It was very interesting to wake up this morning and see numerous news feeds about Vogue’s initiate to ban skinny and under age models. I got the feeling that we were now to bow down and praise Vogue. Can I get a big WHATEVER!
Condé Nast International, which is responsible for all 19 international editions of Vogue, released a statement that all 19 Vogue magazines around the world made a pact to project the image of healthy models. American, French, Chinese and British editions of the magazine will start following the new guidelines with their June issues, while the Japanese edition will begin following the guidelines with its July book.
The agreement is not the issue, for me it is what they have agreed:
1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.
2. We will ask agents not to knowingly send us underage girls and casting directors to check IDs when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.
3. We will help to structure mentoring programs where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.
4. We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.
5. We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.
6. We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.
The agreement appears to me to be just an attempt to get some good press after all the unfortunate PR received my the magazine recently, thanks to the Italian Vogue editions, like the “haute mess” editorial that was dubbed racist. It could also be because Israel got so much attention for banning skinny girls from the runways. However, Israel is very serious, they passed a law and even took BMI measurements before a runway show. That’s what you call a great initiative to combat this skinny obsession.
Vagueness of Vogue
Lets get real, no where in the Vogue agreement is there sincere responsibility. Use of the words “knowingly” and “encourage” are red flags. Generally, the word “knowingly” in law means consciously or with knowledge or complete understanding of the facts or circumstances. In other words, it means that the person in question realised what he/she was doing and was aware of the nature of his/her conduct and did not act through ignorance, mistake, or accident.
For example, take the first point in the agreement above:
1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16…
Using the word ‘knowingly” here allows the editors to use under 16 years of age models, because they did not know that the model was under 16. It is not unheard of for model agencies to give the wrong ages of the models, or for models to lie to get a job. What is to stop the model and the agency from saying, she is over 16? This agreement does not place the onus on the editors to ensure and/or investigate the age of the model. Simply not knowing that she was under 16 is a good defence.
My position is the same when it comes to the use of the word “encourage”. We “encourage” people to do good everyday, but how many people really take note. You could talk until you are blue in the face, to “encourage” someone does not work, unless the person agrees with your position. I wonder therefore how many producers, model agencies and designers will be “encouraged” to not use models under 16 or with eating disorders? It is well known that model agencies love scouting models very young: the younger the better. Also, designers love young and very thin models. For example, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is trying to promote healthier standards in the modeling industry, however, CFDA board member Marc Jacobs refused to abide by the Initiative and casted two underage girls in his most recent NY Fashion Week show. Can we really “encourage” these people?
Vogue is an influential magazine, they have some of the best and well-known editors in the fashion industry. I would expect an agreement with more teeth from them. The influence that Ana Wintour has over the fashion industry in New York for example, speaks volumes and shows just how much they can influence people. There is no need to “encourage” when you can “influence”.
Do you want a star?
When I was in pre-school school, my teacher would give me a gold star whenever I got my assignments correct. All the children loved the gold star and it was what we aspired to. In today’s society, I feel like most people live their lives searching for someone to give them a gold star. Take for example, those companies that get Fairtrade certified (the new gold star) and boast about it. My take on it is, why should I applaud you for something you should have been doing? When did “doing good” become a reason to get a star?
This is exactly how I feel about the Vogue agreement also. The other issue I have with this agreement is the blatant confession by Vogue that they have facilitated the use of under age and eating disorder models. Is it me, or didn’t they always shy away from this accusation? How is it that they now confess and no one takes issue with it? Should they get a star for now deciding to do something good? Something that the general public always felt was right to do.
This initiative is not completely bad. Point 3 of the initiative outlined above for example is good:
We will help to structure mentoring programs where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.
I wait to see how this agreement is implemented and we all, readers of Vogue should hold the editors to this agreement.
From your legal fashionista,