STUDENT ESSAYS ANALYSIS

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1 Fashion Essay By Caitlin Barbieri 2ND PLACE ANALYSIS Characters: Kevin Almond: Currently Kevin works at the University of Huddersfield as the Head of the Department for Fashion and Textiles. Kaitlin A. Graff: She is a graduate student in the Psychology Department of Kenyon College. Yan Yan: Dr. Yan graduated from the School of Journalism and Communications at the University of China in Hong Kong. Phillippa Diedrichs: Dr. Diedrichs works in The University of West England s Center for Appearance Research. She is a health psychologist who specializes in body image and eating disorder prevention. Fashion designers are searching for the next it model but are unsure of what would be most appealing to consumers. They have called upon four experts in fashion and psychology for consultation on the upcoming fashion season. They want to know what kind of model consumers will find most appealing and what kind of clothes consumers want. Sitting in a conference room overlooking the Garment District of the Manhattan Borough of New York City, these four experts deliberate on what the public will find most pleasing. They have been given an electronically generated, life size silhouette of a woman that can be manipulated to construct their ideal model. Together they are to create a silhouette that designers all over the Western world will use to construct the basic shape and size of their work. Kevin Almond: The silhouette must be fat, or should I say voluptuous? Kaitlin Graff: As long as whatever we create doesn t sexualize women, I don t care how fat or thin it is. Phillippa Diedrichs: Size is very important to consider though, and sexualizing is difficult to avoid. We can t simply focus on one or the other; this must be comprehensive. 450 Yan Yan: Size and dress are what we are here to discuss. We have all studied different aspects of this subject and as I m sure you all know this it is not as simple as fat versus thin or sexy versus modest. The issue of consumer appeal relates to the globalization of beauty and what the average person considers beautiful. We cannot simply decide our silhouette will be fat and assume the world of fashion will start doting on fat models. We have been given a heavy task and must put great consideration into it.

2 Fashion Essay Caitlin Barbieri Almond: Try to not use the word fat to describe overweight women; instead, say voluptuous. Diedrichs: Why are you so fixated on that word? Almond: The word fat has a very negative tone. When people hear the words fat or obese they have a tendency to assume the subject is also undesirable. The word voluptuous has a much sexier tone but is still referring to larger women. Graff: That s sexualizing larger women though. We need less sexualizing, not more sexualizing to make a less desirable group more desirable. Yan: If you re here to lecture on the fashion industry sexualizing women you might as well join a feminist protest; I m sure there is one going on in this city. We are not here to change society. We are here because we have all separately conducted studies that relate to the fashion industry and how it affects female consumers. The goal of this meeting is not to change society and convince the world to stop sexualizing women. Our job is to create a silhouette that accurately portrays what the average woman is comfortable comparing herself to. Graff: What do you mean by that? Shouldn t we be creating a silhouette that represents today s modern woman, something she can identify with, not compare herself to? Yan: It is human nature for people to compare themselves to one another. What we need to try to create is something that the average woman will perceive as attainable or similar enough to herself. Ideally, we will create a silhouette that women will be able to see themselves in, but that is a very difficult goal to reach. For women to see themselves in a silhouette they must be able to relate to nearly every aspect of it. We are better off creating a silhouette that women can identify with specific parts of. Diedrichs: You make an excellent point. The Social Comparison Theory (SCT) suggests that everyday individuals will compare themselves to people they consider superior, like super models or celebrities. For some women this phenomenon directly relates to dissatisfaction with their own body image. It s important for us to try to narrow the gap between the size of models and the size of the average woman. Yan: With the world so fixated on today s skinny models, what makes you think the public will be more accepting of an average sized model? The Western world is practically obsessed with images of skinny women. How do we know the image of average women will be successful? Diedrichs: Actually, I recently conducted a study in Australia that examined how the use of average sized models affected product sales and the consumer s body image. The study consisted of 171 women and 120 men from an introductory Psychology course at The University of Queensland. The majority of the participants described themselves as average size and shape for their gender and were 2 451

