, trivialize, or misappropriate another subset of people with the same white-washed models we see every day and sell it to us as groundbreaking fashion art. In this particular case, had they made over real domestic violence victims and let their beauty shine despite the scars, we’d be having a totally different discussion. But what they’ve done is glamourized wounds that are unfortunately very real in society and it serves no purpose.

To the editor’s second point, if men were equally affected by domestic violence the way women are, then maybe their sexist assertion would be valid. What they seem to be missing is people aren’t upset because these women aren’t pretty to look at with their scars. They’re upset because they’ve turned real scars more women than we care to think about actually walk around with, usually at the hands of a lover, into something that looks like a thriller movie promotional. Any woman can be a victim of violence at any given time but there’s also something to be said for the idea of a woman being a victim of her beauty. It sounds eerily similar to rape defenses. Almost like the woman’s attractiveness invited this violence, the same way a short skirt is a gateway to rape. I’m pretty sure the people behind the shoot didn’t think through it that much, but now they probably wish they had.

Beyond the obvious lack of sensitivity shown here, I’m concerned with how we got here in the first place and how much further we’re going to go. It’s painfully clear that this spread was done not to be cutting edge or to express some deep concept, this magazine simply wanted attention and they got it by going for shock value. My question is what’s next? I’m reminded of the “There Will Be Blood” spread Vice magazine recently had which showed women with bloody underwear having clothing accidents while on their periods. The imagery is more unpleasant and frankly unnecessary than grotesque and insensitive as in this case, but if people have to be bloody, bruised, and battered just to snag the public’s attention these days, how far are we going to push the envelope?

I miss the time when products could stand for themselves and you didn’t have to step on people’s toes in overbearing and uncomfortable ways just to get their attention, particularly at the expense of women. On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got women beautified and dressed scantily clad to push an ideal, and on the other they’re marred and mocked just to say, made you look. Where do we go from here?

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