Saturday, 20 March 2010

All Ages?

I am so, so infuriated by the Guardian Weekend magazine's "All Ages" fashion feature. On the face of it, it's a noble idea: fashion for all ages on models of all ages, rather than just the completely inappropriate teenagers (how many 14-year-olds do you know who regularly wear Dior evening gowns? Really?). Except, no. They still use a clearly teenage model every time, so they're still normalising the practice of using children to model adult women's clothes, and worse than that, it automatically pushes the model in her 20s into the role of "older". Oh, that's helpful, really.

I assumed, at first because it was five models, the all ages were teens, twenties, thirties, fourties fifties. But, every week, the first two models, without fail, look really, really young. So one of two things is going on here. Possibly the "twenties" model is consistently literally 20, perhaps 21. That instantly renders the "all ages" concept a complete lie, because the difference between 20/21 and 17/18 for the "teen" model is negligble and actually puts them both in the same age group, which is pretty bloody young. I could only imagine they're doing this because really it's in their best interests to continue re-inforcing the industry stereotype that models should be very young; by having two of basically the same age, they present them as the norm and the others as curiosities, the models who shouldn't be working because of their hideously advanced age, but have been rescued by the brave Guardian in the name of liberalism and equality.

The second option is that, since they never actually specify the models ages, they are not supposed to be rigidly divided by decade. This makes sense because often, particularly this, week, the one who should by rights be "thirties" only looks in their mid-late twenties. This is even worse than the previous scenario. An article like this should be a golden opportunity to point out that a model - and by extension, a woman - is not in fact "past it" at 25. That 25, 26, 27, 28 etc is young, and a completely normal, appropriate age to be modelling (hello, Agyness Deyn, Lara Stone, Miranda Kerr, Gisele - it's not like it's unheard of), but by placing a model who this week specifically I would judge to be around 28 as the *third* oldest they are again marking her out as old, as abnormal in the context of a fashion feature. That's a really fucked approach to what could have been an interesting, egalitarian and realistic representation of age and beauty.

It affects me, personally, on two levels. First of all it raises my feminist hackles, by re-enforcing the fetishisation of extreme youth in women, which has led to us to this situation where teenagers are routinely hyper-sexualised and presented as the female ideal while the press start making sniping comments about women in the public eye "getting on a bit" when they hit their mid twenties. Where Bridget Jones is soon enough going to be a believable character because we have it drilled into us every day that if you're not married before you're 30 you never will be, because who's going to want you now, you wizened old hag? You're nearly 29 for heaven's sake, YUCK. Now go buy yourself a few dozen cats and be done with it. I'd say I long for the day when men are subjected to the same treatment but truth is I don't, because it's horrible, and if we wilfully turned men into the kind of neurotic wrecks that the media seeks to make women, it would probably end in some kind of global suicide pact. Roll on, irreversible climate change, it's probably for the best in the long run.

Secondly, this kind of feature leaves me wondering where I fit in, professionally. I'm not 20 and I'm not 30 yet either. Too "old" to fit in with the widely accepted norm, too young to return triumphant as the face of the "older" woman in fashion. Do I give up entirely, or sit it out for a few years until my age will be better appreciated (much like a model who can no longer work the regular scene because she's grown to a size 12 but cant do plus-size modelling until she's gone up another two dress sizes. Or cheese.)? Or do I continue as is, immersing myself in an industry whose values I despise, railing against the prevailing culture because I believe Gandhi was right when he said "we must be the change we wish to see in the world" and I want to make it a better place, if not for me than at least for, well, someone elses children, as I don't plan on having any of my own?

Either way, well done Gruaniad. It was a nice idea, but with friends like you, who needs enemies?

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