3 between the ages of 17 and 25. We recorded how the participants reacted to the images of average size models using the Body Image States Scale (BISS), and the Sociocultural Attitudes towards Appearance Questionnaire (SATAQ). Both tested how participants viewed themselves and the product after being exposed to the average size models vs the skinny models. The results from this experiment revealed that the average size models left consumers feeling better about their own appearance and more willing to purchase the product advertised. When consumers see what they perceive to be an average person modeling clothes they are more likely to purchase the product. Graff: Now you re headed in the right direction! We want this new model to make women feel better about themselves. Almond: Yes, but what about the voluptuous women? If we make the model bigger than the average woman even more women will be able to relate to our model. Yan: That is true but at what point does the model become too big? As you stated before, fat women are not always associated with beauty and, while that is a societal flaw, it is something we have to work with, not work against. Almond: What if we create two models then? The population of overweight women has grown exponentially over the past decade and studies show that that number will only continue to increase. Currently voluptuous women are vastly underrepresented in the fashion world to the extent that fashion students are not even taught how to make flattering clothing for overweight consumers. I conducted a study aimed at assessing how fashion students perceive overweight women. My goal was to discover why there is such discrimination against these women in the fashion industry. Diedrichs: I can tell you that. It s because society loves skinny women and overweight women are the opposite of that. Graff: That s not exactly true. It s not as much about skinny women as it is about sexy women. Fashion is not only focused on the size of a woman in relation to weight but also the shape of a woman in relation to body structure, which some have argued is more important than size. In my study we evaluated the use of sexualization in two magazines. We determined sexiness to be anything that enhanced women s sexualized body parts and tracked the frequency and context of it in the magazines. We did find that some clothing emphasized the skinniness of models, but most clothing emphasized the sexuality of models. Almond: Exactly! Voluptuous women can have fantastic shape. The only problem is there are very limited resources available to them that allow them to accentuate their shapes. Very few designers make clothes for overweight women and often the clothes that are available to them are of poor quality. So why is this? If voluptuous women have the right shape to be sexy, why does the fashion industry make it so difficult for them to be and feel sexy? This was the question I wanted to find an answer to in my study. I sent out a questionnaire that was focused on the place of overweight women in fashion to 300 fashion students and academics. 452

4 Fashion Essay Caitlin Barbieri I was surprised to find that many considered curvy large women to be perfectly acceptable in the fashion world. Although they did specify that because it is widely known that being a larger size is unhealthy, designers do not want to encourage people to become overweight. I thought this was ironic because it is also widely known that the images of skinny models cause women to turn to anorexia, which is unhealthy. Being too skinny is more acceptable than being overweight in today s world. I do realize that with this task we are not trying to change society, but maybe by creating two silhouettes we can promote the beginnings of a fashion reform for voluptuous women. One silhouette should be of an average size woman and the other a voluptuous woman. We need to show designers that overweight women can be sexy too. 2 Yan: I don t see why we couldn t create two silhouettes. Graff: That seems reasonable. So we ve covered the size of the silhouette. What about its dress; we have to discuss sexualization. In my study I found that more and more young girls are being sexualized. We are all aware of the growing sexualization of adult women but now sexualization is happening with pre-teen and teenage girls. I studied the portrayal of pre-teen girls in two magazines, Seventeen and Girls Life. I picked magazines because other studies have shown that girls between the ages of 8 18 years old read magazines and they are an important source of influence. We analyzed images that appeared in the magazines from Our findings showed the number of sexualizing images almost tripled in Seventeen and Girls Life and 15 times the number of sexual images they had in These magazines are intended for young girls and they have greatly contributed to the increased sexualization of their readers age group. Diedrichs: That is terrible, but how can we affect that through the task we ve been given? Fashion is fashion; we have been tasked with creating the model on which designers base their creations. We are not meant to change their individual designs. Yan: While you are correct, Graff, the sexualization of young girls should be unacceptable, but it is a part of reality that we cannot change. Graff: Why not? Yan: I also did a study that focused on images and advertisements in magazines but the magazines I analyzed were internationally distributed. Through my study I wanted to discover how these international magazines influence different cultures ideas of beauty and fashion. We examined Vogue, Elle, Glamour and Cosmopolitan and how they affected the cultures of the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, China, Korea, Japan, South Africa and Latin America. We scored the images from each of the magazines on beauty related constructs, femininity, sexuality, body type and glamorization. Each magazine scored differently but they all had similar messages. They were all filled with self-help stories that gave readers tips to becoming the ideal woman. Every magazine had a similar definition of the ideal woman, though it should be 453

5 noted they were not exactly the same. Across these four magazines the majority of models were thin, highly sexualized, and glamorized. These similarities reflected the growing westernization of many European and Latin American cultures. Asian countries have a very strong standard of beauty and fashion which is seen through centuries of culture so they were relatively uninfluenced by the Western fashion. Seeing this Western standard of beauty brought me to the conclusion that the sexualization of women is part of the fashion of our time. Despite how anyone feels about it, this is how people will dress because this is what is available to them. We cannot change that. Almond: Though it is important to realize fashion is an ever changing thing and today s ultra-sexual fashion will change. Diedrichs: It s easier to introduce a different model because an average size model makes consumers feel better about themselves. Consumers like today s fashion, if they didn t they wouldn t buy the clothes. Graff: That makes sense. Eventually things will change but we just have to take it one problem at a time. An average size model will be a great improvement to the fashion community and it will help millions of women be more comfortable with themselves. Works Cited Almond, K. (2013). Fashionably Voluptuous: Repackaging the Fuller-Sized Figure. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 17(2), Diedrichs, P., & Lee, C. (n.d.). Waif goodbye! Average-size female models promote positive body image and appeal to consumers. Psychology & Health, 26(10), Graff, K., Murnen, S., & Krause, A. (2013). Low-Cut Shirts and High-Heeled Shoes: Increased Sexualization Across Time in Magazine Depictions of Girls. Sex Roles, 69, Retrieved October 28, Yan, Y., & Bissell, K. (2014). The Globalization of Beauty: How is Ideal Beauty Influenced by Globally Published Fashion and Beauty Magazines? Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 43(3), Retrieved October 28,

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