Thursday, 4 November 2010

Thoughts on Girls with Wings

I can't decide how I feel. I just read this NYT article about the casting process of Victoria's Secret "angels". The girls who get selected are "rarer by far than superstar athletes". Only about 100 people in the world can do what they do. Angela Lindvall once shed 20 pounds, skipped rope and ate nothing but spinach, chard and kale in order to fit in. The sales figures are high, because so many women buy into the image of the seductive angel, even if they might know that buying a new super-boosted bra does not quite make them look like Gisele. All of this is disturbing, right? It makes pretty much all of us non-angles feel inadequate, and it gives the wrong message to girls growing up (the message being, that as long as you have a small and firm ass, long limbs, shiny hair and the face of perfection, everything will be okay in the world, and you get to wear a heavy set of wings on tv). So why don't I just feel outraged and angry? What's there to question about the way I feel?

One reason is that I don't want to waste my time even allowing my anger to surface. The whole concept of the angel is so ridiculous that it is not worth it. (Yet here I am, writing about it.) Secondly, I think I feel more sad than angry. Sad for Angela Lindvall, who probably has a great life, great children and all that, but I feel sad because she felt the need to only eat spinach, chard and kale, even if those are some of my favourite veggies. I remember feeling bad for an old friend of mine, Olivia, who shared a model flat with me for some time over ten years ago. Her skin was soft and smooth, her hair dark and curly, her eyes dark brown and innocent, her figure out of this world, and she once went on an apple-a-day diet in order to do a swimsuit catalogue shoot. She was hungry and miserable, she cried a lot, but she booked the job. She never became a Victoria's Secret angel though. She became a successful boxer instead. She kicked ass, quite literally, and I hope that she never looked back on that apple diet.

You know what? I changed my mind. I do feel angry. I feel uncomfortable every time I see a Victoria's Secret commercial on tv. I feel angry and uncomfortable, because I don't like to see nearly naked teenagers oiled up, pushed up, prancing around in high heels. There is something deeply disturbing about the image of these angels, and that something is, I think, the lack of power. I don't think the angel is powerful. Her body is beautiful but only out there to be looked at. The angels writhe, but they don't act. There are some odd, fine lines between fantasy, pornography, and nightmare in the imagery of the commercials. And I do think the imagery makes women feel bad about themselves. No matter how much girl power and confidence there is around the world, we all know what it feels like to not be as pretty as the most popular girl in class. That feeling is the essence to how girls eventually become women, and why so many men (and some women, too) complain about women being weak, easily influenced and way too prone to question their self-worth, and in doing so, strengthen the message of the inadequacy of women. There is never room for the woman to just be.

But let's go back to that lack of power. No matter how energetically Heidi Klum might have stomped the runway in the past in her diamond-encrusted undies, I never saw any true power in her, not before she put some clothes on and became a business woman. And I question myself again. Why did she need to put the clothes on to seem powerful to me? Was there something essentially demeaning about her body being on display? Does it go back to the "pretty girls can't be smart"-crap? Why am I prone to thinking that a woman covered in baby oil and wearing a push-up bra and heels couldn't be powerful?

Or maybe it just comes down to what happens backstage. That I know that there is very little power a model feels when she works a shoot or the runway, that it is all play-pretend. That the models have people shouting at them to look sexier, that they are, indeed, covered with baby oil and body make-up. That there is a wind machine, that the shoot is taking forever, and the girls are hoping to hear "cut", so that they can take five minutes to snack on fruit or a slice of cold pizza that some young assistant brought to the shoot. That the night before the shoot they probably stood in front of the mirror, naked, and wondered if their body was pretty enough to be on display. And that in order to be a Victoria's Secret angel, they live in constant fear of the measuring tape. There is no power in that.

Sweater: men's H&M
Blouse: second hand, Hietsu flea market
Corduroys: J. Crew
Shoes: Vagabond


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad there is another woman out there who feels insulted and outraged by Victoria's Secret. Forget their angels, the commercials alone are disturbing enough. The angels are not just those starved and made up creatures on the runways (I heard it took four hours to apply makeup to each model's butt for the last show), the company is preying on all of us females. We are supposed to become 'angels' by using nauseating candy perfumes and wearing the latest push-up bra 'technology' to offer our breasts to heaven? If we keep pushing them up, they'll be in the clouds. I'm just so sick of all this commercial lingerie marketing. Lingerie should make a girl feel like a little something special once in a while, she shouldn't feel forced into it because her body's not good enough for America's standards.

jesse.anne.o said...

I don't know. I have a hard time getting angry about it because I consider it a parallel universe, where people have goals and values that do not even remotely match mine. Would I want to date anyone who specifically wanted to date an "angel"? Doubtful. Would I want to get paid to do that kind of a thing - both job and lifestyle? Doubtful. Would I consider it "worthwhile" and "contributing"? Doubtful.

So it exists to me in that way that Jersey Shore exists. Oh, look at your novel way of life, Others.

janel said...

thank you for posting this!

Anonymous said...

Your post, as usually, moved something in me. I've been watching the Polish edition of "America's Next Top Model" and can't help but feel a strange mixture of sadness, anger and amazement. Those girls, humiliated by photographers and jury, head on for the first prize, repeating clichees about "fulfilling their dreams" and "never giving up to achieve their goal". I never grasped this idea that being stripped down (literally) and humiliated in front of a few million people may be a means od achieveing success. Somehow putting girls into the roles of seemingly brainless, uber-skinny, well, bodies, doesn't appeal to me. I do realize, as my friend used to work as a model, how this job looks like, but the point here is as follows: if you're willing to be deprived of your dignity in front of the cameras just to be a top model for a few months, then, well, you kinda deserve it? That's the point that infuraites me; not the humiliating part. All of the girls are free, it was their own choice to become a part of the top-modelling or advertising world.
Then again, it is terribly sad that these girls have been brainwashed into believing that a skinny body and high heels will make them someone better, someone more worthwhile. The real value of a person lies inside them; it's not superficial as we were led to believe. I take that I'm kind of masochist watching all this and worse, by watching it, I admit that they were right.
As for wearing killer stylettos, I once read a wonderful quote, which I'll now try to render: Women were put on high heels not to be taller and see more of the world, but so they couldn't jump. I guess it may be a nice summary to your reflections on power.

Charlotte said...

I don't have TV so I've missed the commercials, but occasionally a VS catalog does show up. They're really kind of awful. The women always have their mouths hanging open. What's that about? They're supposed to be panting with lust or something?

Models don't usually project authority or power because they're mannequins. They're just there to make the clothes look good. The power in this game is with the designers (often male) who create the clothes for the models to hawk.

mirattes said...

In my opinion the most powerful issue in this world is fashion industry with the biggest partners - media.
All brain washing thing starts from media announcements.
I've just wached documentary movie STARSUCKERS it explains lots of things, which are pushed into our head from childhood weather we want ir or not.

K.Bean said...

Thanks for this. Having spent more time than I care to think about comparing myself to models, I always appreciate hearing about the darker side of that perfect-looking world, particularly from someone who's been there.